Author Topic: How do you organize your research?  (Read 3998 times)

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Offline ErinH

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How do you organize your research?
« on: October 02, 2009, 05:42 PM »
Do any of you have strategies you'd recommend for organizing period research?  I'm anticipating using traditional resources, images, newspaper clippings, digital and non-digital references for a book I'm planning (set in WWI rural Maryland) and can't quite get a handle on how I'm going to keep it all straight.    When you are trying to get a period right, how much do you actually take notes and how much do you read just to absorb?


Offline Marissa Doyle

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Re: How do you organize your research?
« Reply #1 on: October 02, 2009, 06:20 PM »
I tend to read, and then organize all my research material (primarily books, but also photocopies of documents and printouts from on-line research) on the bed in my writing room (it used to be the guest room but not any more) into piles by topic--for me, since I write historical fantasy, it's things like clothing, social history, domestic life, maps, folklore, etc. etc.  I have a strong visual memory and can remember where I've read something--literallly see the page it was on--which of course helps...but my pile system seems to work for me.
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Offline Liz Straw

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Re: How do you organize your research?
« Reply #2 on: October 02, 2009, 06:23 PM »
I am a big fan of folders and a box.  Now the folders do not have to hang or look cute or even be new.  

It's called the box orginization theroy and I am not sure it is a real thing... But it always worked and still works for me and I have a friend who is a big fan of a box per project fan.

I started this when I was working for the State Historic Preservation Office in TN and if I got project that would go beyound the brown tie up folders (do these have a real name? - do you know what I mean?  brown filo folders that hold regular folder and have a brown "string" that ties them shut.  

The brown folders worked well for simple research and things you didn't need to get into very often.  But when it came to something I had to do a lot of research; state library, books, national archives, etc.  Anything that had multiple copies of newspaper clippings, oral history, etc.  I got a bankers box and it became my project box.  

There comes a time when you realize that some of the stuff in the box is unecessary junk.  Stuff that is found everywhere, or not relevant at all to what you are doing and eventually you may toss or move it elsewhere.  

But the box works all the time.  New stuff can be tossed in without worrying about it and everything is right where you need it when it is time to write.  

I am a big fan of the box method - its unoragized organization.  You can get as organized as you want with folders and at times you can just toss information you find in it to be filed when needed.  IT WORKS, BUY THE BOX AT YOUR LOCAL OFFICE SUPPLY STORE NOW!  

I might mention that I have approx. 30 banker boxes in my house now storing all sorts of things including my books.

I love the BOX!
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Offline Aimee W.

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Re: How do you organize your research?
« Reply #3 on: October 02, 2009, 06:30 PM »
I've done some short writing like this, nothing novel length, and I'm only answering this because I'm around on a Friday night. Trust me, there are better people to answer these questions!

*edit--as evidenced by the other comments that popped up while I was typing

BUT, I typically divide material into two sections. I use physical and personal as the major categories (not very scientific, I know). Physical meaning town, vehicles, storefronts, clothing, technology, etc. Personal meaning habits, customs, old advertising, crime records, baptisms, major events, etc. (even books written in that era, to get a mentality feel). Then I print and divide them into piles by chronological date and minor category separations so they're easier to find.

It's probably important to read a wealth of information until you have a good "feel" for the era and are confident in your writing or thoughts about what you plan to write (especially if it's a novel). Confidence makes everything easier, I find. Even then, there will still be research that pops up, I'm sure. And hey, Google Rocks!

Wow, that's a lot of stinkin commas.
« Last Edit: October 02, 2009, 06:41 PM by aimeestates »
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Offline ErinH

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Re: How do you organize your research?
« Reply #4 on: October 06, 2009, 03:58 PM »
Thanks, everyone, for these ideas.  I envy your visual memory, Marissa (and your spare bedroom!), and appreciate the advice to absorb the era as much as possible.  Then, I guess, when the writing time comes it will be obvious when something needs to be researched more, because whatever I'd try to describe will feel contrived.   The "personal" and "physical" distinction makes sense--big buckets to hold lots of different kind of data.  And, Lizstraw, I'm with you on the boxes--any excuse, really, to go to Office Depot!    Thanks again.
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Offline Liz Straw

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Re: How do you organize your research?
« Reply #5 on: October 06, 2009, 06:05 PM »
I fell in love with office supplies when I was in high school and discovered an old office supply - stationary store in my home town. hehe  (I later discovered my best friend who also grew up in the same town, but we did not meet until college loved this store also).

They had the best bargin basement for pens, paper, boxes, etc.  Who knew where I would in up now?  Using a box system and loving the big office supply stores.  (I have to convince myself that some stuff on clearance in not really a bargin if you have no use for it!)

Boxes really have served me well doing historical research.  With file folders for each of the different areas I need to have new topic in... They also stack well, can be used as foot stools, and some come in decorative colors.

Maybe I could start selling boxes on the side.

I do not have the type of memory Marissa has until I have seen something so many times (maybe 100 or more) that it is permantly implanted in trivial facts no one else wants to know.  

I don't have the space to spread out my stuff and if I did, a certain dog would probably eat the one piece of paper I really needed.   :dog3

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Offline ecb

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Re: How do you organize your research?
« Reply #6 on: October 09, 2009, 04:04 PM »
I use a Pile System, too.  Although I don't think mine is as organized as Marissa's.

For books, I buy copies whenever possible, because I vandalize them.  I write in them, dog-ear pages, stick post-its all over, etc (they look awful, but I hope that the authors would appreciate the fact that I really *use* their books!).  I tend to absorb non-fiction better if I underline and take notes while I read it.  I will use the blank pages and back cover in the book to make notes of which page has particular information I'll want to go back to later (simply writing that down helps my recall), and I'll make notes at the top of pages about what the key fact/idea/information from that page was (like, "Price of raw wool in 1790s" or "women in trade unions.").

But I second the advice to absorb as much of the period as possible, both because stopping to look up every single detail isn't practical, and because the more natural and seamless you can make the period backdrop, the better.
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Offline Liz Straw

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Re: How do you organize your research?
« Reply #7 on: October 09, 2009, 04:32 PM »
I agree that you have to read everything on the period you are researching.  And reread, and reread. 

I tend not to underline or dogear books.  I have recently started using pencils in some books because I can erase them.  I agree with post-a-notes and book darts. 

There is something in me that just will not allow me to mark the majority of books up no matter what I am doing.  It makes my skin crawl. 

While you cannot go back constantly and look up stuff, I also cannot remember everything I have research and need to make sure that what I have written is correct.

I really dislike books that have anachronisms in them. 

The example I tend to use the most often, although not a book is the one most people never even noticed.  The telephone in The Little House on the Prairie Series.  The used it to call long distance.  No a chance would they have ever had a telephone only for long distance calls.  At that time they would not even have had a private town telephone system.  I do not care if NYC had telephones, it would not have happened out west in the middle of no where. 

Thus you need that research. But it also needs to be tight and a bit more specific to the region you are writing about.

Thus, that ever present filing system comes in handy.

I can read all about a period of history, get all the generalities down, but it is the specific that need to be kept in a file that I do not always recall and have to check back on occaisionally. 

Which is why my brain has a lot of odd trivial facts. 

I have an idea for an historic novel, but I am not sure at this point whether or not I am ready to do all the research yet.  I own almost all the books on the subject.  There are a few more wondering out there, but it will take a lot of rereading and familiarizing myself all over with the subject and getting into some larger historical books that I would never be able to buy.  Nor am I sure they would even be for sale at this time. 

I know how to do all the research, have most of it here in my house and eeek, am I ready to do such a thing?

Well first I have to get a BOX...
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kathy5476

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Re: How do you organize your research?
« Reply #8 on: April 03, 2010, 07:10 PM »
I keep a lot of my research as online files - so they don't need a box! :-)  Then I buy every book I can find on my topic and keep them together on one shelf or one stack.  I keep any physical documents and maps, etc. in binders according to category - family trees in one, native American info in another, and I have one binder just for drafts because I teach and I want the kids to know how many times I rewrote!!!  I guess we all have our own way of going about this.  My theory is that if you love it, you will know where it is. I don't lose the stuff that's important to me.  Just other stuff (like bills). LOL.

Kathy

« Last Edit: April 03, 2010, 07:12 PM by kathy5476 »

Sylvia

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Re: How do you organize your research?
« Reply #9 on: December 22, 2010, 09:06 AM »
I'm a binder freak.  I buy a binder and a package of page inserts and I keep everything worthwhile (and some things totally worthless) I find in it.  I highlight or circle things that really stood out when I first read them too.  I make generic little tabs by cutting index cards in half and package taping them to the inserts.  For historical fiction the tabs might be "dress", "economic conditions", "random facts", "character traits", etc.  It really helps me keep everything in one place.


Michaela MacColl

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Re: How do you organize your research?
« Reply #10 on: May 10, 2012, 08:50 AM »
I wanted to bump this topic up because I've recently moved beyond binders and boxes (well, I still have a few) and began using a program called Scrivener to organize my research. It let me set up files to organize the information in the way that I look for it.

So I do a lot of typing and use the easy footnote function to remind where I found it. One source I used was useful enough and available on kindle, so I used the highlight feature there to copy and paste into Scrivener.  When I find an image, I pop it in a folder. (now I've started scanning images). The benefit to me is huge -- I can lay my hands on everything I need from my laptop. And when I can't quite put my finger on what I'm looking for, the search function is excellent. I'm not abandoning my binders quite yet -- but soon!

Offline Elisabeth

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Re: How do you organize your research?
« Reply #11 on: May 17, 2012, 01:14 AM »
My preferred form for my research resources is digital.

I use Scrivener, which can import links and photos and has a section of the project binder for research. I also use the online site Pinterest - I've got a couple of boards for different eras for different projects. I like that Pinterest preserves the link to the original source. 

I also download some resources as e-books on my e-reader. Many books that are resources for me are out of copyright and so can be downloaded for free, and others can be purchased in e-book form. That way I can take resources with me easily if I'm not working at home.
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Offline Christine B.

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Re: How do you organize your research?
« Reply #12 on: May 17, 2012, 10:18 AM »
I started this when I was working for the State Historic Preservation Office in TN and if I got project that would go beyound the brown tie up folders (do these have a real name? - do you know what I mean?  brown filo folders that hold regular folder and have a brown "string" that ties them shut. 

I believe they are called accordian folders. And ps--total kindred spirits, I am also an office supply fanatic.

Great tips on this thread!

Offline rab

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Re: How do you organize your research?
« Reply #13 on: May 17, 2012, 05:00 PM »
Organize? ORGANIZE?! Why didn't somebody tell me I was supposed to do that?!!!
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Offline Liz Straw

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Re: How do you organize your research?
« Reply #14 on: May 17, 2012, 05:47 PM »
Who said that they were organized, I just stuck them in file folders and accordion files (thanks ChristineCA) or boxes, that way they were all in one place.  Although I did label my files.   ;)
You must do the things you think you cannot do.  Eleanor Roosevelt

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Re: How do you organize your research?
« Reply #15 on: June 18, 2012, 08:55 AM »
I find it's better to have more info than you might need. And, the more primary sources the better.  Make up folders for each topic you want to research and anytime you find something relevant to it, throw it in the folder. Also, for my MG historical set in 1909 Washington, DC, I contacted the Smithsonian, looked at DC maps and visited a carriage museum to get a feel for how carriages were made. Virtual is okay, but try to visit places that will bring the time period to life. You can also make up character folders and gather info on dress, manners, typical occupations, etc. for each character. 

Offline Vijaya

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Re: How do you organize your research?
« Reply #16 on: June 18, 2012, 11:24 AM »
Organize? ORGANIZE?! Why didn't somebody tell me I was supposed to do that?!!!

LOL! I use a box for papers and things that I collect. Books go on the bookshelf. I make folders on my computer. Oddly enough, it's the physical stuff that I keep going back to, the stuff in the computer takes too long to organize and retrieve and I can't *flip* through it.

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Offline Christine B.

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Re: How do you organize your research?
« Reply #17 on: June 22, 2012, 02:32 PM »
Vijaya -- where do you get most of the papers and other physical items to collect? Are a lot of them photocopies and printouts, or other?

Offline Vijaya

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Re: How do you organize your research?
« Reply #18 on: June 22, 2012, 05:54 PM »
Some are magazine articles, photocopies, or printed from the Internet. Others are things I find -- cloth, rocks, photos. Now that I have a color printer, I will be taking pictures when I go to the museums or historical places.
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Offline ldecher

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Re: How do you organize your research?
« Reply #19 on: January 20, 2013, 04:48 AM »
Pinterest sounds like a great idea! I'm going to check it out.
I use a blog with a cloud, so I can search for things that I found somewhere online.
It's kind of an annotated bibliography. Here's the link, if you want to see how I did it:

http://blog.uvm.edu/ldecher/

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