Wednesday, March 10, 2010

On research

48 Address by President Eisenhower, 20 February 1957, published in Department of State Bulletin, 11 March 1957.

The above is an actual footnote from my actual thesis. For your enjoyment (and mine – you have no idea how funny I think it is to have a footnote at the top of a page. MAN this thesis writing is messing with my head!).

I promise I won’t start using footnotes in my blog, though. Not because I don’t enjoy footnotes (as proved by the above), but because I recognize that there are different kinds of research and documentation required for different kinds of writing. When writing blog posts, for instance, I usually settle for whatever I can find via Google and/or Wikipedia. I am aware that there are issues regarding the use of online sources, but after years of training I usually find it relatively easy to distinguish the serious stuff from what is obviously fabricated. Besides, my blog posts very rarely require heavy research.

When writing fiction, I tend to take my research more seriously. I spend more time on it, I check several sources to make sure my information is accurate and I try to fit the fictional details in with the factual ones to make sure it flows without losing context.

Finally, the most intense way of research for me is what I do academically. Working with my thesis has taught me a lot about how to (and how not to) research. I’ve spent time in an archive, photographing and classifying original documents that I have later read and reread and then reread again. I’ve looked at monographs, biographies, and anthologies. I’ve been through thousands of pages of secondary sources, where renowned historians (and some not so renowned – that’s part of the process too) have considered the same or similar sources as me, and drawn their conclusions that may or may not differ with mine.

It would never occur to me to use Wikipedia in research for my thesis. Even though I know that a lot of the material on Wikipedia is serious and useful, the potential for errors is too big in a medium consisting of whatever its users put into it. Besides, it simply would not look good in my bibliography (which, naturally, is of crucial importance). Finally, when you are writing about sensitive topics such as the Middle East conflict, the potential traps by not being critical towards your sources are endless. Today I am capable of recognizing bias in texts on the Middle East (often based on something as simple as the choice of words), but two years ago I wouldn’t have been. In a medium like Wikipedia it would almost be unnatural if the articles about the Middle East weren’t biased.

Likewise, it would not occur to me to consult an archive before writing a blog post. It would not make sense to spend that much time and money (I travelled across an ocean, you know) on a blog and the format of the blog does not require it. In fact, I think it would probably be detrimental for the purpose of most blogs to spend too much time on research (depending on the topic of the blog, naturally).

Each kind of writing requires its own type of research, and it is important to find what fits your kind of writing. At least, that is my (hard-earned, I might add) experience.

Good giraffe – I just wrote a writing blog! Giraffes must be flying!


Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I'm like you--a little suspicious about the content on Wikipedia. I bet your academic background is really helpful with your research.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Watery Tart said...

If I use Wiki for anything serious, it is the list of sources at the end which I then GO TO and check THOSE out. I admit to googling periodically PROFESSIONALLY, but it is at the 'generation stage' --who is talking about this? What is their affiliation. What is the language? It helps me THEN go to pubmed or psychinfo with a NAME, or with key words I might not have thought of.

It's so true though, the level of thought and research for the different kinds of writing.

Cruella Collett said...

Elizabeth - I hope so, but as mentioned, it can occasionally be a burden rather than an advantage. It's all about how you use the skills you have/have earned, isn't it?

Tami - I might also use google to check smaller things, and frequently even when I check something bigger, because it can help me figure out where to look. But that doesn't go into my bibliography, since the actual research is the one google led me to. If that makes sense...

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