How do you do research plans?

I struggle with what works and I would like to hear from you about your approach to research plans/planning.

I have come to the following conclusions:

  • what works for me, probably won’t work for you.
  • every problem is different enough that perhaps the research plan “template” varies from problem to problem
  • I want to be able to see all my investigative work together

I started out by trying to make my research plan “do too much”.  I listened to a webinar by Marion Pierre-Louis on research plans.  I thought her system might work; she had a series of forms and filled them in as she went along.  After trying her system it ended up being too cumbersome for me; every problem had four templates.  It seemed redundant to me.  I spent more time figureing which form I was to use than doing the research.  I also found that the forms do not allow for the serendipity to be recorded, i.e. the discovery you find that you didn’t plan on.  I ended up with too many pieces of paper, with very little on some and a significant number of insertions on another.  And none of which allowed me to see what I was doing in a single glance.  I am just better off writing up each problem in the following way:

  1. Name of Person (b. ____, d._____)
  2. Today’s Date
  3. What is the question I am trying to answer?
  4. What is known?
  5. What sources may help me answer the question?
  6. Where are these sources located?
  7. When pursued, what information=> evidence did these sources provide?

I admit I am still trying to figure out an approach to identifying Frederick Eilers, second husband of my Ida/Eda (van) Berg(en), b. 1811, d. 1889.  Using the approach numbered above, I discovered that though I knew very little, I did know his birth location.  This is huge.  So by writing this up, I think my next avenue is to pursue him from Germany to the US and try to see if I can work his life forward, rather than trying to work it backward….and which I was having no luck.

I think I will formally write up this research problem and see if there are any other discoveries.

This may be my last posting for a week, as I will be away with little internet access.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting: finished a difficult client report for Theresa.  This took many more hours than I wanted to expend but I also do not like shortchanging reports.  I also did more clean up on the conference, watched another legacy webinar on Indirect Evidence and compiled some information for the cruise so I can be prepared whatever “extra” one-on-one I get (assuming I get one at all!) I also started working on Mary’s German (Mettendorf/Messerich) investigation.  Read an Illinois Research Guide to see if there were any clues there for how to get to Mr. Eilers. No big revelations but some leads to pursue.


4 comments on “How do you do research plans?

  1. jennylanctot says:

    Like you, I tried to use Marian’s research plan/log thing and, even though I put it all in Excel, it was still too heavy a burden. Instead, I kept the locality pages I had already put together and 86’d everything else. I’ll probably continue to use those pages since they have live links to critical web pages, and just keep them together in one workbook. My ultimate approach to the research plan/log is similar to yours – (1) What question do I want answered? (2) What do I know? (3) How do I know it? (4) Where else can I look? and (5) What did these sources reveal (or not)? Less is more, and the less cumbersome the log is, the more likely I’ll be to use it.

    • jkmorelli says:

      I agree! Thanks for the support on this. And I, too, subscribe to the “less is more”* approach that you are suggesting.

      Writing a research plan does help clarify the thinking about the problem resulting in the discovery of other sources or the need for a return to some documents and look at them again. Thanks.

      * I am of course an architect and this is attributed to Mies Van der Rohe, an icon of the Bauhaus.

  2. Rachelle says:

    I too have struggled with the “perfect” research tools that eliminate redundancy and maintain accuracy and efficiency. I have found that keeping my ancestor’s timeline table with citations and questions has worked best so far. (Sample at my blog I am always looking for improvements so had ordered Marion’s cd and will be interested to see if I can integrate any new tricks.

    On another note, I wondered if you have been following Harold Henderson’s blog? He is currently discussing his learnings from the Board Certification process.

    As always enjoy your updates!

    • jkmorelli says:

      Thanks for sharing! I will check it out tonight. I will also check out Harold’s site. Thanks for the link. I will also post the research plan that I have for Friederick Eiler(s) in the next day or two. It actually is a combination of timeline (I always find these helpful) and a simple research plan. I have come to the conclusion that the primary value of a research plan for me is the organizing of my thoughts. It’s my “brainstorming” on paper. Of course, you have to follow the leads you identify but I wouldn’t have identified…..wait! That sounds like a good blog topic. 🙂 thanks for the links. Stay tuned.

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