One thing I am very proud of is the way I organize my research. I am convinced that unless the entire process of doing research is organized according to a consistent and reliable system, too much time will be wasted on rummaging among stacks of papers in search of that one elusive quote. We have all had that feeling of having read something useful on the subject we are researching somewhere in the huge mass of articles and books that we accumulate for each project but having no idea which source in particular contained this useful statement.
Of course, everybody has their own system of organizing their research. Mine is aimed at helping me to achieve two goals:
a) not to waste any time in search of something that I vaguely remember seeing somewhere;
b) be able to work on my research everywhere. You never know when a couple of hours might free up. It is always such a pity when, say, a meeting is cancelled but you can't use the time to write because your research materials are elsewhere.
|You can buy a fairly small key-chain with cue|
cards that will not clutter your
handbag and will even fit into
Any research project in my area begins with a lot of reading. First, you read or re-read your primary sources. In my case, the primary sources are often lengthy Realist novels. Then, I think about the reading for a while, write down several ideas, and turn to secondary sources to see what people who have researched this work before me had to say about it.
While I read, I always stop whenever I encounter a passage that interests me and sounds like it might be useful and copy it on a cue card. Copying sounds like extra work, but I have discovered that while I'm copying a quote, I begin to think really hard about it. Many important insights often come to me while I do it.
Everywhere I go, I carry two key-chains with me. One contains quotes from my primary sources. The other one, has quotes from secondary sources. In this way, my research is always with me. While I'm on the bus, or stuck waiting in a line, or have several minutes with nothing else to do, I take out my cue cards and re-read them. I did that, for example, when I was writing my doctoral dissertation that had over 300 sources. As a result, I knew my sources so well that I could find any quote I needed in matter of seconds.
The cue cards on the key chain can also be rearranged in any order which helps with structuring the piece I'm writing. I save all of these key chains because you never know what source you might need to consult in the future. Recently, for example, I needed some sources on the narrative nature of identity. Instead of doing this research all over again, I just disinterred my stacks of cue cards from 5 years ago when I was working on this topic. Within half an hour, I got everything I needed from these old cue cards and was ready to proceed with writing.
I'm not insisting that this system will work for everybody, of course. I, however, find that it really simplifies things for me. Feel free to share any useful tricks you have come up with to organize your research.