Friday, July 29, 2016

Researching In Moments

A stolen moment somewhere in Virginia
How do you do research when you only have moments here and there to work on it? The same way you do any research, with a plan. However, when you’re working in small increments of time here and there, it is even more important to have that plan in place. Oh, I hear many of you groaning, “I can’t do a Research Plan like the professionals do!” “And I don’t have much time, I can’t stop and write out a research plan like that!”

Let’s get one thing straight in the beginning. Your plan doesn’t need to be anything formal. Who is this plan for? Well, you, of course! Perhaps you’ll want to share it with another person or two that is also researching the same family or area. That’s the very first step done already, you’ve determined who it is for. Now that you know that, you can make it as formal or informal as you would like. You can make it simple or complicated. It doesn’t matter as long as you and anyone else that needs to can read and understand it.

For a basic plan of my own, I like to start with 2 basic elements. First I write down what I’m looking for. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, just the basic question and some information so that I can see at a glance what it’s about and any details I already have that would help me in my search. One or two sentences are usually enough and they’re not always complete sentences at that. Instead, they’re just little reminders to myself. It’s especially helpful if I have multiple plans around and need to know quickly which this one is for!

The second element looks something like my grocery list. It is mainly just a list of places that I want to look for information. No explanation is necessary unless it is something like this: XYZ Church Records (find Sally’s baptism date; Dad was likely buried from there about same time). This would remind me that there are two facts to be keeping my eye out for in that source. Very simple.

This list within the plan serves two purposes. First, it gives you a place to dump out all the ideas that are coming into your brain faster than you can research them. Second, when you come back to the search after some time away, you don’t have to start from scratch, but have the ideas in front of you with some of them (hopefully!) marked off as already completed.

These places can go on the list in any order. I like to use either a Word or Excel file to jot them down in initially. This way, I just put them on the list in the order in which I think of it. Later I can go back and rearrange them easily in any order that I want to. How do you rearrange them? Sometimes it is best to put them in the order of what is most likely to give you an answer to the least. Other times it is best to group them by repositories- either online or ones to visit in person. Sometimes you might even want to arrange them by things you can do quickly and ones that will take a lot longer to complete.

This flexibility as well as being able to access them in various places makes a digital version of the plan ideal. However, some people prefer a paper based plan. If that’s your preference, it will work too. That’s part of the beauty of an informal research plan for just yourself- you get to do whatever works best for you!

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