5 Tips To Reinvent Your Research

My portfolio with documentation.

A little while back, I wrote about ways you can effortlessly write SCA documentation. Those strategies were meant if you already knew the research basics. But research skills are rarely taught clearly. Teachers and even professors assume you can figure it out on your own. Or they direct you to a librarian who gives you a guided tour of the library’s facilities and resources. That’s like hunting for buried treasure without a map. You only find what you stumble upon and may totally miss the gold. It’s no wonder many in the SCA and elsewhere rely on Wikipedia for their information.

You may have explicit beliefs about research. A few nerds like me enjoy chasing historic details down research rabbit holes for persona development. But others imagine a college student in a dingy library poring over stacks of books and clicking away on computer keys while writing a dissertation.

These imaginings are probably related to your first research experiences. I bet it was an English class assignment requiring you to write a paper of maybe 500 words with at least three sources. (Was I right?) In my day I spent several hours in the library searching for enough bits of information on my assignment to cobble together a paper – any paper – without obvious plagiarism.

But none of these visions represent most SCA research. First of all, it’s not assigned by anyone unless it is your peer. And because it’s your choice that makes it relevant and inspiring. Plus your research may have a direct practical use. One huge example in Calontir was the period research, study, and application for cut and thrust fighting. (Hint: it didn’t happen overnight.) Without research, the Kingdom still wouldn’t have Calontir Steel.

There are ways to take your research up a notch from Wikipedia and think through the source(s) you excitedly discovered. Reflectively examine and even test the details. But never fear I have five links to help you with that.

Links

Basic Research: Knowing What to Avoid This article – written by M. Modar Neznanich – was originally created for SCA name documentation research. However, much of the information applies to other research purposes such as persona development and A & S projects.

Charlemagne’s Cheese: a study in the un/reliability of sources. In this Heather Rose Jones give you a practical lesson in why you should be wary of “gossip” resources. Those that don’t tell you where they got their information. And why comparing details of an original source with a retelling is important.

Evaluating Resources Here you have questions from the UC Berkeley Library web page that will help you know why a particular source is a good fit for your research project.

My research project testing a secondary source.

Evaluating Secondary Resources Susan Reed writes about how you can learn more about your possible primary sources before you try to work with them by reading good, reliable secondary literature.


Of perspective and parallax: Extracting information from photographs This one is from the “Way Back Machine“. In it David Swan describes what to do when you don’t have access to extant period artifacts. How you can use photographs – sometimes a single photograph – for sufficient information to justify or refute a thesis.

Thankfully, in the SCA we’ve done everything but delete the term “research” from the dictionary. For us, it is what we each make of it. And any missteps are usually seen as some odd happening before you change direction. Following one of these links will help you learn more than you realized and choose where you ought to go next.

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