A Strategy for Research: Organizing Data


When it comes to writing a major piece, such as Emmett’s book, you collect a lot of information. That’s a good thing, but it can be overwhelming.

I’d mentioned in an earlier post that I have (literally) hundreds of source items, and I’m still collecting information (and probably will for a while). Emmett didn’t leave a journal (that I know of), and I still don’t have his Elusive Scrapbooks. (HINT. HINT.) That means I’ve had to piece his life together from any source available.

Here’s what I do with the information:

I use a basic spreadsheet program with my own headings. Information is organized by year.

I use a basic spreadsheet program with my own headings. Information is organized by year.

This is just a snapshot of one of my spreadsheets. I organize Emmett’s information by year, in chronological order. With this, I get an overview of what is going on with Emmett on (sometimes) a daily basis. I also put his family’s doings in this chart, and other important local news events that probably affected Emmett.

As you can see, it is organized by date, then a description of the item. The third column is for my notes (mostly comments, outstanding questions, references to other sources, where else I should look for confirmation, and so forth).

The final column is where I have filed the actual copy or source of the news item. For instance,  I mention the 1914 hard copy notes of The Pensacola Journal. What this means is that I read the microfilm, took notes on the item, scanned or copied that article and saved that scan in a file on my computer.

I do this for EVERY source I use, because I am anal retentive.

I may not use every one of these sources. I probably won’t. I have (now) over 1,100 of these little mentions as you see in the snapshot above, and that amount grows every week. The best part about information organized in this way is that it provides a framework from which to build Emmett’s story.

Some folks may think this is overkill. If I actually had Emmett’s scrapbooks, or journals, or had the ability to talk to him in person, perhaps. But this is the only way I know, at present, to reconstruct his life so that I can write about it accurately. If you have a better idea, I’d love to hear it. 🙂



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