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Creative Research Tips: Home

Tips to guide you through the process of generating questions, conducting research, and producing finished work.

Source of two above images: The Art of Clean Up: Life Made Neat and Tidy by Ursus Wehrli, 2013


I begin with a notebook. Everything goes in there—ideas, questions, overheard conversations, and… I glue in newspaper clippings, photographs, maps, illustrations, and… Thoughts come and go so write them down now while they’re fresh.

Make a date with your notebook. Build a routine. On Thursdays Jennifer goes to a coffee shop, sits down at a table and gives herself 90 minutes to do whatever she wants. She reads and writes and lets her mind wander. The first thing Eirik does each morning, after making coffee, is write 20 lines. Not until he’s written 20 lines, or more on a good day, does he turn to reading.

Evaluating Books

You’re in the library stacks looking at a book. How do you evaluate if this title is right for you? Read the table of contents. Is there an introductory chapter? Read that. Go to the index and look up key words and ideas that interest you. What new and unusual terms do you find there? Write them down in your notebook.

Library Catalog

The library catalog uses certain words and phrases to describe its books. When searching for books, pay attention to these terms. Try to think like the Library Catalog. If you find a book that you like, what subject terms are used to describe it? Search for other titles using those same subject terms.


Sifting Information

Once you’ve gathered all of your research, how do you simplify the information enough to convey your ideas in a clear, direct manner. Explain your idea to a friend or family members, or someone working in a different discipline. Ask these listeners to point out concepts and jargon they don’t understand. Now, find different ways to express the same ideas in everyday language.


When I am feeling overwhelmed, fed up or stuck, I take a break, go for a walk, or talk to a friend.


When writing Native Son, Richard Wright woke by 6am and left the house. He walked to Greene Park with his supplies—a yellow legal pad, fountain pen, and bottle of ink. He sat on a bench at the top of the hill and wrote for four hours. Wright followed this routine in all weather, coming home soaking wet on rainy days. What might your routine look like? Is there a place on campus, in the library, in or near your home that you could use as a routine working place?

Making Sense of it All

After you’ve gathered and read the articles, underlined the relevant parts, made notes in your notebook, and you now have a pile of stuff, what to do with it? I go through and find the ideas and questions that stand out in my notes and reading and start to write down those ideas on index cards. I then move the cards around on a table to see where there are connections between ideas.


Start Writing Now

Pick a paragraph from your reading or an image that you found and explore it. Writing small sections early in the process will reduce your anxiety about the project and build confidence in your ability to get the job done.


Routine #1

I used to wait for inspiration. Don't do anything the idea will come. The problem was that inspiration rarely arrived. I would run out of time and have to put the work together at the last minute. There was no allowing for ideas to develop, change and grow.


Routine #2

There I am in my boat with all of my research materials. I love the reading and thinking and researching. It's the making the project that I want to put off. As long as I stay outside the line of the event horizon, I'll be safe. When time runs out, I quickly enter the black hole and finish the project.


Routine #3

I find that the best way to work is over time. Each day I research and read and write. Each day's work leads to new questions explore. By working this way my questions and conclusions have time to change, develop, and grow.


Routine #4

Think of the work as a cycle of research, reading, writing, gathering materials for your box, wrestling with the voices in your head, simplifying information with out being simplistic, getting stuck, unstuck, writing some more, and organizing your ideas.


Visit the Research Desk. Call us up or walk into the library and discuss your research questions, concerns, and dead-ends with us. We want to help and love the challenge of a new question. Regular desk hours: Mon-Thurs 9-7pm, Fri 9-5pm, Sunday 2-6pm. Phone: (360) 867-6250.

Daniel J. Evans Library - MS: LIB2300 - 2700 Evergreen Parkway, NE. Olympia, WA 98501 - 360-867-6250