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Research Advice

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I have recently been tied up with multiple other projects, so research on the Mafia has been somewhat lagging. Depressing I know! However I am creating a site about Forrest Gump and its historical significance. This is pretty awesome and I will definitely share when it is complete! :D

So to compensate for the lack of Mafia, I figured it would be interesting and useful to talk about Research in general. It kind of is a important part for a History major and you pick up a lot of things along the way. So here are a few research tips I have learned over the past 3 1/2 years at college.

  1. When you pick a topic, there is a tendency to immediately research everything about that specific topic. But I found that beginning with a broader scope and then focusing the research later on the specific topic really helps in gaining a deeper understanding of the events surrounding said topic. For example, Sophomore year I did my 299 paper on the downfall of the Knights Templar, more specifically on what the causes of their collapse were. However, when I began research I first looked at secondary sources covering the institution as a whole, along with researching the Catholic Church, Crusades, the French and the Holy Land. The reason why I did this is because it all related back to the causes for the downfall of the Knights Templar.
  2. I prefer starting with secondary sources for two reasons. One being the reason mentioned above- gain a broader understanding and two is the Bibliography! The best sources I found (primary and secondary) came from the bibliographies of the first books I read.
  3. Jack Bales is a Hero. Really, he is. This man can find anything you need to know, and if he can’t he will make it his mission to find it! I definitely went to him for researching the Knight’s Templar because, as it turns out, no one really likes talking about their downfall. So sources were scarce. However he found planety of sources for me to work with, and I even contacted a historian who has done a lot of research in that field.
  4. Email never hurts, if you come across a source that really encompasses what your topic is about I recommend emailing the author/historian. I assume that for the most part they are ecstatic that someone is reading their work and would at the very least send a couple more sources. An email never really hurt anyone.
  5. As for reading through the massive amounts of source material- skim, don’t read word for word. It is time consuming and frustrating. What I found to be useful is to read the introduction paragraph skim until you come to a part that is interesting and read the conclusion.
  6. Also, most books will only mention your topic here and there so looking through the table of contents and index is a great way to cut down on time spent researching.
  7. Write down what you don’t understand. I know people should do this anyway but I just want to take the time to mention that if a name or event appears a couple of times but you don’t know what it is, write it down to research elsewhere. Obviously its important, and it might lead you to new sources.
  8. Don’t try to do research in one sitting. It won’t work out well. I usually try to put 2 hours aside a couple of times to do research for the project. That way I am not confined to the library all day Sunday. I admit sometimes I get caught up in the research and forget about the time that has passed and re-emerge in the real world 6 hours later… usually my stomach brings me back.
  9. Write your bibliography as you go. Instead of waiting till the end to type up all the sources you compiled, if you type up a quick citation while you are researching  time is saved later, more time for writing the research paper ;)
  10. Coffee is your friend! It isn’t just the added benefits of keeping me awake, but also it keeps me focused. If you aren’t a coffee person and cup of tea works well too.

Those are just a couple of things I have come across, maybe they will help you in your classes or maybe not. But I guess it gives more background as to the kinds of things I do to create a project such as the Mafia Project, or write a paper. Which I will be doing next semester! Whoot!

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