Thursday, May 13, 2010

Fun With Research

Here is an article I wrote a few years ago for young people. It doesn't cover the latest high-tech methods, but I think it still has some value.

The first thing you will want to do is to get a topic you love, one you’re passionate about. Give yourself a month or two to glean information. Be as narrow on your topic as you can be because as you find articles etc, the topic just naturally wants to branch out. It grows and you must constantly prune it. Save the “branches” (because you love this topic, remember?) for another project.

Look on the computer for your topic. Get books and take notes. Most students are great at this part. I’m going to go on to what comes next. Wait and let ideas come to you. As you mull over your topic, ideas will seem to come “out of the woodwork.” Write any ideas down that come to you. Have a little notebook with you and one at home. (Just a hint. If it isn’t spiral, you won’t have to deal with all that mess on the edge.) No idea is too small. Get them down. Collect them in a project box. Date all your notes. If you heard something on the radio or TV, get the source. Be specific - time, date, show, host of show, and if it was a quote from someone else, etc. Wherever you go, normal things will seem to apply to your topic. (I'm telling you this is true.) Write down the analogies and your response at the moment of inspiration - sermons at church, newspaper editorials, comics, road signs. Keep your eyes open. (You know how if you have a blue car, the whole parking lot seems to be blue cars and if you get a new white van, there are no blue cars but tons of white vans?) Ask your mom. It’s like that for your topic. You will see it everywhere and in unexpected places if you are ready and you respond by writing it down.

So when it is time to do the paper or speech, organize the material the best you can by sections or points. Do an outline. You need a beginning that is point 1, and then you do points 2,3,4,5, and say 6 for an ending. Write big numbers in highlighter for whatever section the notes fit in. Write these right on the margins of your paper. On a long article you may find that paragraph one of the article fits in with #4 idea and then the next paragraph is a #3 idea. You don’t necessarily want to follow the articles in the order they were written. In fact, you want to make it your own. I pray first so my ideas will be organized. I love the mess on the table. Spread it all out where you can see it in piles. (One challenge I love is to see a huge mess and trust God to put the whole thing in order – whether cleaning up a room, doing a paper, or clearing the dinner table from a big meal.) God always puts it together for me. He created order out of chaos when He created the world and He can do it in all areas of my life. It is pure joy to see Him work through the things we do.

On your little pieces of paper you’ve collected, write a number. You might use a #7 for miscellaneous notes and ideas and a #8 for “other projects.” Now put it together, one step at a time. Do your # 1’s. After reading them all, create an opening.
Do your #2’s. Cross out each section with one X in a light color so you can still read it. It will now be out of your way. Work your miscellaneous ideas in as you see fit. Finish your ending. Make it strong. Maybe one of your wonderful power-thought analogies will work. Gather and paperclip your papers and put them in a folder. Save the “new project” notes in an envelope with the topic and date listed on the top.

Now you have your first draft. Do it again and refine, rework, take out and add. Type it and hand it in or speak it. Save your original notes until you are sure you won’t need them. Then toss them out and save your finished copy.

You have done more than just book learning for this report or speech. You have made your passion real to someone else. You have communicated! Congratulations!


  1. I love your last paragraph! We have made it real:))

  2. Hi Nancy -

    This is great not only for young people, but also for us older ones. Have you submitted it anywhere? I'd suggest a homeschool magazine. Karen Lange could give you suggestions.

    Susan :)

  3. Like Terri, I love that last paragraph. It's a great way to look at it.

  4. Susan R. That's a great idea. I'll look into it.

    Terri and Susan M. - Thank you. So encouraging.

  5. Linked here from Jessica's blog article about the review of Roaring Lions, Cracking Rocks. I agree with your comment that Psalms is rich, rich, rich, for devotions! I'm writing some on that book, too. We can never plumb the depth of Psalms!

    BTW, I like your process of researching/writing here. I something similar to that now, but now I type almost everything right into the computer. When I have what I think will be enough material, or have exhausted my resources, I print out the notes, read through them, and mark the way you have indicated. But, I don't number, 1-2-3. I name each section of the paper and write that on the page. For example, if the paper is about friendship I might put the material in 3 categories - qualities friendship, things that destroy friendship, examples of friendship. Then, I make new pages on the computer and cut and paste material onto those pages.

    Much different process then when I was in college 30+ years ago!

  6. Great tips, not just for a research paper, but for a book! Thanks!