Keeping Track Of The World

Research Methods for Regular People

Archive for the month “November, 2012”

Getting Things Done

There are many different ways of organizing one’s life so you actually accomplish something. The method that has worked best for me is David Allen’s Getting Things Done system. It is only one of many options but if you don’t have a current system it is worth a look.

On his website Allen sells all manner  of paraphernalia to help people learn and implement his system but if you can discipline yourself to read a short book I recommend you just read his first book: Getting Things Done.

Allen also produces a blog that provides helpful tips on how to work his system. Here is the latest edition: Productive Living.

Do you have another system that works for you or experiences with Getting Things Done? Let me know in the comments.

Overcoming Writer’s Block

Anyone that does any kind of writing encounters writer’s block at one time or another. This could be because you are overwhelmed with information, because the project is unfamiliar, because your passion for writing does not match your passion for what you are writing about or any number of other issues.

Here is a list of a few strategies for addressing this problem from my own experience and from what I have observed in others:

  1. Start Writing. Just write down anything. It does not have to be coherent at this stage. Write down titles of books that come to mind, book or journal passages that seem relevant (cited carefully), snippets of ideas, bits of conversations—anything at all that is in some way related to the topic at hand.
  2. Ignore the Rules. There is a time for editing but when you are first writing concentrate on getting things down. Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation, flow or bad ideas. Just write.
  3. Start in the middle. There is no rule that you have to write in the order that you intend the document to be read. If you are feeling passionate about outcomes today write about outcomes. If you are excited about a particular source write about that.
  4. Simplify. It is hard to keep all the elements of a large project in our heads at the same time. Break the project into smaller pieces that you can easily conceptualize. NOTE: sometimes the problem is that the project itself is too big or too complicated. A conversation with a trusted advisor can help you figure out if that is the case and what to do about it.
  5. Talk about it. Some people are verbal thinkers. They cant figure out what they think without talking. Buy somebody a nice drink in return for using them as a sounding board.
  6. Take a long time. It is very hard to write something long on 15 minutes a day. Try to find blocks of at least a couple of hours to work on your writing. If possible set aside an entire day or several days.
  7. Be disciplined. Having a regular, protected time for writing helps to develop writing into a habit. If you expect to be interrupted at any time it is hard to concentrate on what you are writing.
  8. Read more. Find something to read and read it to get ideas percolating in your head. React to other‘s ideas. Let your mind wander to your own project as you read. NOTE: carefully record what you are reading and make sure you cite any ideas that find their way into your own work.
  9. Take care of yourself. It is hard to write if you are exhausted, sick, or depressed. Take time to sleep, recover and get the help you need.
  10. Exercise. Exercise is just as good for the brain as it is for the body. Exercise can clear brain fog, promote the production of ideas, and promotes restful sleep among many other benefits.
  11. Be Prepared. Ideas come at strange times. Keep a notepad within arms reach at all times. A phone, tablet or computer will also do.
  12. Diagram. Put your individual ideas in boxes and draw lines showing how they are connected. Here is an example from one of my papers:

wpid-clarifyingmythesis-2012-11-16-17-15.jpg
This is not an exhaustive list—a quick Google search will find much more (here is a fun article on the topic from science and science fiction blog io9). However, it should be enough to get you writing again.

Pollsters and Journalists vs. Big Data

The Rise of the Poll Quants or, Why Sam Wang Might Eat a Bug – Percolator – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

This article is of value because it challenges some of the ways in which we make our decisions. We are more persuaded by personal story than by data. We like a good story over a complicated story. We project our own preferences onto how we read data.

While we can never be without bias we can be aware of some of the bias’ we hold which, hopefully, will lead to us becoming careful researchers.

Don’t miss the comments section which points out some of the limitations of contemporary political polling.

UPDATE:
Polls are descriptive not prescriptive so there is always a chance that people will choose to do something different than they say they will do. Thus, it was possible that I would be explaining why the big data pollsters got it wrong. But they didn’t. In fact, they were frighteningly accurate:

The Poll Quants Won the Election

The take away for research and data analysis is that the more data one has, from more different sources, collected in different ways that point the same direction the greater confidence you can have in the analysis.

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