Monday, April 16, 2012

Is searching different than researching?

In genealogy, we probably use the term "research" when what we really mean is "search" or "review." Lots of people do genealogical searching but few of them actually do research. We do a search when we are trying to find someone or some fact about someone. We are only doing research when we have drawn a conclusion and are trying to find facts to either support for our conclusions or to refute them. The fault in confusing the terms is not limited to genealogy. The term "research" has been used so loosely in so many different ways, that it has almost become a synonym for "search."

In the world of science, the two terms are still quite distinct. Research must be organized and directed towards either proving or disproving a hypothesis. In this sense, blindly searching for information in an unsystematic way is not research. So who cares? And, more important, why should we care? Let me give an example that illustrates the difference.

John Doe is looking for his Great-grandfather (GGF), Richard Doe. He begins be going onto a large online genealogical database website and looks for his GGF's name. He tries several combinations of spellings in several documents. He is searching for information, but has he yet to do any research? Searching is an uncommitted activity. The question is whether or not any of the search results match his previously determined criteria for identifying his GGF. To the extent that John Doe has done previous searching and has some idea or theory about his GGF, he may have crossed the line from searching to research. The point is that searching can go on forever without producing any results. If you want to make progress, especially in really hard cases, you have to move beyond mere searching and begin to on around the research cycle.

Here is a commonly used example:

This simple outline can be made a lot more complex. Here is an example:


The basic steps are as follows:
  1. Identify what you know.
  2. Decide what you want to learn.
  3. Select records to search.
  4. Obtain and search the records.
  5. Evaluate and Use the information. 
 Sometimes we can go through this process automatically without even realizing that we have been involved in research, but what I find so often in working with people, is that they search and search on Step 4, but never move on to the other steps and subsequently make no progress. It is important not to get so caught up in searching that you never make any progress. Every step is important.

1 comment:

  1. Hi James,

    In my mind, and for how I work, "searching" is only one part of the research process--but I guess that all depends on what you mean by "search."

    I'm working now on some graphics about "knowledge-based" genealogy, and the ways I distinguish it from "record-based" genealogy.

    In that context, I suppose if you think all knowledge comes from "records" then perhaps "research" and "search" might seem like they are the same thing.

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