Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Strachan Research Method, Pt. 2

4) Find evidence for your thesis. This will mean reading in both the secondaries and the primaries. But you'll be doing more focused reading than your before. Previously, you were reading in order to acquire a knowledge base--to understand your topic in a broad sense. You have already done that, and have narrowed your topic, and so you should read books that will relate closely to your topic. Don't waste time on more general research. You likely don't have alot of time, and you need to give yourself time to write. I like to try and get a ton of books at this stage, both secondary and primary, and skim them. I use glossaries and indexes frequently at this stage. I seek to find passages that relate to my topic. When at this stage, I get a whole stack of books beside me--often twenty to thirty--and a piece of paper. I skim the books and seek to find relevant material in them--either material that makes my point, disagrees with my point, or provides background on the subject. As I find material, I jot down only the page and a few descriptive words to help me locate the quotation later. No need to do all sorts of notecards and that sort of thing--that's great, but it takes too long. The Strachan Method is fast, baby.

5) Type all your quotations up. So after a number of hours of research in which I skim a number of books, read major sections of others, and reference research aids (indexes, etc), I have a body of material that relates specifically to my topic. This material will form the basis of my paper. I then type up all of the material into a single document. When that's all done, I organize the quotations. This is the single most helpful point of the method, I think, because having this outline-by-quotation really sets you up to write your paper. I organize my papers according to what I want to say, but I do so largely by grouping my quotations ahead of time. Then, when I sit down to write the paper, I have everything in order, and I simply plug my quotations into my paper.

6) Write the paper. As I just noted, this is much, much easier when you have all your quotations organized according to the sections of your paper. You might not think that quotations are as important as I am saying they are, but they are. Academic writing is writing amidst a conversation. You are to show that you can engage that conversation effectively when you write a paper. You thus need alot of quote material to write a good paper and to converse effectively with scholars. Thus it makes good sense to organize your paper according to quotations, especially when graders and professors expect a given number of sources (often 10-15) and quotations per page (often at least 2) to demonstrate substantial research and thought. As I've said, when you have the quotations arranged ahead of time, they're all set and ready to go. You'll be amazed at how fast you can write using this method. You don't go book by book, hunting for quotations as you write, starting and stopping to find this quote or that source. You've got it all typed up, and you simply plug it in to your paper. Using this method, you'll be shocked at how your paper goes. Write an intro paragraph, plug in a quotation, and write a summation paragraph, and you've got over a page already in a matter of minutes.

You have to write with excellence to do well, of course, and your paper cannot be a mere smattering of quotations. But I'm not writing about writing here as much as I am about researching. Good research, however, is at least half the battle, and sets you up to write well, particularly as you can write based off of your quotations. I hope that this has helped someone, particularly historical researchers, and please feel free to comment or query about this humble little method. It's by no means perfect, but it works okay for me. Happy researching.


Blogger Dad said...

Well, I have seen any of your papers, so am somewhat limited regarding my statement, but it seems like God has given you gifts in this area.

If I every need to do this kind of research I'll know who to ask for suggestions.

May God bless and keep you.

Al (Not Owen's dad or that other "Al".)

9:27 AM  

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