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How to properly research a topic

Research is an essential component in most contemporary works of art and also in a lot of jobs that aren’t related to art at all. The opinions what research is and how to research appropriately vary by great lengths. This is my point of view on this topic.

Not all research is equal

Depending on your project, your requirements for research will differ. In a scientific paper, you will need to quote all sources, verify their credibility and do so as well for the sources of your sources, if you want to be taken seriously. When you research for an artistic project like a stage piece, it might be sufficient to find opinions instead of facts, so the need for verification of every source might not be needed. 

If your art wanders into the fields of political activism (which is indeed often the case and the premise for the core of this article), you better dig deep and make sure that you are telling the truth or you risk to lose all credibility when it easy to debunk your claims. People tend to not believe people again, once they could find a lie themselves.

No research is ever quite complete. It is the glory of a good bit of work that it opens the way for something still better, and this repeatedly leads to its own eclipse.

Mervin Gordon

Tools of research

Access to information via the internet seems to make research much easier than ever before. This is partially true. It is easier than ever before to find info about every topic, but the quality of that information is not as reliable as it was in a time when putting out information was harder to do.

  1. Nevertheless, our research usually starts online. Google the topic. Make your search specific and not generic. If you consider censorship and filter-bubbles as an issue (you should) do the same search with another search engine that is not based on Google.
  2. Search social network, discussion forums, community pages and specialised sites for info on the topic. Don’t stop after checking Facebook and Youtube. These two platforms are owned by the biggest corporations that earn money, with your data and preferences. They cater strongly to what they think you want to read. Specific discussion forums and alternative networks that don’t earn money with your data should be your prefered sources online. Examples would be reddit or the social network minds. Which platforms you go to depends on the topics you search for.
  3. Check out documentaries about the topic.
  4. During steps 1 – 3, you hopefully picked up some names of experts for your topic. Grab their books from the library if they published something, check their blog, social media and whatever is available. If possible, get in contact and talk or write with them.
  5. If they reference others in their work, repeat the steps above with those people as well. This can be a time-consuming loop until you really get to the point when you find the source of something.
A visit in the library to grab some books should be part of every serious research project.
Your resarch should also lead you to the library, not only to your laptop.
Photo by Aleksey Popov on Scopio.

Golden rules

  1. Don’t prefer one opinion over the other, just because it suits your point of view. Check all theories with the same enthusiasm and depth of research, until you debunk or confirm them.
  2. The fewer sources you have, the less reliable your information.
  3. The farther away your sources are from the origin of the information, the less reliable your info.
  4. Spreading false information will hurt your reputation.
  5. So will sharing misleading information.
  6. If you consider your topics to be the target of censorship and your primary sources are platforms that use algorithms to decide what they show you, you are doing it wrong. 

In the end, research always comes down to asking the right questions. Only you can know what these questions should. Be honest to yourself and invest enough time to come up with everything important to your project.