The Surprising Research Process

Preston Hill
Monday 28 May 2018

Researching is hard. There are no two ways about it. It is hard because the process comes in just about as many shapes and sizes as the people and topics that are chosen. Some people are highly regimented (I am one of those types). These folks micromanage themselves and keep on a detailed word count schedule (please don’t tell me I’m the only one who does this). Here’s how the inner dialogue goes:

“So, I’ve got a 4,000 word essay due in two weeks. That computes to 2,000 words per week. That computes to 400 words per day if I want to maintain my Monday-Friday 9-5 schedule. Okay, I can do that. 400 words to write today. Just 400 good words.”

My father in law calls this principle “The Law of Doable Chunks.” Doable chunks are a good thing. They make things… well, doable. And let’s be honest: postgraduate research is something quite complex that can use a good dose of doability.

But there are other types too. These people are… well, let’s say unfettered. Its less about the benchmarks, less about the productivity. And, ironically, giving up the obsessive desire to be productive ends up being profoundly productive.

Being on vacation this week with my wife’s family, I am discovering the value of getting some more “unfetteredness” into my natural inclination toward regimentation. On this week of vacation in which I planned to do no “productive” work, I have ended up writing a substantial portion of ideas of a surprising high quality, and I am almost 100% positive it will end up in the final draft of my dissertation.

What’s the lesson in all this? Be prepared to be surprised, researchers. The process is as diverse as the people and topics that fill it. And you might be surprised by what will end up working for you too.

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