Determining the Scope of the Research Needed
Before you can begin your research, you need to know what to look for. Only then can you figure out where you need to look.
That probably seems overly simplistic, but think about it: The task ahead of you will seem overwhelming until you know the scope of that task. Only then can you break your work down into manageable steps.
Think back to the first time you assembled a model. You attached part A to part B and continued through the process until you had something ready to display proudly on the shelf in your room. But attaching those parts wasn't the first step you took to getting the job done. First, you had to decide what you wanted to build. In that case, you probably viewed the boxes sitting on the shelves at the hobby store in much the same way you'd think about all the books facing you on the shelves at the library.
As you looked at the rows in front of you, the boxes may not have been as well organized as those books filed under the Dewey Decimal System at the library, but they were in categories all the same. Even if you walked into the store knowing that you wanted to build a car, that wasn't enough. It was still overwhelming until you decided what type of car you wanted to build. And at what scale. And in what color. You didn't actually determine your objective until you selected the specific model you were going to build. Even then, your job was far from over.
Once you got the model home, you spent some time looking at the picture on the box. That picture became your “focus” because it represented what your final “product” should look like.
Next, you emptied the contents of the box onto the table in front of you. At that point, while you had everything you needed in front of you, you were far from having the job done. You still had to look over the instructions, arrange all of those pieces and parts in some sort of logical order, and figure out what other tools (glue, paint, brushes) you still needed. Eventually, you treated those instructions in much the same manner as you would research — digesting it until you had a thorough understanding of your intended product. Those parts assembled in logical order became your outline. Your tools were your aids to getting your vision into tangible form. Throughout the entire process, that picture on the box never lost its importance either. It allowed you to maintain (or refresh) your focus. It helped you “see” the goal in front of you.
Why is that focus so important? Focus is what lets you narrow a broad topic down to something manageable. Focus allows you to glean your specific “thesis statement” from general subject matter.
There's a reason that one of the most popular search engines based its name on “googol” — the mathematical term for “1 followed by 100 zeroes.” Google (
You can read more about how to determine the focus of what you're writing in Chapter 11.