PDA

View Full Version : research / the process of management



ATP
12-13-2007, 09:04 PM
It is often said in this industry that ‘the research’ can be used again, and in a variety of ways. I am really not so sure.

I have a number of questions about the process concerning non-fiction research for the more senior and experienced writers here who undertake considerable/extensive research:

Q. Where do you place ‘the research’ on your hard disk?

Q. How do you label it?

Q. How do you remember to use it again?

Q. With the initial article or book, had you already other avenues commissioned which would
enable you to ‘refashion’ or adapt the research?

Q. How long do you keep ‘the research’ in/on your hard disk?

Q. Does it ever lose ‘value’ with the passage of time?

Q. If so, what do you decide to do with the research which now has very little or no
longer has any ‘value’?

Thanks.

ResearchGuy
12-14-2007, 12:54 AM
I would not know where to begin to answer your questions, the answer to which is probably "it depends" in most cases. However, take a look at http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=82660 for a link to something that might be of related value.

--Ken

Lauri B
12-14-2007, 01:28 AM
Hi ATP,
I'm in the throes of a nf book right now, and am working on organizing my research not only so I can use it again, but also so I can note the source of each bit of information I use. I've been taking notes as I read primary sources, then typing the notes into an Excel spreadsheet. I have found it is easier for me to see and record (and comment on) the notes I've taken that way.
The topic I am writing on is one that is pretty broad but isn't going to change a lot in the near future (it's not about a particular era or necessarily a hot topic or technology based for example). I have some magazine pitches I'll do using the research and can use a lot of the research as background for another book that is under consideration. Otherwise, I'll keep the excel spreadsheets on my hard drive until I need them again.

underthecity
12-14-2007, 02:16 AM
Maybe I'm a little bit different, but when I researched my history books, I photocopied and/or printed out everything. Anything I used as research was printed out, hole-punched and put into binders. I don't think I had a single thing saved on the computer.

Made it a lot easier for me to deal with.

allen

ResearchGuy
12-14-2007, 03:01 AM
. . . I don't think I had a single thing saved on the computer. . . .
Depends on what sort of work one is doing. For my policy reports for the California Research Bureau, I accumulated many hundreds of pages of material (if not thousands, depending on the project), including spreadsheets of employment and population data, articles and even entire books in .pdf, and photographs and other images, much of which would have been useless if only printed out (I would have to track it down and download it again--and it might have changed in the meantime, as is the case with data), not to mention enormously expensive (although much also got printed for reference, too). I saved many images for later selection (requesting permission to use, where necessary). Material not available electronically (old books, old magazine articles, and so on) I might photocopy for later reference. In all cases, I documented everything I cited or quoted so thoroughly that I could find it again if needed. I could not have done that sort of work (nor could my colleagues) without large disk files of resources.

--Ken

ATP
12-14-2007, 12:52 PM
I'm in the throes of a nf book right now, and am working on organizing my research not only so I can use it again, but also so I can note the source of each bit of information I use. I've been taking notes as I read primary sources, then typing the notes into an Excel spreadsheet. I have found it is easier for me to see and record (and comment on) the notes I've taken that way. .

Is this your usual modus operandi? Or a new method you're trying/experimenting with? Why did you decide on the spreadsheet method? When you've finished just such an exercise, how many of the following do you think you'll be left with? ie. urls/links, photocopies, word documents, txt files, pdfs etc.




The topic I am writing on is one that is pretty broad but isn't going to change a lot in the near future (it's not about a particular era or necessarily a hot topic or technology based for example).


I have some magazine pitches I'll do using the research and can use a lot of the research as background for another book that is under consideration. .


Is this something that came about through serendipity or cold, hard research…?



Otherwise, I'll keep the excel spreadsheets on my hard drive until I need them again.

How will you remember where it is on the hard disk? How will you label or code it? Given your background and number of years in the business, what would you say is the number of documents that you have in your hard disk that comprises 'the research'?

Thanks.

JAG4584
12-14-2007, 08:27 PM
I print my data and also copy it to CD's labeled according to what the data "is" on them. I don't think there is any one more perfect way over the other to store and save files - commonsense is key as you have to be able to protect the data that you have as these days anything can happen, fire, theft, flood etc so having back up material is always a good thing.

ATP
12-15-2007, 07:41 AM
I print my data and also copy it to CD's labeled according to what the data "is" on them. .

I think that from my OP, you can see that I am interested in the *process* of how research/research data is managed. Of interest still but less so here in this thread is the matter of ‘result’.

In this, might I enquire why you choose to print your data? In terms of process, this is time consuming and expensive when you take into account the cost of printer ink cartridges. And, not to mention the aspect of the availability, size and cost of
‘real estate’ for this i.e. storage space.



I don't think there is any one more perfect way over the other to store and save files - commonsense is key as you have to be able to protect the data that you have as these days anything can happen, fire, theft, flood etc so having back up material is always a good thing.

Absolutely. I think that this aspect of back up is essential, but in my mind I consider this falling under the category of “technical/technology”.

ATP
12-15-2007, 07:58 AM
Depends on what sort of work one is doing<snip> I could not have done that sort of work (nor could my colleagues) without large disk files of resources.


In this, I wonder how you classified all your print and digital data? Was the classification system different for both print and digital data, or one and the same?

Also, did you re-use the data? Was it re-usable? Was some data more re-usable than others?

And, how about storage? Where did the data go when the project was finished? And how long would it stay there? Was data routinely evaluated for its ‘value’, and if it passed a certain use-by date, it was discarded?

ResearchGuy
12-15-2007, 08:56 PM
In this, I wonder how you classified all your print and digital data? Was the classification system different for both print and digital data, or one and the same?

Also, did you re-use the data? Was it re-usable? Was some data more re-usable than others?

And, how about storage? Where did the data go when the project was finished? And how long would it stay there? Was data routinely evaluated for its ‘value’, and if it passed a certain use-by date, it was discarded?
I use folders on the PC and paper folders on the desk. Classifications are idiosyncratic and often very imperfect. Typically I have a master folder on the hard disk for each project, but details after that can become messy.

Here is the thing: read my Knowledge Quest column on how I write a research paper. That spells out a lot. A key is to document everything IN the paper as I write it. Bear in mind that the process (as I implement it) is as much art as science, and greatly influenced by deadlines. (I work backwards from the drop-dead due date and set milestones to get me there.)

Sure, some material is more reusable that others. Depends entirely on the kind of project. For my reports on California's Central Valley, heavily dependent on social and economic statistics, for each new edition I downloaded new sets of data and started spreadsheets pretty much from scratch (perhaps cannibalizing some elements like basic layouts and some historic data -- but not necessarily even that, as even historic numbers are sometimes revised by the Department of Finance's demographics unit). Some never gets touched again. Depends on the project. I really should (now that I am self-employed) undertake a new edition of my San Joaquin Valley report (it has a ready-made audience, and maybe a paying one). That would be facilitated by the extensive source documentation in the published papers, but I will still be downloading new data for analysis and rethinking the layout of the report and the topics to cover.

Storage . . . much got tossed when I left the Research Bureau. I still have some old paper files in storage, but not sure how useful they would be now. Old files on my PC might or might not be helpful. I have a box of state curriculum guidelines printed out for my Knowledge Quest column (the "Policy and Data Resources on the Web" series), but those are becoming outdated. I also have several of the state documents on my PC -- but I have to check for newer versions for every new column in that series.

For one large, but (irksomely) aborted project, I retained boxes of files for a while, until they were tossed out (after some materials were culled for the permanent collection). But I still have my original version of the report (it was published after I left, in a truncated and rewritten form), which I can use to help find data sources if I ever revisit the topic. Some sources are in the permanent reference collection in the State Library (decades of state budget documents, for example). One needs to know where to find those, not to have copies. Look at any of my California Research Bureau reports (esp. the Central Valley reports, but also the one on indoor mold) to see my approach to documentation. (BTW, that sort of detail has gone out of favor with that office now, I think.)

FWIW, when I was doing policy research for a living, I had a structure in which to do that, literally and figuratively, including reference librarians and a vast collection of resources in library stacks and in databases (and the librarians could track down practically anything I might need). Topics covered everything from ferrets to indoor mold, forestry law to computers in K-12 education. In general, each project stood alone. Only the statistical reports on the Central Valley formed a series. If I am ever invited back to do a fifth one (not likely), I'll have to start from scratch, as the Library cleaned house and dumped my files.

I hope that is helpful. A key point is that the process is never tidy. Another key point is that meticulous, accurate documentation of all sources is critical. Even if you don't have a copy, you have to be able to find the source again.

BTW, you might want to look at Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 7th edition, revised by Wayne C. Booth and others (University of Chicago Press, 2007). Booth and others have also written a book with the title The Craft of Research (2nd ed. pub. 2003). They revised Turabian's venerable manual to include aspects of their book on research.

--Ken

LC123
12-26-2007, 05:04 AM
Well, I consider the research I did for my non-fiction books fairly extensive, but just printing out material and keeping it organized in labeled hanging file folders worked for me. Sounds like what you do is in a league of its own. Maybe you should create a MySQL database with a search function?

ATP
12-26-2007, 12:29 PM
Well, I consider the research I did for my non-fiction books fairly extensive, but just printing out material and keeping it organized in labeled hanging file folders worked for me. Sounds like what you do is in a league of its own. Maybe you should create a MySQL database with a search function?

I assume you're addressing this reply to me, rather than Ken (Research Guy)?

If so, when it comes to research/data management, I don't know if what
I do is actually in 'a league of its own'. I am pretty sure that there are other NF writers (book and/or article) who must deal with significant/copious amounts of data/information. Perhaps I (and they) are in the minority in this case. I had honestly thought that writing an NF book would involve undertaking and storing a copious amount of research material. "Copious" being a relative term, of course. I have had an
ill-formed idea within my mind of what this means; but clearly the amount differs across sectors and types eg. academic textbook vs. popular psychology vs. memoir.

As for the MySQL database, I have arrived at solution which approximates this. This has worked well for awhile, but now I have run up against a technical problem (as my computing friend tells me) of the age of the computer and CPU speed being insufficient, necessitating the purchase of a new 'box'.

LC123
12-28-2007, 10:26 AM
<< I had honestly thought that writing an NF book would involve undertaking and storing a copious amount of research material. "Copious" being a relative term, of course >>

Hi ATP, I've written one textbook and five editions of a non-fiction book. While both of them involved a lot of research, the paper was easily stored in hanging file folders in one file cabinet, and the digital files were easily stored and browsable in folders for each chapter. Some files were thicker than others, but key is to know when to STOP gathering and accumulating research and just work with what you've deemed most important. Research may be bottomless but page count isn't. If you're at the point where your computer can't handle the files you have, maybe you've got too much.

nerds
12-28-2007, 06:52 PM
I print out everything and file it the old-fashioned way in an actual file cabinet. I also burn a copy from the computer, and I keep all my longhand notes filed as well.

Other than that I don't really have answers for the o.p. I had a clear endpoint for my WIP before I started it, so the research had a clear endpoint too. What I did end up adding were more interviews with people for the story, since I'd underestimated the level of cooperation I would receive. Those are still ongoing and will be woven into the second draft. But the research itself had a beginning, middle and end for me. This is possibly not usual, and one would often have to determine for oneself when enough research is enough, I would think.

LC123
12-29-2007, 04:33 AM
But the research itself had a beginning, middle and end for me. This is possibly not usual, and one would often have to determine for oneself when enough research is enough, I would think.

I would think everyone needs to determine their research's start, middle and end for their book to actually become a book instead of an eternal WIP. I know for me it would be very easy to keep adding research and references, resulting in 1. never finishing or 2. having a book that is unpublishable due to size, unwieldiness and possibly lack of focus.

ResearchGuy
12-29-2007, 09:10 AM
I would think everyone needs to determine their research's start, middle and end for their book to actually become a book instead of an eternal WIP. . . .
That is the beauty of deadlines.

--Ken

ATP
12-29-2007, 09:56 AM
<< I had honestly thought that writing an NF book would involve undertaking and storing a copious amount of research material. "Copious" being a relative term, of course >>

Hi ATP, I've written one textbook and five editions of a non-fiction book. While both of them involved a lot of research, the paper was easily stored in hanging file folders in one file cabinet, and the digital files were easily stored and browsable in folders for each chapter. Some files were thicker than others, but key is to know when to STOP gathering and accumulating research and just work with what you've deemed most important. Research may be bottomless but page count isn't. If you're at the point where your computer can't handle the files you have, maybe you've got too much.

As a journalist subject to deadlines, I know well the process of research beginning, middle and end. While this provided the context for my OP, I had in mind the larger perspective of the total amount of data.You're correct in the technical aspect and the requirement for a database/s. What is incorrect, and perhaps I ought to have clarified, is that the assumed amount of research data is the same as the total amount of data.

I have a hard disk of 40GB, but I do not have research data for any one project which requires this amount of disk space. For example, by time I finish my revised, much improved folder and file structure, I will have somewhere in the vicinity of 5000+ documents, which will likely comprise a total of around 400 MB.This number of documents comprises material ranging from 1999 to the present (the majority since 2004), across quite a number of different categories.

As to whether my computer can handle this capacity of (text) data, the short answer for this is yes. However, the CPU question is related to the speed required to process data generated by my more recent '07 software and downloading video clips etc. According to my computer friend, it is here that I am approaching the limits of my present 'box' (around 10 years old) and CPU, which came with the replaced motherboard (not quite as old, perhaps 5 years?).Generally speaking, if one deals with WP software and text, what I have works quite well. However,this aspect would and does fall into the realm of technology, data management, and not just 'research management'.

LC123
12-29-2007, 07:19 PM
Ok, well, whatever works for you. I personally wouldn't even know where to start with 5,000 files, I'd get overwhelmed and give up. :)

Fern
12-29-2007, 08:59 PM
Why not use flash drives?

ATP
12-30-2007, 09:20 PM
Mollyluna,

It is good to read about others who share the same concerns in organisation. I had not known of Word 2007 and the functions it provides-I have Word 2000. But more generally, I am intrigued: assuming you concentrate on text, what is the total size of your data? Do you use any desktop search software? ...Really? A 100MB portable drive?

ResearchGuy
12-31-2007, 08:11 AM
. . .
Does Word 2000 even have footnoting capability? . . .
You kidding? Of course it does.

--Ken

Tsu Dho Nimh
01-03-2008, 01:22 AM
Q. Where do you place ‘the research’ on your hard disk?

Q. How do you label it?

In a really big folder called "writing" ... with subfolders and sub-subfolders for each project, by name or topic. For example, I have one called "skiing" that has subfolders on skis, socks, storing and care of ski gear, resorts, safety .... one for each article I have done or am planning to do.

I also have a HUGE bookmark folder called "Ideas", for when I blunder into what could be an interesting topic if I can find a market. I bookmark many, actually end up writing about a few.

Q. How do you remember to use it again?

If I'm researching for article "A", the folder with the research also has a document with all the possible ways I brainstorm to recycle the research into other articles.

A glance at the writing folder shows me what's available.

Q. With the initial article or book, had you already other avenues commissioned which would enable you to ‘refashion’ or adapt the research?

Not usually ... but if it's truly going to be a 1-off article, I'll want to get more for it.

Q. How long do you keep ‘the research’ in/on your hard disk?

FOREVER!!!!!

Q. Does it ever lose ‘value’ with the passage of time?

Probably, but the thought of cleaning off the hard drive scares me.

Q. If so, what do you decide to do with the research which now has very little or no
longer has any ‘value’?

Sometimes I can scan a folder and see a way to "refresh" the topic - maybe do a folllow-up or a retrospective or an update. Or not. But I don't delete it.

***************
Added:
I do not count focused fact checking as "research" ... research to me is trawling for a wide catch from which I will extract selected facts.

EXAMPLE: Looking up the date of introduction of chile peppers to China is not research if it's the only fact I need to fluff up a recipe for chilis. Collecting data for a history of the spread of chilis aorund the world is research.