Many years ago, a colleague asked me, “What are some important things to know to be a good researcher?” I sat down, thought it out, and wrote the following:
Five Things You Need To Know To Be A Good Researcher
- First and foremost, be proficient in what you are researching. In other words, know the topic you are researching and the tools you need to find it! For example, in my field of genealogy/history research, I have read tons of books, magazines, Internet sites and newspaper clippings. I also attend several conferences each year to see what is new in the field and to freshen my research skills. Even the basics need brushing up every now and again!
- Secondly, CITE YOUR SOURCES!!! That is true with any research topic you do. Even in Genealogy! This one probably should be number one on the list. To prove that your information is accurate, you have to be able to go back directly to the source you got it from. For example, every obituary/newspaper clipping I find, I write down the name of the source, date, page and column number so they can go back to the exact point I got the information from. Probably a good idea to learn the APA style if you are looking into being a serious researcher. Not much call for it back here! It is also a good idea to note the research facility you got it from too. Sometimes if you have researched at several places, it is hard to remember which one had that particular book!
- Be tenacious with your research. Find all you can, not just the basics. In this department, when a person asks for an obituary for their relative, we check all three newspapers (sometimes four) plus our funeral home records, and sometimes more. We usually send the patron more than what they ask for, and they are never disappointed! Makes for good publicity and customer relations! You never know what tiny sliver of information you find will turn out to be something big down the road. This has been proven time and again in my field.
- Share your knowledge. Don’t horde it. Too many people guard jealously what they know. That isn’t the purpose of research. The obituary project I have done has turned into the three-volume set of books about to be sold to help the Genealogy department and the Friends Group. I have also sent articles I find to some of the major Louisiana genealogy magazines,and they have published them. I keep an eye out for early Winn parish news articles to send to the Winn parish genealogy group for their files. I even once found an 1880’s article describing an Indian mound in south Arkansas. I sent it to the head archaeologist at ULM who was ecstatic! It was a mound he had never heard of. It is just so much fun to hear about people who have been helped by all this. I have had people in tears before over finding an article I had researched that helped them clear up some family mysteries. It’s also a pretty darn good ego boost!
- The first four on this list are pretty much the basics for my field. I guess if I have to add another one, it would be, love what you do. I think that is the difference between a good researcher and a great one. I’m talking, “What can I find today that may help people down the way?” researching. The kind of researching where you look for a topic instead of waiting on one to fall in your lap or be assigned to you. For example, Mary in this department is pulling out all the African-American deaths in Ouachita parish from the State Death Certificate rolls. No one asked her to do it, she just saw the need for more local African-American sources. Patricia G. name indexed the Riverside Sanitarium birth records we have in Special Collections. Again, no one asked her to do that. The need for it was just there. Now THAT is a good researcher.