From: Bunny Batzri
Subject: Looking it up.
Recently, I received a question which was utterly buried in the middle of what LOOKED like a research summation, but could just as easily have been a laundry list, the beginning of an essay on What I Did This Summer, or a pizza order. It was, in short, a jumble of words and ideas, and gave me very little as a starting point. (I am not answering that question right this second. I'll answer it later. I have the right to be mercurial when I want to.)
This got me thinking. Namely, it got me thinking about the slapdash approach that many people seem to take to research. And I thought 'y'know, someone should really tell these folks that they'd get better results if they followed a few simple rules'. And then I thought 'I should put my money where my mouth is'. And so today, I present to you Bunny Batzri's Rules of Research. Learn them, know them, understand them, because they just might save your ass one day.
1. KNOW WHAT YOU'RE LOOKING FOR.
When you want to learn about cats, say 'I am looking for information on cats', not 'I am looking for information on mammals'. If you don't know for sure that what you want is information on cats, put a little more thought into things before you actually get started. It's likely to save you quite a lot of grief, and it'll make your results cleaner right out of the gate.
2. BE SPECIFIC.
Once you know what you're looking for, look for THAT. If you know you're looking for information on cats, don't start with mammals unless you have a very good reason. It's easier to look at the big picture once you know what you need. And that said...
3. START BIG, GET SMALL.
The best research topics almost always follow a linear progression from large to small. 'I want to learn about mammals' becomes 'I want to learn about carnivores', then 'I want to learn about cats' and 'I want to learn about Siamese cats'. If you already know that you want to learn about Siamese, you don't need to artificially inflate your area of study, but be willing to chase those smaller branches to see what you can learn. You can always go back and chase another avenue later.
4. DON'T GET SIDETRACKED.
This follows from #3. If you're looking for information on Siamese cats and you find something cool about the Persian, make a note of it and come back to it later. If you let yourself get distracted, you're going to confuse your research, and possibly miss something important.
5. KEEP YOUR QUESTIONS IN MIND.
Know what you want to know more than anything else -- do I want to know how long cats live? What they eat? How they were domesticated? And when you encounter interesting lines of thought that don't answer those questions, apply #4 and put them aside for a little while. Answer your big questions FIRST. Everything else can come after that part is taken care of.
6. NEVER CONSIDER A SINGLE SOURCE TO BE ABSOLUTE FACT.
Witnesses are inaccurate; oral traditions warp; opinions color text. Just because I say something is so, that doesn't mean it is. I can say 'the sky is blue': you should still confirm that with your own eyes, and with other sources, if you possibly can. Otherwise, it's not an absolute. It doesn't mean 'the sky is blue'; it means 'Bunny says the sky is blue'. And those two things are completely different. This leads us to...
7. CHECK YOUR SOURCES.
Anyone can write a book and claim to be an expert. I could write a book on the care and feeding of unicorns, even though I've never HAD a unicorn (and the only unicorn I've ever met tried to trample me to death). I could self-publish it through House Dougal, and there it would be, all shiny and glossy and full of totally inaccurate information. Don't just read one book: read three, and if two of them say the third is bullshit, you need to find out what the situation really is.
8. NO ONE PROOFREADS THE CHIMNET.
I am typing this from the academic ivory tower of the tree house in my back yard, where I am taking advantage of our house wireless network. I'll probably run it by Roger before I post, since he's pretty good at telling me when I'm full of it, but I may not bother -- it depends on whether or not he gets here within the next twenty minutes. The research tips I am giving you are, thusly, taken only from my own experience and from a few questions I shouted to my mother. Are they perfect? Nope. Are they accurate? I think so, but I could be wrong. If you find it online, take it with a grain of salt until you verify it.
9. CONSULT THE EXPERTS.
There are people who have made a living out of studying just about anything you can come up with. If I want information on Siamese cats, I should make a point to contact someone who breeds them, because they're likely to know a lot of stuff that's going to be useful to me. Their information will be subject to opinion and personal focus, just like everything else, but it's easier to apply the grain of salt once I actually have the data that I'm looking for.
10. TRY EVERY ROUTE YOU CAN.
There are a lot of different ways to research. Libraries, contacting the experts, searching through media collections for old interviews and visiting museums. Consider how many 'roads' can lead to your chosen topic, and take them all. Read books on cats, visit a cat show, speak to cat breeders, watch Discovery Channel specials on cats, and so on. You might find a few things you'd miss, otherwise.
Remember, nothing is easy in this world, and to find gold, you first need to dig. I hope I've provided you with a few basic miner's tools today. You can find the rest on your own.
You'll just have to do a little research.
C'mon, SOMEONE had to say it!