Be Organized

You'll need to keep track of the material you're citing. If you are taking notes on published text, make it clear that you are copying. Note the source, put it in quotes—do whatever it takes to make sure that six months from now, you don't go back to this material, think that you've written it yourself, and incorporate it into narration, only to find out that you've lifted entire sentences from Stephen Hawking or Alice Walker.

A few other tips:

• Note the source. An article that's not referenced is a waste of everyone's time. On the copy of the document itself, note the bibliographic data. It's also useful to note which library you found it in and even write down the call numbers. Otherwise, you may very well find yourself having to look it up again.

• Be sure you've got the whole article. If you're photocopying an article or printing one off a microfilm reader, check to be sure that the entire piece is actually readable. If it's not, try again or take out a pen and fill in the gaps. If an article is footnoted, photocopy the footnotes. It's very frustrating to the producer to find great material in the body of an article and not be able to use it without sending the researcher back to the library.

• Don't editorialize. Do not, as the researcher, take it upon yourself to annotate the photocopy (unless you're asked to do so). Pages and pages of underlined and highlighted material can be annoying. Steer the production team to relevant passages, but let them form their own impressions.

• Be organized. For example, do your best to keep bibliographies in alphabetical order. It will save you from looking up the same source more than once, by mistake, as you go down the list.

• Make use of file folders, so that you don't end up with a massive stack of paper that you will find yourself sorting through over and over.

• Neatness counts. Research is a lot of work, and everybody gets tired. But you must take the time to write legibly, or at least to copy any scribbled notes within a short period of time, before you can no longer decipher them. And if you're keeping a research notebook, keep it current.

• A plea on behalf of libraries: Never mark up in a library-owned book or magazine. Never bend the pages down, and if you must spread the book face down to photocopy or scan, do it gently.

• Go a step further. If you're doing research for someone else, get the material you've been asked to retrieve and then look through it. As mentioned, photocopy footnotes if they accompany an article. But then scan those footnotes to see if there's additional material you could pick up while you're at the library. Does a more current book by the same author come to your attention? If there's a reference to a primary source within a secondary source, can you dig up the original material? Come back with these unexpected treasures and you will make the producers very happy. Primary sources, especially, tend to be wonderful finds that take more than Internet digging.

• Again, be cautious about what you find on the Internet. It's an amazing tool. In a matter of minutes, it's possible to learn the population in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1910, or learn how many American presidents were married to a woman named Eleanor. But the web also contains a lot of beautifully produced, but less-than-useful, information. An impressive-looking history of the civil rights movement might turn out to have been produced by Mr. Crabtree's eighth-grade social studies class; a scientific-looking report on the "myths" of global warming might have been produced both by and for the oil industry. As you search the web, pay careful attention to the source of the material and read everything with a skeptical eye.

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