I recently shared some research strategies of mine, which were also discussed over at the Smoker (where many people were, not surprisingly, quite skeptical of some of them). Anyway, one of of our readers, "Derek", recently posted in a comment here about his experience trying out some of the strategies I suggested. Here is what he wrote:
I actually did pick up the idea to write in the morning from here. Although, I have picked up quite a few things from this blog I found the posts titled "Research Strategies" and "More Research Strategies" *exorbitantly* helpful. Here are some of the more beneficial things that have happened since I have been writing every morning.
1.) Increased productivity -- Perhaps this one goes without saying, but the sheer increase has been mind-blowing. In the last couple of months I have pounded out five new papers, an outline for my book/dissertation (three of the papers will most likely be incorporated into the book, though I wrote them first) and a rather inordinate amount of outlines/notes of readings. The mind blowing part for me is that I struggled to even write one paper -- outside of class at least -- last year and I was not especially happy with the ones that I wrote for class.
2.) I can see my ideas build on each other each day in a way that they never did before. I have always struggled with the thought that I have nothing to write and so have ended up just reading and reading and reading in hopes that an idea will strike me, fully formed and that I will then be able to just spit it out on the page. Of course, that never happens. The habit of writing everday has quelled this tendency and I have learned that If I just start writing I have plenty to say. Further, I have all afternoon to read and so I am able to read just as much as I was before.
3.) I no longer "force" myself to write on one specific topic. Instead, I often work on several projects at once. Using this method I find that my ideas are able to breath a little, so to speak. For example, I often think of ideas for one project while working on another and, since I don't feel so much pressure to get a paper done as quickly as possible, the ideas in my paper seem to grow more organically and end up being better for it.
4.) I feel more productive and so I don't feel so much pressure to work nights and weekends. This allows me to spend more time with friends and family. Ironically, even though I work less now I feel that I get more done. I suspect that a large part of this is because I feel better emotionally and hence am always motivated to pick up where I left off the morning before. Research has also become enjoyable again and less like I'm running on a hamster wheel haha.
5.) Lastly, and this is a tip I picked up from Stephen Mumford -- check out the handout posted on his website "The Mumford Method" -- I write detailed outlines first and then, after I have done all of the creative/philosophical work, I write a draft. In my experience, this has a number of benefits. For one, I am not focused on trying to "follow the argument" while also trying to present the argument in a clear and focused manner -- which always seems to end up in a jumbled mess. Instead, once I commit to writing a draft I can focus solely on presenting my ideas in a clear and engaging manner. Another perk is that I am able to get feedback on my outlines quickly, as people are much more willing to comment on a three page outline than they are on a thirty page draft! I have just begun revising my papers using the "reverse outline" method, so I will let you know how that works out. This is where I picked it up --
I don't know if the strategies work for everyone, but the most striking thing about Derek's experience is how it matched my own almost exactly. And Kris McDaniel and Chris Stephens report similar experiences here (though they report having some of these strategies antecedently).
Anyway, although I wouldn't dare hold that the research strategies I've presented are "proven" by the experiences of a handful of people, I thought it might be relating these stories for a couple of reasons: first, to make the case for them a bit stronger to those who haven't given them a serious try, but also, second, to ask whether there have been any people who have seriously tried the strategies (not just halfway, but really tried them) for whom they didn't work.
Just to be clear: I'm not out to "prove my point" about the research strategies. I didn't relate them in the first place for my own edification. I've related them because I'd sincerely like to help people who are struggling as much as I once did, as I could have used the research strategies long before I stumbled across them as a result of dumb brute luck! So, with that said, I open up discussion: for all who have seriously tried some of the research strategies I've related,
- Are there any other people out there that some of them have worked for?
- Are there any people out there that some of them have not worked for?
Please do not chime in merely because you have your own research strategies that you think work for you. For all I know, there may be other research strategies that work for people. I would like for the discussion here to be one among people who have seriously changed their way of doing things to at least give some of the strategies I've mentioned a serious try (and not just for a couple of days, but at least several weeks, to give them a fair shot). I'd like to see whether people who have tried them have found that they worked (and, if not, then all well and good!).