Research overload

Web of Science is one of many online databases for scientific papers that Michigan students have full access to. When I choose to open Web of Science, I do so understanding that I am entering a bottomless cyber pit of scholarly papers and that within five minutes I will have so many tabs open my eyes will start spinning from inside my head. Eventually, I’ll choose to shut down Google Chrome altogether and start over. I’m lucky if I salvaged one useful title from the twenty tabs that are again lost in cyberspace waiting to be stumbled upon by my indiscriminate clicks. This cycle repeats until I finish my research.

This has been my process for nearly every research-focused paper I’ve written. I get lost in links, traveling so deep into the labyrinth that even the author is probably surprised when they get that notification that their paper was actually downloaded. I don’t know when to stop. I waste time chasing unhelpful leads. I click on things that have nothing to do with my topic just because they sound interesting when I should be focused on refining the relevant research I have done to produce an articulate paper. Then again, there have been a select few times when I have found pure gold hidden behind cobwebs in the depths of the black hole. It’s just hard to know what amount of chaos is worth it to get there.

The thing is, I actually do make use of a lot of this research. The longest research paper I’ve written in college was 22 pages. It was the term paper for my Primate Conservation Biology class and, similar to capstone, I was able to write it in any format of my choosing on literally anything under the sun (that related to Primate Conservation Biology). I used just over 53 sources in this paper, and I do believe every piece of information was necessary to propel my argument forward. I don’t think its necessary to include a snippet of that paper here, but as you can imagine a lot of the prose is broken up by random last names and years hugged by parentheses.

My capstone project is also heavily research-based, and I’m having a hard time figuring out how to incorporate the sources I used into the prose without it coming across as to science reportey. I’m turning to mainstream scientific news outlets who tend to cite academic papers for help on this one. I think at this point, I need to focus in on what research is absolutely necessary to get my point across to the general reader and not include too much information that clutters the argument. I don’t want my capstone project to become a web in and of itself.

One thought to “Research overload”

  1. Hey Shaylyn, I totally understand that struggle. I’m writing an honors thesis right now and the sheer amount of information that’s out there makes academic research daunting, disheartening. Some good advice that I got from former students and my thesis department head is to utilize all your resources, i.e., use my advisor, grad students, other professors, etc. With all the information out there it’s really hard to know what’s important, but these people have made a living out of knowing their fields inside and out. Their knowledge would help you get a feel for the field (whatever that field is for you).
    I think a good first step is to figure out all the big moving parts of your research question. For example, my thesis is on queer male identity, so the big fields I’m exploring include masculinities, whiteness, and trans studies, among others. Once you have the big fields you can find big articles/books in those fields and follow the citations to anything that’s closer to your question. Research is about skimming the big things and filling in the gaps to narrow toward your question. That said, this is a long, difficult process, so I wish you luck!

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