Solve a research problem by examining what you already know

When you have a research problem, it is tempting to go and gather more sources. What you should do, however, is slow down and prepare before you do any new research.

In my earlier article, How to tackle a research problem, I described the process of analysing and clearly defining a research problem. This process helps you identify more precisely what you are trying to solve, why it is important to solve it and what you need to know.

But you also need to examine what you already know.

Yes, that sounds obvious and I am sure you already do that to some extent. But if you spend more time on this step, you are more likely to have success with your research.

Scoping before you research

Scoping involves gathering and reviewing information that you already have which is relevant to your research problem:

  • your family tree
  • your research notes
  • copies of sources that you already have, such as birth certificates
  • any analyses you have already conducted, such as Tree Health Assessments, mind maps or timelines
  • relevant research plans, and
  • evidence summaries and arguments.
Examine your certificates again, taking note of informants, witnesses, occupations, locations and any other research clue.

If you are using DNA evidence, gather:

  • a list of your matches at fourth cousin or closer
  • predictions of ethnicity
  • any predictions or hints provided, such as ThruLines and Common Ancestor predictions, and
  • any DNA analyses that you have already conducted.
Check all the DNA research hints for research leads to be investigated

Analyse all of this information in depth to develop new research leads:

  • Is the information relevant to your problem?
  • How complete is the information?
  • How adequate are the sources you have used?
  • How reliable is the information?
  • What conclusions have you already reached?
  • How reasonable are your conclusions?
  • Does the existing information, or your conclusions, raise any doubts or concerns?
  • Where are the gaps in your research?
  • How does your family tree, and your conclusions, compare with other researchers?
Start with a solid foundation

Scoping helps to establish a solid foundation of knowledge from which you can identify research leads and conduct new research.

If you are prepared to spend more time on scoping, you will probably find information that you did not notice before, or had forgotten; as well as gaps and inconsistencies. Use that information and analyses to revise your research questions and your research plans.

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