When I was attending the Institute for Genealogical and Historical Research earlier this summer, I took a stroll through the campus store. One of my friends pointed to a book they had on sale and told me I just had to have it. I bought it on her recommendation, and am glad I did.
The book is the thirdd edition of The Craft of Research, by Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Columb, and Joseph M. Williams. It is published by the University of Chicago Press, the same publisher as The Chicago Manual of Style. Although geared towards college students, it has much good advice for genealogical researchers as well.
The book is divided into five sections:
- Research, Researchers, and Readers
- Asking Questions, Finding Answers
- Making a Claim and Supporting It
- Planning, Drafting, and Revising
- Some Last Considerations
Each section is further divided into individual chapters. Not every chapter will be entirely applicable, but most will offer some level of assistance.
The prologue to section three, for example, says:
“Once you’ve accumulated a stack of notes, photocopies, and summaries, don’t keep piling them up until they spill off your desk (or you lose track of them on your hard drive). It’s time to impose some order on what you’ve found. . . You need a . . . powerful principle of organization, one based not on your data but on the solution to your problem and the logic of its support. That support takes the form of a research argument.”
This is exactly what we as genealogists do.
Each chapter is further subdivided into brief explanations of concepts. There are charts and diagrams to illustrate some points. Many chapters also have Quick Tips. These are checklists, tools, and tricks for different concepts. One of my favorites is “Qualifying Claims to Enhance Your Credibility.” This tip reminds you to use qualifiers in statements you make. A common genealogical example would be:
Since John and Mary (Smith) Doe were the only family leaving records in Springfield during the years surrounding her birth, they are most likely the parents of Jane. There remains the possibility that a transient Doe family might have come in and out of town during this period without leaving any permanent records.
The qualifiers most likely, and the second sentence show the reader that you understand that there is another possibility. No matter how unlikely, it is still possible. Acknowledging this makes the reader trust you and your research more.
The Craft of Research, Third Edition, is a valuable addition to your reference shelf. It is available in both print and electronic versions. It is available from a wide variety of online and brick-and-mortar booksellers, and the prices vary from seller to seller, so (as Booth, Columb, and Williams would say) do your research wisely!