Have you done a research plan before?

I haven’t, not really.  The development of a research plan is our next assignment for the ProGen virtual study group.  I am  challenged by by the assignment because I have a hard time conceptualizing all the sources there could be for any particular problem. Yet, the development of a research plan is a component of the portfolio for BCG Certification with the transcription of the documents.  My anxiety over the assignment was increased when the class was referred to a research plan by Elizabeth Shown Mills which was 8 pages long!  I doubt my report of findings on the work I do related to the research plan will be 8 pages long.  (Anyone see the movie, The Paper Chase? 🙂 )

The link for the ESM research plan is: http://www.apgen.org/resources/worksamples.html

I googled “genealogy research plans” and got articles about writing research plans but no real examples.  (Is this one of those things where we say we ought to do this but the reality is quite different?)  I even listed to a webinar concerning research plans which was more of a source cataloging spreadsheet system.

So….I asked two experts, Tom Jones and Craig Scott.

The issue of research plans was bothering me even last September when I was on the cruise.  I had drafted, what I thought, was a pretty good research plan.  I had my genealogical question, background information, an assessment, and I included likely sources, an assessment of the sources and some questions about what to do next.

Tom and Craig were consistent:  They both said I needed to reduce what I wanted to find out to a single measurable question and that their research plans only include some questions about what to do next and none of the other “stuff”.

The single question comment was very interesting…My focus was to “What could I find about the elusive Frederick Eilers, second husband of Ida (nee Van Hoorn) Berg.”  Both of them said that my question was too broad and must be modified to be measurable.  So I changed it to “What was the death date of Frederick Eilers, second husband of Eda/Ida Berg.”

My assignment will not measure up to outlined standards if I just include the research question and a list of possible places to look.  So, I will have to do more; but, I found it interesting what nationally known researchers do for a research plan.  I will also find it interesting to see what others in the class create.

I think the “bottom line” is that research plans vary widely. What you write depends on whether you are trying to glean all information from an historical document or whether you have trod the research path you are traveling before.  The problems may result in a plan that is 1 or 8 pages long depending on the scale of the problem.  I have decided to write a plan around a relationship that I am verifying. I’ll post what I end up with (or maybe after I incorporate some of the good ideas of the study group!).

Happy Hunting


What I have done since the last posting:  not much since it was just a few minutes ago…made breakfast,  pet the cat,  Packed book to send back to Amazon and remembered that one of my SF friends wants to hire me.  I will have to contact her.  Woo hoo!


8 comments on “Have you done a research plan before?

  1. yhoitink says:

    This blog post was very interesting to me, as I’m on the clock as well and struggling with the same questions. I think it is important to realize that Elizabeth Shown Mills’ example is both analysis and a research plan. I think only the part marked “Work plan” is what we’re expected to deliver as the one-page-research plan for the certification (3-E). The analysis would be part of the other requirement (3-D).

    • jkmorelli says:

      I agree and so do Dr. Jones and Mr. Scott. It is, however, good that BCG states it is only 1 page, otherwise, I am sure that they would get more Research Plans like ESM’s than they care to read. There are very few examples available (I tried googling “genealogical research plans”); most are just how-to articles. We have an active group in ProGen so I am hoping to get some great ideas. There were some things I could use from the ESM example which I think are useful, such as the physical and content analysis. The quicker I get to the Work Plan the more successful the research plan. Thanks for your comments. I will post what I come up with in a week or so. I would appreciate any comments from you.

      • BTW, I almost always create research plans when working for paying clients. Unless their question is trivial (like a look-up), I usually do a research plan with the following headings: Research goals; Known information; Analysis of known information; Approach; Research plan. The plan part specifies the sources I intend to look at and the repositories (on-site or on-line) that I intend to visit to find the sources.
        For each source, I list what the purpose of using that source is, for example: Find Death record of Derk Jan Hoitink after 1860, probably in Aalten, Gelderland, Netherlands. Original record should be available at Gelders Archief, Arnhem, Gelderland Netherlands; online index available at http://www.geldersarchief.nl and http://www.wiewaswie.nl, digital images available at Familysearch.org – Goal: establish date of death and names of parents.

        For a first research plan for a client that has goals that cannot be achieved in one phase, I will end with a ‘future work’ section that gives a glimpse of the records that can be looked at in the next phases, if they are obvious, with a caveat that more precise suggestions for future research will be given in the research report after phase 1. For example, if the research starts with an immigrant ancestor around 1880, the first phase would consist of finding the immigrant in Dutch records and finding birth, marriage and death records going back to 1811 (the year the civil registration was introduced). But I already know that there are a lot of other great records available for the 19th century, including military records, property records and tax records. Since most of my clients are genealogists from the US who are not used to Dutch records, I will include a short description of these records, to inform them of what’s there and to make them enthusiastic about the great wealth of information out there. This is laying the groundwork for a second phase. I have a document with explanations for all of the common Dutch sources that I can copy-paste into a research plan.

        I realize that these general suggestions for future work are not very precise and exactly contrary to what Dr. Jones and Mr. Scott advocate. But it works for my clients, who are not familiar with Dutch records. Before each phase, I will make a more concrete plan that specifies the work that will be done.

      • jkmorelli says:

        Thanks, this is really helpful. I have not been doing them for clients. If you are doing a set number of hours of work, would you charge this time to the client? I often work in short segments of work. I admit I like the “quick in/quick out” aspect of this. Because i have so many other distractions in my life (like “real” work) this is a way to keep me focused. Do you mine if I capture some of your headings and use them in my own research planning process?

      • Yes, I charge the time it takes to create research plans to clients. I charge them for all my hours: research, analysis, translations, abstracts, email correspondence, Skype sessions, travel and planning.

        I have found on several occasions that the analysis I do for a research plan turns up clues in the client’s information that I would have missed otherwise, potentially saving me time (and the client money). Taking an hour or so to think before going off to a repository can prevent lots of unnecessary research and is a good investment. I usually take about 1 hour to do a research plan for a 10 hour phase. For shorter phases, I usually do a bulleted list in an email instead of a formal research plan. Would you mind sharing how long (short?) your segments are? Mine are typically between 5 and 10 hours although I am now also working on a 40 hour segment that involves a lot of translations.

        And of course I don’t mind if you use my headings. It’s great to hear you like them 🙂

        I also have a lot of distractions in my ‘real’ life (a 2-year-old, a husband and being project manager at the National Archives, to name the top three!) and I find that having a research plan helps me to focus. Because my schedule is pretty full, there can be several weeks between the client’s authorizing the work in the research plan and me doing the actual research. Having a solid plan helps me to quickly familiarize myself with the case again.

      • jkmorelli says:

        I see I didn’t respond to your question about how long my segments were. I work in 10 hour increments. That seems to be long enough to set up a methodology/research plan (even if it’s in my head), do some initial research to determine if I am right, complete the research and do the report. I think clients like to see incremental progress and they certainly like to share in the exploration, so I usually have one meeting at the beginning and one at the end. My clients do usually sign up for another segment. I find my report writing always takes longer than I think it will, but I am getting better.

        In the future, I am going to adapt your approach and develop a research plan, even if simple. I can see that those of us with “distractions” have perhaps a greater need for adopting the discipline of a research plan. You are inspiring me to be more disciplined. Thanks.

  2. Sandy Williams says:

    Great article. I too have struggle with this because I am a planner AND in a previous life a systems analyst/database designer. I was thinking about this in the shower this morning (yes I am a bit OCD). I finally decided I was going to create a research plan format that would work for me. I have previously Googled research plans, but this time I tried “Google Research Plan Template and have found several great forms, examples and videos.. I think I am finally on track to get this done!

    • Jill Morelli says:

      Thanks for your comment. I, too, do some of my bet thinking in “odd” places. 🙂 I think each of us has to find a model that works for us. I use one that I found (I think) on the BCG web site of Elizabeth Shown Mills. Good luck! Glad my post got you thinking–even if it was in the shower!

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