August 2, 2016
Creating a Research System
Usually when I do the laundry, I do one family member’s entire load at a time. I don’t like to mix up the clothes. I have a theory on this.
Some things need assembly line logic. On an assembly line, each person gets really good at the one activity he or she is responsible for. I’m the only one on my assembly line, so I do one thing at a time. Wash all of my daughter’s clothes, fold them all, put them all away. Move on to my son’s clothes, fold them all, put them all away.
I get particularly ticked off if the people living in my house don’t follow this method. I like it. I use it. It means I can walk away from the laundry at any time and know where I am in the process when I return.
A few days ago, my husband threw a load in the washer. When it emerged from the dryer, I realized he had broken my organizational system. If there is one thing I’ve learned about marriage (and parenting), you must choose your battles wisely. I did not locate my weapons or don my armor for this one. Instead, I dumped the laundry on top of the table and rifled through it to first find my daughter’s clothes and fold them into a designated area on the table before locating my husband’s clothes and following suit. As I did this, I thought about my writing. This led to considering my current research for the non-fiction article I’m writing for Assignment Four.
So far, my only research has involved printing and reading a few articles about my topic of interest, written for adults in the New Yorker and New York Times years ago. I hope to unpack the information and repackage it for children. The stories have a wow-factor and have not yet been written for children.
There is one major problem.
I feel uninspired and I am not sure why. As I do the laundry, I realize that my research organizational system closely mirrored my laundry organizational system. I was poking into one aspect of this story over and over again. I hadn’t been collecting large quantities of information from different sources and then thinking of new ways to sort them all out. My system might work for laundry because the goal is to get it done with as little thought as possible, but it was not going to work for research designed to create a thoughtful essay with a new angle.
Back in my college days when I worked part-time with preschool children, I read an article that claimed children don’t develop the ability to see ways of organizing until later in childhood. This research was developed to show why it was an ineffective for adults to ask children to clean up a huge pile of toys. Instead, the article went on, it is more effective to tell one child to collect all the dolls, for example, or all the yellow toys first. Luckily I'm no longer a preschooler so I was able to get out from under the mess of my husband's laundry "system."
Identifying Good Information
Now I need to try to do this with research for my latest article. First, I need to ask as many questions as I can about my topic. What am I looking for as I troll the Internet? I take out my notebook and brainstorm questions, not letting the seemingly dumb ones escape. My plan is to find the answers to these questions as I research so I’ll be able to fill out my article. My hope is that as I answer my questions, I’ll be able to identify subtopics (piles) for each answer and then group them together like laundry–not that I love doing laundry, but you get what I mean! Now I realize why people use index cards. I’m more of a list maker and a computer user, but I have a program called Scrivener which allows me to organize my research into electronic index cards.
The next important factor in research I need to consider is each information source. I find some fantastic articles from credible sources such as the New Yorker and the New York Times, but I also come across some dubious ones on Wikipedia and in chat forums. I actually start by going to Snopes.com which is a website that routinely debunks myths circulated on the Internet. From their own site: “The snopes.com website was founded by David Mikkelson, who lives and works in the Los Angeles area. What he began in 1995 as an expression of his interest in researching urban legends has since grown into what is widely regarded by folklorists, journalists, and laypersons alike as one of the World Wide Web's essential resources.” My topic might be an urban legend and I want to be sure it isn’t before I continue my research. Snopes confirms the reality of my topic and so after recording the web address of this information, I move into finding the answers to my questions.
Focusing a Manuscript
Now that I’ve answered my questions, I am left with a whole lot of information that has vague similarities. I thought this would be easy, but I am wrong. I picked up one of ICL’s resource books called From Inspiration to Publication and read Chapter 8 by Margery Facklam. On page 108, she writes:
“The best advice I ever had on finding the focus of a manuscript was the 'spaghetti principle.' Editor and book producer Barbara Lucas compares finding the focus of an article to pulling one strand of spaghetti from a plateful of pasta. The pile of pasta on your plate is the research you’ve collected. The one strand you wind onto your fork is the focus you pull out of that pile of facts.”
I’m still searching for that one strand of spaghetti, but like finding my daughter’s little pink socks in the mountain of XXL flannel shirts––this is one thing I know how to do.
Kimberley Moran's site
Kimberley Moran is a gifted and talented teacher and freelance writer who lives in Hampden, Maine. She has two children and one very nice husband. Kimberley would like her bio to make her sound brilliant, witty, and kind because she knows that when you write and read you get to be anyone you want to be.
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