How to improve your research

Viewing time: 4 mins. 17 secs. 

The Write Question is a weekly video podcast all about writing. Today’s question looks at how to improve your research skills. If you have a question you’d like me to answer you can email me, tweet me @pubcoach, or leave a message for me at the Skype account, The Write Question. 

Transcript: 

How do you improve your research skills? That’s the topic I’m addressing today in The Write Question. I’m Daphne Gray-Grant, the Publication Coach, still in pandemic mode.  

I have a question from Hilary Lynch, an academic writer based in Birmingham, England. Here’s what she’s asked by email…

How do I stop taking so many notes when I’m researching? I know I need to summarize more, but I’m afraid of missing out key quotes that will back up the ideas I am developing. Any suggestions? I use a combination of Evernote and Zotero and either Word or Google Drive. At least one of these was based on recommendations I think you have made. Do you have any other suggestions for software that would be helpful? 

Thanks for your question, Hilary. I’m not certain you’re going to like my answer, but I need to tell you that software is not going to help. You already have all the right stuff. 

My son likes to describe this as a PICNIC problem. PICNIC stands for Problem In Chair Not In Computer. When he says that word to me, of course he’s teasing me about my ineptitude with technology. 

Now I don’t mean to tease you. Instead I want to encourage you to take a slightly different perspective with your work. 

You say that you’re, “afraid of missing out on key quotes that will back up the ideas,” you’re developing. 

But ask yourself: Which is worse? Missing a single quote or being unable to complete the research for your paper because you’re so filled with fear and anxiety? 

I think you’re suffering from analysis-paralysis — also known as the inability to make a decision. Many academics suffer from this syndrome….

There are two parts to this problem. First, the stakes for your paper seem high. I’m guessing you want to write something valuable and ground-breaking that’s going to secure your future as an academic. 

Second, you’re probably over-thinking. You want to see into the future. You want to know in advance what specific quotes are going to be most useful to whatever point you make in your paper. 

But the problem with both of these mindsets is that they set you up for failure. Rather than imagine you’re going to write the best paper in academic history, scale back your expectations so that all you need to do is pass. A pass rather than a fail. 

That’s all you have to do! 

Then, in terms of over-thinking, understand that it will only make writing harder for you. Overthinking lowers your performance, kills your creativity, eats up your willpower and makes you less happy. In the show notes below, I include a link to a blog post I’ve written on overthinking. 

Don’t do that to yourself! Instead, give yourself a deadline (or at least meet the one imposed by your supervisor) and decide you’re going to do the best job you possibly can. This may mean foregoing the “perfect quote” and putting up with one that is only OK as opposed to outstanding. 

But a slightly more relaxed attitude will help you finish your paper more easily, more quickly and with less stress. 

One additional tool that might help you is a research diary. I include links to a blog post and a video on that topic below. 

Hilary, remember that no decision is ever perfect. And there is never only one right answer. 

Finally, let me wrap up with a quote from the Cherokee author, speaker and consultant Anne Wilson Schaef: “Perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order.

Hilary, the academic world is exceptionally demanding. It puts untold pressure on many writers. The people who survive — even thrive — are ones who can suppress the feelings of perfectionism so that they can produce a significant body of work. 

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If you’d like to learn more about how to make writing a happier and more rewarding process, check out my latest book Your Happy First Draft. I don’t sell it in bookstores or via Amazon. The only place to buy it is on my website, link on the screen below and in the show notes. 

Links 

Why overthinking is bad for writers

Why you should consider keeping a research diary

Where to keep your research diary (video) 

Your Happy First Draft