research, Writing

Taming the rabbit hole of research: Keeping a research journal

A spread from my research journal for WOOD, WIRE WINGS: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane

As nonfiction authors, we often talk about “falling down the rabbit hole of research” to describe how engrossing and time consuming the research process can be.

For me research is less a rabbit hole and more a labyrinth. It’s easy to lose the road I’m on as I chase tangents that splinter off from the main trail.

One thing that makes the research process easier for me is keeping a research journal. Here’s how I use mine to tame the research tangents.

First, when I’m trying to locate specific articles, I keep track of databases I’ve searched. Is that article I needed in the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America database? On Newspapers.com? At Fultonhistory.com? Where have I already checked? Where do I still need to look? Sometimes I make a simple “to do list” and check things off.

I use this same technique when it comes to contacting experts. Have I contacted that expert yet? When I do, I check off their name, note the date I reached out to them and how (via email, for example).

Sometimes I keep records of what search terms I’ve used in databases. When I studied Lilian Todd for WOOD, WIRE, WINGS, I quickly realized Lilian Todd’s name was often misspelled, and she was frequently referred to as “Miss Todd” or even “E. L. Todd” in the news. Knowing this, I ran searches multiple times using different search combinations, and keeping track of what terms I’d tried.

As I read secondary and primary sources, I also jot down new items I need to look into, whether it’s Lilian Todd’s patents (requiring a separate search in the U.S. Patent Office database) or the Junior Aero Club Show at Madison Square Garden (necessitating another dive into the newspaper archives). Making note of a new research topic allows me to put a pin in it, so I can finish reading the chapter or article without getting distracted. Then I can get started on my new tangent.

What hints do you have for wrangling your research? What tips have you found helpful?

school visits

Free, virtual visits for World Read Aloud Day

Teachers and librarians…I’m now booking free, 20-minute, virtual school visits for World Read Aloud Day (held on Feb. 2, 2022) via the platform of your choice (Meet, Zoom, or Skype). Here’s what a virtual visit entails.

1-2 minutes: I’ll give quick intro and talk a little bit about my books.
3-5 minutes: I’ll read aloud a portion of A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything OR WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane.
5-10 minutes: I’ll answer a few questions from students about reading/writing.
1-2 minutes: I’ll book-talk a couple of books I love (but didn’t write!) as recommendations for your students.

Ready to sign up? Click on the Sign Up Genius icon below to secure your spot. Please do not sign up until you can commit to a 20-minute time slot (one per school).

Sign Up!
Books

WOOD, WIRE, WINGS is a 2021 Bank Street Best Book

This is an image of the cover of WOOD, WIRE, WINGS.

I’m thrilled to share that WOOD, WIRE, WINGS has been named a 2021 Bank Street College of Education Best Book for ages 5 to 9.

According to The College’s website: “The Children’s Book Committee strives to guide librarians, educators, parents, grandparents, and other interested adults to the best books for children published each year. The list includes more than 600 titles chosen by reviewers for literary quality and excellence of presentation as well as the potential emotional impact of the books on young readers. Other criteria include credibility of characterization and plot, authenticity of time and place, age suitability, positive treatment of ethnic and religious differences, and the absence of stereotypes.”

Looking for great titles for all ages? Find all of Bank Street’s recommendations here.