Research: Write it first.

6 February 2006

I spent another Saturday at the archive researching for the scholarly article I’m writing. As was the case last week, I was again appalled by how slowly I work. Last time I suggested that you have to write as you go, working the material into something usable, even it the conclusions are only tentative.

More thought on this point leads me to change this slightly: It’s not enough to write as you go through your research material; you must write before you research.

Okay, two points of clarification are in order: 1. I don’t really mean “you”–I’m talking about what I have to do to succeed. My mind works in funny ways, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. This is just one way that I am trying to accommodate its needs. 2. Of course you have to have some idea of what you’re talking about before you start writing an essay. You need enough material to put down a provisional argument and a provisional outline. By the way, I like “provisional” better than “tentative,” which is the word I used last week. There can’t be anything tentative about it: sin boldly! Get the words on the page as though they would stand for all time, then subject them to the harsh reality of the documents. The process will tear down many of the words that you have and allow you to replace them with much better words.

I have wondered whether Anthony Trollope would have been able to keep to his clockwork writing schedule if he had been composing works of scholarship rather than literature. Surely his output would have been lower, but I believe the answer to the question is Yes. He set himself to the task of writing daily, and so he wrote daily. I believe that scholars can do the same thing if they will set themselves to it.

Write it now. Write it before you’re ready. Write it now.

Advertisements

2 Responses to “Research: Write it first.”

  1. Jason Says:

    I think that this sounds kind of like Kawasaki from his piece on bootstrapping:

    Ship, then test. I can feel the comments coming in already: How can you recommend shipping stuff that isn’t perfect? Blah blah blah. ”Perfect“ is the enemy of ”good enough.“ When your product or service is ”good enough,“ get it out because cash flows when you start shipping. Besides perfection doesn’t necessarily come with time–more unwanted features do. By shipping, you’ll also learn what your customers truly want you to fix. It’s definitely a tradeoff: your reputation versus cash flow, so you can’t ship pure crap. But you can’t wait for perfection either. (Nota bene: life science companies, please ignore this recommendation.)

    What do you think?

  2. TW Says:

    Yes, indeed. I hadn’t thought of the connection to the Kawasaki piece, but you’re absolutely right. If you’re formulating a new pharmaceutical, please, by all means, test the hell out of it before you debut it. But if it’s an essay? A useful piece of software? A new recipe? Give it to the world and let *the world* be the judge of it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: