A couple of weeks ago, I listed the documents that I’m using to coordinate my research efforts for my new nonfiction project, but I didn’t say how I’m using them, or think I might in the future. So, here goes:
Contacts: This spreadsheet contains two worksheets, “Potential Sources” and “Existing.” This is where I keep track of people I think I might want to get in touch with, or whom I already have contacted and may want to acknowledge come publication time.
Images: Until Pinterest allows for private pinboards, this is where I keep links to photographs and illustrations that might be helpful for my work in progress.
Patents: When the person I’m researching is a US inventor, a list of his or her patents — with dates and collaborators — comes in mighty handy.
Potential Titles: I don’t know yet what this book is going to be called, but some key words and phrases have come to mind, and I store those here along with various combinations of them.
Questions: What would I want to ask my subject? What would I want to ask other people about my subject?
Quotes: What did my subject actually say? Are any of these statements likely candidates for inclusion in my text? And even if not, what light do they shed on my subject’s personality?
Science: If I’d had this document when I was researching The Day-Glo Brothers, here’s where I would have kept multiple explanations of how light, color, fluorescence, and daylight fluorescence work so that I could refer to them again and again until I knew them well enough to confidently state them in my own words.
Search Terms: If my subject’s name is not unique, I’ll need to combine it with other words and phrases — the name of his or her hometown, for instance — to find articles that make more than just a passing reference. I keep those relevant words and phrases here, which makes my actual querying of databases a lot more efficient.
Source Types: This is a handy reminder to myself of all the different types of sources out there that I might be able to turn to for a nonfiction research project. It’s essentially a distillation of the far-reaching bibliography from Can I See Your I.D.?
Sources: Another spreadsheet, with worksheets for “Reviewed Already” (with sources already formatted for inclusion in a bibliography, plus a link to an online version, if available) and “Not Yet” (which is much less structured, since there’s no reason to spend time polishing that information if it turns out not to yield anything useful for my research).
Timeline/Anecdotes: This is my biggest document by far, as it includes a detailed chronology of my subject’s life, according to the sources in the “Reviewed Already” worksheet. Being thorough here pays off, because getting seemingly redundant information from multiple sources — and seeing it all side by side — highlights inconsistencies and errors perpetuated by those sources.
Those inconsistencies and errors will be the subject for a separate post soon.