Ceri and I have been e-mailing back and forth about various things Celtic and mythological, and it’s been driving me up the wall that I know I have information somewhere concerning these topics, but I can’t remember where.
See, when you start reading and researching things just because you’re interested, you rarely keep notes. It’s just for fun, after all. Then you become more serious, and you make notes here and there on things that interest you. Then the random notes start coalescing into the connections you make between different authors and myths and characters, and before you know it, you possess a body of knowledge that’s impossible to document, because it’s a comglomerate of ideas and readings from all over the place.
We can’t write down every single thing we learn from the outset. That’s absurd.
Nor can we write down where we found an interesting idea, because it won’t necessarily encompass the whole set of associated things that sprang into our minds when we first encountered it.
So what does one do?
Well, evidently one re-reads as much as one can get one’s hands on, and reads with awareness, with a highlighter, sticky notes, and a pencil by one’s side. No, better make that a pencil and a pen, the pencil to make notes in the text (come on, you’ll have to do it sooner or later), and the pen to write notes on the post-its (because pencil smudge son sticky-notes).
One invests in a stack of lined notebooks from an office supply shop and begins to make notes outside the texts, as well. As one runs into ideas found in other texts too, one slaps a sticky-note with the other title (and pertinent page numbers and chapters) at the appropriate spot. It sort of creates an off-line world-wide web. (Except it’s library-wide. Specifically, your library.)
This means photocopies of chapters from books you don’t own (personal use, fair use of property and all that). It means investing in second-hand books. It means asking for books for your birthday, Kwaanza, Midsummer, whatever. It means using other people as resources.
It means documenting your sources, and leaving a trail of breadcrumbs.
Why is this so hard for people to do? WHy don’t people understand the necessity of documentation? Why do people insist on making things up, or reading one text and assuming it’s correct? (I love the Internet, don’t you?) Granted, my way is a lot more work, but it’s a lot more rewarding. It’s a heck of a lot more enriching, too.
It also means you can cover yourself in case of difficulty later on when you feel the need to discuss the topic. Shoddy scholarship makes me spitting mad. I also frustrate myself because when I started all this, it was out of personal interest. Now, it’s become something more. And I’d give anything to go back and keep better records, take clearer notes, in those first couple of years. It physically hurts me to see people refuse to keep track of their research in an effort to avoid more work. It only wastes energy, in the end. Sure, you’ve got the knowledge… but where I come from, unless you can back it up, that knowledge is just pretty wall covering inside your skull.
I know the average person doesn’t operate by academic standards. I just wish more people would understand the importance of keeping track of research.