Managing your research questions

What do you do with all your research questions and research plans?

In earlier posts I have discussed how to generate research questions and ask the right questions, and how to create a research plan in Excel. Your questions may fit neatly into your plans, and your plans may fit neatly into your existing filing system – but if they don’t then here are some ideas to help you manage them.

Goals provide context and help you prioritise

Research plans are great tools, but they work best if they are prepared after you articulate the broad aims or goals for your research.

Setting goals is the first step in the research planning process. They help you focus your research efforts on the tasks that will progress your research.


Goal: My father was adopted – I’d like to trace his biological family

Plans:  A research plan for my father’s biological parents and their children; two more plans for his grandparents and their families; and so on back through the generations.

You need to document your goals so that they are a constant reminder of what you are aiming for.

The document does not have to be fancy – you could write them on a whiteboard or a post it note. You could add them to the top of your research plans, or create a graphic and use them as the wallpaper image on your computer.

Master lists

A master list of research plans and research questions provides an accessible overview, and it can be used as a tool to establish and document your priorities.

You could create a master list in an Excel spreadsheet or a Word file. Or, if you prefer to incorporate everything into your family history software, you could add your research questions to your To Do List or Task List.

Add a Category of tasks called Research Question, then you can filter tasks by that Category to get a list of research questions (this example from Legacy Family Tree software)

My Tree Health Assessment tool can also be used as a master list. The table format provides a good summary of the progress you have made in gathering evidence to support your conclusions. An article on this tool can be downloaded from my Free Stuff page.

A list of birth death and marriage records that you have purchased, or plan to purchase, is another useful master list. It helps you plan your purchases and reduces the chance of purchasing duplicates.

Tasks lists

A list of tasks can be included in your research plan. You can file the plans under the name of the relevant individual, family group or family line or keep all your plans in a single folder.

Alternatively, the tasks identified during your research planning could be entered into your To Do List or Task List in your family history software. Legacy and Family Tree Maker both allow you to assign tasks to the whole tree or to individuals.

The To Do form in Legacy Family Tree software

Regular review

Research planning is a cyclic process, so whichever methods or tools you use, don’t forget to review your planning periodically. Your goals and objectives will change over time, and the relative importance of your research questions will also change. Choose tools that make that review process easier for you.

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