I have to do a lot of research projects, but until recently I hadn't formulated a logical structure for organising them. I had tried to do this a while ago, but this past week I've managed to perfect it! I'm so happy with myself! I have to say, the inspiration came from the method of organisation you use for filofaxes- dividers, with a place for everything, and everything in its place!
First came the realisation of how to organise my folder, then I put my mind to the actual process I should use to be organised in doing the actual research itself.
I have to say, before you start reading, this set-up is relevant for my course, Egyptology, and other evidence-based subjects, e.g. history etc (among others, although I can't think of any more specific ones). This may not work for you if you do a very different course which isn't evidence-based; but you may find some interesting tips in it anyway!
So first, I will explain the lay-out of my research folder, and then the process of researching for different types of research projects.
- Divider 1 is 'Organisation'- the space for to-dos, list of questions to ask, etc. Subsection 1.2:
- Divider 1.2 is 'Instructions, methods'- where I write instructions for my assignment, methods and techniques to use in it.
- Divider 2 is 'Evidence- Dataset/Catalogue'- The most important section- where I will accumulate the evidence I will be using in my research assignment. I will explain why this is so important later. Subsections 2.1 and 2.2:
- Divider 2.1 is 'Analysis of Evidence'- where I write notes on my analysis of the evidence behind divider 2
- Divider 2.2 is 'Interpretation of Evidence/Importance of Evidence'- After I have analysed the evidence, I will write up my interpretations of it here
- Divider 3 is 'Research'- Where all my notes I make from my research go. Behind the main tab I have lists of books/articles to look at, keywords to search for in the Egyptology publications databases. Subsections 3.1 and 3.2:
- Divider 3.1 is 'Basic/Background Research'
- Divider 3.2 is 'Specific Research'. I will explain the distinction between these 2 in a minute
- Divider 4 is 'Discussion points/Arguments'- I don't know if this is the proper term, but I mean the main topics I will be discussing in my essay; and the notes/evidence I will use to demonstrate/argue these points
- Divider 5 is 'Plan'- for my essay plan, where everything comes together in an organised and structured way, before it gets written up into my drafts!
Each section has its own divider (cheap ones from Tesco, but pretty colours!), while each subsection is a divider, but I have cut the side-tab off and taped it to the top of the divider to create a top-tab! For quick access within the main section.
So, this folder is how I keep all my notes etc organised which I produce when carrying out the research procedures below. This is the essence to my whole system of organisation: the folder is important for keeping your papers organised in the specific sections, but you have to follow these procedures to be organised in your research to start with.
Different types of assignments require different procedures. The two types of research projects in Egyptology, and in other subjects, are as follows:
The distinction is as follows: in an evidence-based paper (whether this is an essay set for a student to do, or an article written by an academic), you start off with a specific piece of evidence or group of evidence (dataset) which you analyse and interpret, and it is this evidence which leads on to questions you can address in your research and your discussion. In a question-based paper, you start off with a question (or issue, or statement), and this question itself leads you to the topics you will address in your research and essay. That really is the difference: fundamentally, is your assignment based on a piece of evidence or not? Take these examples: (I'll give examples relating to the subject of History, because more people understand this than Egyptology!)
Did the policy of appeasement cause World War Two, or was the war inevitable?
To what extent did Chamberlain's 'Anglo-German Agreement' cause World War Two?
The distinction between these two questions is on the surface quite slight: both are about the same subject (appeasement), but the first is a question-based assignment- the question leads you to keywords and issues and ideas which you can use to find books, to research the subject, to write your assignment; but the second is an evidence-based assignment- it uses the 'Anglo-German Agreement', the piece of paper which Hitler signed, agreeing to not start a war, as the start of the whole research project, and then you answer the question based on your analysis of this major piece of everything. An evidence-based assignment starts off with evidence, while a question-based assignment finds it along the way.
Why do you need to know which category your paper falls into? Because the different types of assignemtn uses different procedures. This are the best procedures I have developed for each type of assignment:
- Write down the instructions of your assignment, and make sure you understand them (Divider 1.2)
- Collect (print out/photocopy) and file your evidence/dataset (Divider 2)
- Review the evidence/dataset, so you know what sort of topics, issues you will be addressing, keywords to look up etc-->
- Using keywords etc, make a starter bibliography (using whatever bibliographic database/catalogue is relevant for your course). (Divider 3)
- Do basic/background research on the general subject and the piece of evidence/dataset in general using these books you have identified in your bibliography. (Divider 3.1). (This is different from specific research- basic/background research is to give you knowledge about the subject in general, so you know enough about the subject to interpret the evidence, and understand the arguments of scholars who have written about this subject).
- Analyse your evidence/dataset (Divider 2.1)
- and interpret it (Divider 2.2)
- Use the background knowledge you have gained, and your interpretation of your piece of evidence/dataset, to develop the main discussion points/arguments you want to discuss in your paper. My lecturer says that an assignment between 2000 and 5000 words should only have 3 discussion points- she wants depth of argument and quality, not quantity (too many issues covered) that doesn't discuss them in enough depth or quantity. (Divider 4)
- Then, do specific research on the piece of evidence/dataset, and your discussion points- specific research is what goes into your paper, whereas basic research just fills in the gaps in your brain! (Divider 3.2)
- Write this into your plan (Divider 5)
- And develop your arguments, by doing more research, and keep writing this up into your plan, and round and round again!
This is somewhat easier because this is what undergraduate students are used to doing.
- Write down the question (and instructions) and make sure you understand it/them (Divider 1.2)
- Once you understand what your question is asking of you (you know keywords etc), use keywords to make your starter bibliography (using a database etc) (Divider 3)
- Do basic/background research on the general subject from the books/articles in your starter bibliography (Divider 3.1)
- Summarise the main themes/issues you have learned from your basic research
- Start making your evidence/sources database (evidence you find along the way, that is important for answering your essay question- this is continuous, do it every time you find a piece of relevant evidence, whether in your basic or specific research) (Divider 2)
- Then analyse and interpret this evidence, towards answering your question (Dividers 2.1 and 2.2)
- Using your basic research, your summaries of the main themes/issues, and the patterns/interesting features you have found during your analysis/interpretation of the evidence/sources you have found, make the (3) discussion points/arguments you want to make in your essay (Divider 4)
- Do specific research on your discussion points etc (Divider 3.2)
- Write into your plan
- Develop your discussion points etc
I hope all this makes sense! If you have any questions or want me to clarify anything, just ask me in the comments!
Have a great weekend :)