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Getting more information is not always wise. Don’t let yourself be tripped up by the perils of information bias…
Do you often postpone or delay making decisions?
Does researching sound more enticing to you than writing?
Are you the type of person who adores spending time in the library or chasing down fascinating facts in the world of Google?
Do you have a hard time switching from collecting the thoughts of others to generating those of your own?
If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you may be suffering from information bias.
Information bias occurs when you generally believe you need more information before you can act. This feeling causes you to delay getting started on projects such as writing assignments. Instead of jumping in to do the work you tend to make comments to yourself like…
I need to know more information before I can make a conclusion.
I want to be 100% sure before I start.
If I do the work of writing too soon I’m only going to have to spend more time editing, later.
These statements might sound just sensibly cautious but, in fact, they are tragically wrong-headed and are only making it more difficult for you to do your work.
If information bias is tying you in knots, here are five pieces of information you really need to know:
1-Knowledge grows daily, often dramatically. The size of the digital universe is doubling every two years and human- and machine-generated data is experiencing a ten-times faster growth rate than traditional business data. Even if you somehow had the unlikely ability to research everything in the world, by the time you’d finished collecting it, new facts, theories and figures would have already developed, forcing you to continue researching. There is no such thing as perfect information. Don’t look for it. Set reasonable limits for yourself.
2-Many people research too much as a (somewhat) sophisticated form of procrastination. If you’re seeking too much information simply because you want to delay writing, give yourself a strict time limit. Sorry, there’s no handy-dandy formula here. The actual time could run anywhere from 20 minutes to 200 hours. How much time you need to spend researching is going to depend on two factors: (1) How much you already know about your topic, and (2) How many words you need to write. But as a rule of thumb, your research should take no more than 40% of the total time you spend on your writing project. Give yourself a specific time limit (measured in minutes or hours) and then hold yourself to it. And, by the way, it’s okay to start with a time limit that’s entirely arbitrary.
3-A research diary can help you form and express your opinion while you’re researching. Perhaps paradoxically, such a diary doesn’t contain any actual research. Instead, it’s a home for your thoughts, feelings and opinions about the research of others. Keeping such a diary (here’s how) will not only allow you to maintain your writing habit while you’re researching, but it will also make it easier for you to launch into the somewhat scary task of forming — and declaring — your own opinions about the work of others. Best of all, when it comes time to write, the research diary will be there waiting for you, providing a handy footbridge.
4-The promissory note is a big boon. This trick has you write notes directly into your text, reminding yourself about facts you need to double-check (or learn for the first time) later. For example, you might write: Check theory. Check citation. Check name. Check year. I know these jobs seem shamefully easy but, likely, these “20-second-tasks” will drag you down the Research Rabbit Hole and take anywhere from 20 minutes to twenty hours. Rather than trying to figure out everything before you begin (that’s Information Bias), you’ll save yourself a lot of time if you do your checking and confirming at the end. As an experiment, I once wrote a piece for this blog before I felt 100 per cent ready for it. The post was largely about the Myers-Briggs type indicator and it had been 10 years since I’d last done one or read anything about Myers-Briggs. I can’t tell you how desperately I felt the pressure of information bias, but I forced myself to write before I allowed myself to do any research. At the end, I had to look up just two pieces of factual information — a task that took me just five minutes. If I’d started with the research, I know it likely would have taken me two hours.
5-You can always do more research, later. There is no Tsar of Research lurking over your shoulder designating how much research you can do and when you must do it. You have the ability to make your own rules. Start writing as soon as you can, and if you need to look up more stuff, later, so be it.
The good news is no one is ever going to stop you from doing additional research. But the bad news is, no one is ever going to make you start writing, either. Don’t let information bias slow you down.
Need some help developing a sustainable writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. The group is now full but there is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.
My video podcast last week advised on how to deal with a difficult editor. Or, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.
Have you ever struggled with information bias? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Feb. 28/21 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!