Are there tools which can improve our analytical skills?

I have been on this topic for a couple of posts because 1.) the topic is interesting to me and 2.) I have the time to look into the topic a little deeper.  I am not an academic, but the “how” of analysis is interesting to me.  How many times have we been told to “analyze X” but not given any specific training, methodology or tools with which to do it?  I usually just try to explain what I see or understand, dispassionately figure out whether those observations make any sense, and answer the question “why” and write it down. Pretty intuitive.  But, are there tools we could put into our “analytical toolbox” that might aid us in becoming better at this critical aspect of what we as genealogists do every time we make a decision whether Person X is really our Uncle Harry.

Let me explain how I got here and maybe you might find this interesting also….or not!  🙂

As a requirement for my MA in Public Policy, I would write papers analyzing policy using tools that created a framework for the paper.  You may have heard of some of them, e.g. SWOT, PERT, VRIO etc. (check Wikipedia for explanations; I had to).  While these gave me a template for the paper, the item they did not cover is how to do the analysis, a critical part of each template.  For example, SBAR analysis, which is short for Statement, Background, Assessment, and Recommendation, gives you a good outline of how to organize a genealogical proof.  First, you define the problem (statement), develop the background for the reader, assess or analyze the issue and finally, give a recommendation or conclusion.  But, see what happened here?…..the template tells you to “assess” but doesn’t give you any directions about how to conduct the assessment/analysis.

So i went looking to see what I could find.

What I found was that even social scientists struggle with what constitutes analysis with qualitative research.  Attride-Stirling states in her article cited below, “If qualitative research is to yield meaningful and useful results, it is imperative that the material under scrutiny is analysed (sic) in a methodical manner, but unfortunately there is a regrettable lack of tools available to facilitate this task.”

She goes on to describe a methodology she developed of Thematic Networks that could be used for improving analysis above the level of intuition, of which it appears to me is the basic methodology I used in my Public Policy papers.

In thinking of the many articles I have read from the NGS Quarterly, the complexity of analysis ranges from the simplistic to the extreme.  I find that most of mine are at the simplistic end of the scale.  This is not a bad thing, it just means that the Statement can be clearly stated; the Background material is readily available and clarifies the issue; the Assessment has limited options and materials are available to narrow the options before needing to assess the possibility, or probability of the Recommendation/Conclusion.

In the next post, I will look closer at the Thematic Network methodology proposed by Attride-Stirling and see if it has genealogical applications or if I need to look further.


  1. reasonable definitions of SWOT, PERT, VRIO and SBAR can be found in Wikipedia.
  2. Jennifer Attride-Stirling, “Thematic networks: an analytic tool for qualitative research,” Qualitative Research, vol I (3):385-405. December  2001.

Happy Holidays!


What I have done since the last post:  reread the Thematic Networks article for applicability


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