Last time we talked about the first step rough processing part of doing text-based research. This week we’ll talk about the next step of the process. We’ll process the metaphorical ore into the verbal/textual metal that we’ll incorporate in our writing (the part we’re talking about next week…).
I don’t want to scare anyone, but it’s time to do some reading. And yes, Johnny, I know you had to do some reading to get to this point. Before we’re done, we’ll read some of our material a second time, a third time, and possibly several iterations after that.
Picking out the best bits
At this point, we’re forming an idea of what we want to say. We’ve met a lot of the pieces we need (there may be more, but we’ve got a lot of them in front of us already). Much of our gathering work and hopefully our first pass reading is done. We’ve rejected the material that clearly doesn’t fit and collected the stuff we want to use.
Now the job is to dig into that material again. This time we’re not interested in a general “this article is good.” This time, we’re looking at the specific parts that are good. We’re making evaluations and decisions.
Are we dealing with primary sources or is the author quoting someone else? If they’re quoting someone else, do we also have the original in our stack? Can we find the original if we don’t have it?
Does the material support what we’re saying? Does it present an alternative view that we’ll need to explain (Don’t toss those out!)? Does the author point us toward other questions we need to ask?
If there are alternate views or additional questions, we’re better off addressing them than trying to hide them. Hiding them or avoiding them leaves us open to questions we might not want to deal with later. Dealing with them now shows that we’re knowledgeable in the area and strengthens our case.
Is the information really relevant? If we’re writing a paper about the nutritive value of oranges (the citrus fruit) we probably don’t need a lot of information about orange peppers or carrots. We definitely don’t need to talk about “don’t shoot me” orange hunting vests.
Do we have more information about a particular area or item than we need? We might keep the extra arround around, but we don’t have to use all of it.
Highlights and notes in the margin
So far, we’ve been talking about reducing our list to the sources that we really need or want. Eventually, we’ll have reduced the list of sources to the ones we want, but we’re not done. We have the sources, but are we going to use the entire book/article/blog post/whatever?
Eventuallylater, it’s time to mark things within the text. There are many tools to do this: highlighting, underling, comments, and others. I recommend you experiment and find what tools and methods work best for you.
I also recommend that you use a combination of tools and methods. Sure, underlining or highlighting marks the part you want to refer to. But they don’t tell you why you wanted to refer to them. Comments or notes in the margin will do that. Comments and notes also help you draw connections to other sources and your own ideas. They can help you draw the conclusions that you need to make. But they won’t tell you which specific sentence you want to quote,
The idea here is to mark and connect with the specific pieces within your research that you actually want to use. And then, go through that stack one more time, looking for holes, places where you have too much to use, themes that resonate but you haven’t put into your own words yet, and other treasures you might have missed in earlier searches.
By this point, we’ve done a lot of work. We’re almost where we need to be. Next week we’ll get into the cutting, fitting, and mixing the research we’ve found with our own words.
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.