would gladly spend many hundreds W r i t i n g

would gladly spend many hundreds W r i t i n g

Consider ‘Flipping the Script,’ by Going From Fascinating Sources to a Great Topic


Many, perhaps most, researchers begin with a topic then go in search of sources. To be sure, there is nothing wrong with that approach. But, might there be benefits to doing things the other way around–to start with a pile of great sources that you find to be academically important, nicely accessible, and simply a joy to consider,then consider what topic those scintillating sources might allow you to broach, and, finally, what worthy question those sources might allow you to ably answer?

As a history professor, I will happily admit that I often use just this approach. If I find myself drawn to an accessible, endlessly-fascinating stack of, say, nearly 200,000 letters to and from the United States’ founding fathers, or the complete run of Life Magazine from the 1930s to the 1970s, or a vast archive of newspapers old or new, I might ask myself: “what significant research question might I answer, relying largely on one, or more, of these piles of evidence to which I am already intellectually drawn, and would gladly spend many hundreds of hours exploring?

Such an approach can give one at least two front-end advantages. First, you’ll know that the requisite evidence definitely exists, and is accessible to you. Secondly, you won’t find the research to be tedious–not at all–because the evidential sources will be ones that, even before you have begun researching formally,you have already found to be absolutely irresistible to you. Now, look around (whether virtually, online or in the wider “real world” of, say, libraries, research subjects, etc.) and ask yourself: what fascinating pile of evidence would I be thrilled to work through, and what significant, serviceable questions might it allow me to answer anew? Give your thoughts here about how such an approach just might benefit you.