Write As You Go

One of the classes that really struck a chord with me at FGS 2012 was Elissa Scalise Powell’s Write As You Go!  Regular readers will remember that I make periodic declarations to be more systematic in writing about my research; however, I’m never as disciplined as I want to be.

One of the things that struck me about Elissa’s approach, compared to my own, is that she writes about the research while she is doing it.  I had been trying to write genealogy research reports after I completed a whole block of research on a particular person or family.  This was too overwhelming and I only occasionally got around to it.

Elissa also uses a template when writing a research report (based on the BCG Standards manual (affiliate link), of course).  She calls the resulting writing process a “formula.”  I would call it a “structure,” which may seem like semantics, but is consistent with my graduate work in professional writing.  A “structure” is a framework that many different topics or styles of writing can fit into.  A “formula” ends up with similar results every time.  But I digress.

The point of this post is that I’m inspired to write regular personal research reports as part of my genealogy research process.  I spent some time creating a template in Evernote that I can use over and over again to jump-start my writing of research reports.  I picked up a copy of the BCG Standards manual at the FGS exhibit hall, so my template is a combination of what I learned in the “Write As You Go!” session, the manual, and some posts by Elizabeth Shown Mills on the Transitional Genealogists mailing list.

Square brackets indicate fields to fill in.  Curly brackets are notes to myself regarding what I want to do with the field.

Personal Research Report Template

Memo to: [Surname] files

By: Tonia Kendrick

Date: [ ]

{above lines to be deleted in blog post}

Project { this is the larger project that this report belongs: ex. DAR application, 1940 census, Parentage of X}

[ ]

Current Focus {one sentence only! This is all that can be reasonably researched at one time. Think of it as “today’s focus,” because I want to write up summaries every day.}

[ ]

Summary of Known Information (as of [date]) {problem summary at the starting point}

[ ]

Research Objective {what is the difference between this and the focus? seems redundant – state in the form of a to-do? To locate X, to search Y, to determine Z}*

[ ]


[ ] {time, resources, records, money, etc. – ex. burned courthouse}

Repositories/Collections Used

[ ]

Summary of Findings

[ ] {last part written, but put at top, because it’s the first thing you and others want to see}

Itemized Findings

[ ] {report body – detailed discussion of research, analysis, proof arguments, etc. (include both positive and negative). Include cited charts & images inline.}

Next Steps {aka to-do plan, additional research}

[ ]

Bibliography of Records Consulted: {leave this out of the blog post, because it will have endnotes}

*Please note my questions on the “Research Objective.”  I would appreciate thoughts on this. 

These research reports will likely find their way into the blog fairly often.

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  1. says

    Great post! I’ve been trying to do the same type of thing lately. You have nailed it with “Project” section and “Current Focus.” Many reports are really part of a larger “Project.”

    I’ve also set up a template for “Research Plans” as well. I’m finding it works much better than a form. I can never fit all the comments into the boxes! Plus, I now copy, paste and edit the results directly from the Research Plan into the Research Report.
    Inspired by Elizabeth Shown Mills NGS lecture, “Information Overload? Effective Project Planning, Research, Data Management & Analysis,” it was worth ever penny for the recording. She was incredibly kind to post the handout as well. My new bible.
    Michelle Goodrum´s last blog post ..21COFH Is Back! Week 36

    • Tonia Kendrick says

      Michelle, I know exactly what you mean about forms. They never have the flexibility that I need, especially for something like a research report. I tried to get to that ESM lecture today, but the website was down. I’ll try again tomorrow, because I want some more genealogy things to listen to as I drive. Thanks for sharing!

    • Tonia Kendrick says

      Thanks Melinda! I just checked out your website. I have a Carnes ancestor in GA in the mid-1800s. We need to compare. : )

  2. says

    Twitter: stargategirl82
    Wow what timing, I just took a couple of hours today to take a gander at some tax records from Ohio and I so want to be *proactive* in my research and writeups.

    Thank you for this post.

    BTW, re: objective vs. focus: when I read this, I think I took the objective to mean a larger part of the whole project, while the research focus could just be for a particular group of records.

    For example:

    Project: Descendants of Jonathan Richardson
    Current focus: Identity of parents of David Bartholomew
    Research Objective: Search the 1830 and 1831 Mentor Township, Geauga Co, Ohio, tax rolls for any mention of Bartholomew or Harrington

    Just my two cents! :-)

    Sara G.´s last blog post ..History in a series of cannons…

  3. says

    What a coincidence! I just decided yesterday that I would blog my attack on my current “brick wall” step by step — exactly as you are suggesting. I’ll write about the research as I am doing it. Huh. I thought this was my own idea, but I see here that others have (as usual) been there before me. I’m trying this so as to get both genealogical research and writing folded in to my day. Sounds too good to be true, at the outset.

    Since I know not where my brick-wall road will lead, nor how long it will take to make a dent in the wall, my blog–tomorrow, I think–may be the first of a series. Hope the “series” set-up works. I do expect stumbles.

    What appeals to me is the process of gathering and searching databases. I HOPE some of my Twitter friends will offer suggestions and further databases for me, and maybe critique my methods. I’m trying to rise on the learning curve. : ))

    Thanks for this encouraging post!

    Your template seems quite logical. I can’t follow it precisely, because as a literature teacher/writer I’m just too wedded to sentences and paragraphs. I’ll be sure to follow it in essence, though — that’s only sensible.
    Mariann Regan´s last blog post ..Found. Now, Contact?

  4. says

    Twitter: Familycurator
    Tonia – I’m late to read this post, but the topic couldn’t be more timely for me. ESM will be giving the talk you refer to at NGS Vegas and in looking for more info about past presentations I found your post. I think it will be a priority session for many of us.

    Thanks for sharing your template. I use something similar, but like the Project and Focus fields. Time to revise mine!


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