I’m working on a book chapter this week, with a word target of 10,000 words. That works out to be about 20 normal pages or 40 manuscript pages (give or take because… you know… formatting…). Not the biggest thing I’ve written, but not the smallest either.
In preparing to write the chapter, I’ve worked my way through 2,000 pages of reference material. One of my friends (and the accountant part of my brain) pointed out that I’m getting a one percent return. Well, actually it’s less than that and more at the same time.
It’s less because a one percent return would mean I just plonked out 20 pages worth of the 2,000 pages I read. That would be plagiarism and I’m not into that. Since I need to fit my own words in there, I read 2,000 pages to get maybe 10 pages worth of stuff.
But, it’s more because those 2,000 pages provide me with the material I need to write my own words and get them published. In the end, I’m only using a fraction of what I read, but I’m using it to create something new, something that supports my goals and objectives in a way regurgitating the previous material alone doesn’t.
A different kind of work…
Doing research is hard. In fact, in some ways, it’s harder than it used to be. Back in the old days (when I rode my mastodon to the university every day) I had to go to the library, collect a stack of bound journal volumes, and then go to a photocopier to make copies. After that, I had to read the articles I copied (not always easy) and extract the information before I could use it. And that’s not counting the work to find the articles.
Right now, in 2022, I haven’t had to photocopy an article in years. I don’t need hiking shoes and a luggage cart to find the information I need. I can find it electronically, but that’s where things get complicated and today’s work gets harder. There are a lot more sources out there. We don’t have to hand lug stuff, but we definitely have to achieve clarity about what we’re looking for and what sources to trust.
Defining what you’re looking for (even if you’re not sure what it is!)
As we start our search, we might not know what we’re actually looking for. If we knew, it would be much easier to find our information. But knowing what we’re looking for, the actual points and quotes we’re looking for comes at the end of the thought process, not the beginning.
So, we start by creating some broad and general definitions (“I would like to talk about what the word magnify means in a scriptural sense.”) and cast a wide net. We look over what we’ve got, and start deciding (“Three sources are all citing one original source. Since what I want is the bit that they’re citing, I’ll drop all three and go with the original if I can find it”).
Next, another iteration of refining, which allows us to further home in on what we’re looking for. We may also find that we need to “open another can of worms” by expanding our search into new areas. That’s ok we’re learning what it is we need to learn.
We’ll repeat the process with these new searches, but remember two things: 1) we need to keep our focus and remember what it is we’re working on and looking for (it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole) and 2) eventually we need to tie all the stuff we’re collecting and using into one coherent story (even if it’s non-fiction…)
It’s a complex process, and we haven’t even gotten to where we can use the stuff we’re finding. Miners and refiners of metal have to separate the ore from the host rock before they can refine the ore (and they usually have to refine the ore before they get a chunk of workable metal). We’re doing the same thing. We’ve collected some material and are separating it from the host rock (all the other information and “stuff” that’s out there.
In the next part of this series, we’ll move on to refining the ore, extracting the bits that matter from our research. And then (in part three) we’ll move on to actually “using the metal”, meshing the research with our own words to create something greater.
It’s a challenging process, dear reader, but it’s a key to good writing. Good luck in your writing (and research) dear reader. And, I’ll see you next post.
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