Why I Never Rush a Research Job (and Neither Should You)

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the Final Draft Communications blog in my post, “Writing a genealogical case study–Sell the research!” Last week, on 12 June 2011, the post “Why I Never Rush a Writing Job (and Neither Should You)” appeared on the FDC blog.

In this blog post, professional copywriter Karen Marcus writes, “if you do have a choice, avoid rushing a writing job. If you don’t, your quality of work and quality of life will both decline.” Ms. Marcus continues, to address several reasons why:

  • Spotty Research. “Sometimes it takes awhile to get in touch with subject matter experts, to find just the right statistic online, or to receive pertinent reference materials from coworkers. When bombarding people with voice mails and e-mails doesn’t work, you end up developing your piece with missing information…”
  • Lackluster Drafts. “When you don’t have all the information you need, you don’t have much to base your writing job on, and your piece becomes lackluster, unconvincing, and useless to the target audience.”
  • Insufficient Reviews. “If you don’t run the document by everyone who needs to see it, you can bet those people will contribute edits…after the document is published.”
  • Loss of Incubation Time. “Incubation time is something writers and those who work with them don’t always consider, yet it is so important. Being able to look at a document with fresh eyes is critical for catching errors and inconsistencies.”
  • More Work Later. “I say, do it right the first time.”

The rush jobs that Ms. Marcus is really discussing in this post are writing jobs “that [need] to be done YESTERDAY!!!!!” But all of the same issues arise when a professional genealogist rushes through a research job.

Spotty research: The relevance of this should be obvious to all. Research is what we do. If we are rushing through a job, then chances are that we are doing the following:

  • Checking published and indexed sources only.
  • Limiting our search to direct evidence.
  • Not fully collecting, analyzing, and correlating all evidence to form complete conclusions.

A rush research job limits our ability to research thoroughly. According to the Board for the Certification of Genealogists, the Genealogical Proof Standard consists of five “elements”:

  • a reasonably exhaustive search;
  • complete and accurate source citations;
  • analysis and correlation of the collected information;
  • resolution of any conflicting evidence; and
  • a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.[1]

Checking only published and indexed sources, and limiting our searches to only direct evidence do not meet the first element: that of a “reasonably exhaustive search.” By not fully collecting, analyzing, and correlating all evidence, we will not meet the third and fourth elements.

If our research does not meet the Genealogical Proof Standard, then any conclusions that we form should be considered less reliable.

Lackluster Drafts: This goes hand-in-hand with Spotty Research. The fifth and final element of the GPS is to form a logically reasoned written conclusion. This usually comes in the form of a written proof summary (for those rare instances where we have direct evidence and no contradictory evidence) or a written proof argument (when more explanation is needed, as in cases where contradictory evidence must be explained, or cases built on the sum of all indirect evidence).

Rushing through the research usually means forming a conclusion, and writing a proof summary or argument, based on incomplete evidence. Such a conclusion would not be representative of our work, nor would it be able to be considered reliable.

Furthermore, if we rush to publish this research, our conclusions may be rightfully challenged and disproved, which may even damage our professional reputations.

Insufficient Reviews and Loss of Incubation Time: Writers are often told, when self-editing, to put your writing aside and look at it with fresh eyes later. I would give the same advise to genealogists:

Put your research aside, turn it sideways, and look at it later. Sometimes looking at the same documents with fresh and new eyes will allow you to see the same information in new ways. This may prove exactly what you need to solve even the toughest research problems.

Failure to take our time and look at things fully, to squeeze every bit of information we can, out of every record we find, is exactly how brickwalls are built.

More Work Later: “I say, do it right the first time.” No more needs to be said.

[1] “The Genealogical Proof Standard,” Board for Certification of Genealogists (http://www.bcgcertification.org/resources/standard.html : accessed 19 Jun 2011).

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