General Research: Find What You Need, Step-by-Step

May 6, 2021

Information on performing research is sprinkled all over the web. Most of this advice is written for students who are assigned papers, employees who are asked to do research at work, or scholars who are writing for formal contributions to their field of study. But what if you’re just really interested in finding out more about a topic? What if you’d like to write an article or a book, but you’re not an expert?

This is the first of a series of posts on how I like to research. Feel free to take what sounds good to you and skip the rest.

The process

  • Step One: Exploration. In this phase, you gather information about your topic informally. This is a free-thinking phase.
  • Step Two: Isolation of keywords and central questions. In this step, you isolate exactly which terms and phrases you need going forward.
  • Step Three: Collecting sources. Here you find the basic information you are going to need to write a book accurately and well.
  • Step Four: Taking Notes. This time-consuming stage requires you to understand how to take notes and to have a good system set up so you don’t forget important facts and ideas.
  • Step Five: Organizing your notes. After collecting the notes you need, you rearrange them into categories.

Supplies

There are many ways to take notes. We’ll cover some of them in a future post. But for now, the only thing you really need is a notebook and a pen for recording your thoughts. Below is a list of other office supplies that may come in handy, whether or not you are planning to do most of your work old school (on paper) or digitally.

  • Notecards
  • Notebook
  • Post-It notes
  • Pens
  • Pencils
  • Highlighters
  • Rubber bands
  • Paper clips
  • Boxes
  • Files

Get started

  • Think. In a notebook you’ve dedicated to your research, write down what you already know about your topic. Be as thorough as you can. Complete sentences and narrative flow are not required. You can also use notetaking apps. There are many available. I use Obsidian.
  • Talk.  Ask other people their thoughts and ideas on the topic. Make a note of anything they say that may be interesting.
  • Post. Get on social media and ask what people know or think about the topic. Record anything of interest and who said it.

What to do with the information

You can do whatever you want. You can write blog posts, magazine articles, books, make podcasts, or videos. Part of the joy of doing anything is sharing it with others. Who knows where this might take you?

My next post will cover the first step of the process: the exploratory phase.

Do you have any research tips to share?

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