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  • Writer's pictureJenia Browne

Researching and Outlining

Cover of Tommy Boys, Lesbian Men, and Ancestral Wives edited by Ruth Morgan and Saskia Wieringa

In my opinion (and probably a lot of people's), this is the most important part! The research phase is always difficult, and this proved to be true for this project as well. Reading, reading, reading. Notes, notes, notes. This is by far the most research I've done for a project, and I'm proud of myself! My Zotero is full of sources and I love to see it. Not only have I had to sift through nine books and plenty of other secondary sources, I have had to determine what's vital for my project and what isn't. Like I mentioned in the literature review, it's pretty hard for me to not want to answer every single question that a topic presents. This is an important skill though - if I plan on going to graduate school, I have to learn about the limits I will have with time and resources to set realistic expectations of what I can produce and write. It's a real balancing act between being as comprehensive as you can and not expanding the scope of your paper too wide or overwhelming yourself with information. As I work on my statements of purpose and application materials in conjunction with my project, I've realized one very important thing - eventually, I have to stop. I have to stop editing, I have to stop asking for feedback, I have to stop adding more information, Eventually, a project has to end. And that's not a bad thing!

Saying that, I am nowhere near done. Another thing that's been emphasized for me throughout this process is that research never stops. As I read certain sources, new questions pop up and more background information becomes necessary. While I've interacted with Black Studies and Black feminist theory relatively frequently in my undergraduate career, I've had to do a lot of work researching African Studies, African feminisms, and queer theory. I am happy that this project gave me the ability to do so. There is so much work that goes into researching the background of gender and sexuality and queer African identities and their origins. This is so I can better represent these identities and form a stronger argument. I expect to be researching up until the end of this project, and I know that that's alright! I know I just said that eventually a project has to end, but until it does, there's nothing wrong with continuing to research (with limits) while you enter the next phase of your project.

The research process has included a lot of reading sources that may not necessarily be used as strong case studies or examples within my paper. Because I've found gender is far more understudied than sexuality, at least in the sources that I am using for this project, I have had to read sources that may or may not have the information I need. I'm not really bothered by this though. This project really made me realize how much I love to learn about these topics. Thank God, because research can be a lot of work! I've found that the sources that may not be useful still enrich my learning and that's never a waste. The time limit is always going to be added pressure though. The skill of skimming is often something I struggle with; I just want to make sure I don't miss any useful information. But Dr. Brown's voice is always in my head telling me that I'm going to miss something, and that's okay. Everyone misses things. It doesn't mean that my paper is going to be weak because there's 1 or 2 things I could've added. I also have to keep mind that I do have a page goal, so I won't be able to include everything anyway.

In conjunction with research, I've started outlining my work. I love outlining. I could not write at all without a comprehensive outline. My outlines always end up being more pages than my paper itself. As I have continued to develop as a writer and researcher in college, I've become pretty solid in my research process and what I need to succeed. Outlines are part of that. Having everything laid out - quotes, the beginnings of arguments, summaries of sources – allows me to write quicker and more succinctly. I typically just annotate on the pages in my sources when I'm reading non-fiction outside of a project, but taking separate notes on Scrivener has been infinitely beneficial. This makes reading take much much longer, but I think it's worth it in the end. This way, I'm not digging through sources looking for information while I'm writing. Transferring notes to an outline rather than re-reading everything saves me so much time and makes up for the extra time notes themselves take. Scrivener has also helped me split my outline into sections that can be compiled together, which I think has kept me much more organized in distinguishing the sections within my paper.

Speaking of notes and outlines, similar to my lack of skill in skimming, I am still working on not over-annotating as well. Annotations are obviously not very helpful if I'm highlighting half the page. I've talked to multiple professors about this as it slows me down for my class readings as well. It just isn't possible to read everything in-depth with the time limits we have for projects and the deadlines we have for classes. Combining a successful method of 'skimming' and annotating for reading sources enough to understand them without taking hours to read them is becoming more and more essential as I continue my education. I hope this project helps me learn these skills to prepare me for my senior capstone as well.

That's about all of my thoughts on this step. I'm really excited to start writing - it's my favorite part. Being able to see my thoughts come together on the page really feels good. I can't wait to share more thoughts with y'all!

Talk soon,


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