Letting Your Research Guide You

When starting out on a research paper, or in my case a thesis, one always has a plan of attack already in mind. For example, in an earlier blog entry, “White Board of Ideas”, I introduced the topic of my thesis to be studying the evolution of digitization through six different technologies. These technologies were: the incunabula, telegraph, the telephone, radio, television, and the internet. After a short while of researching though I came to the conclusion that this would simply be too large of a task to undertake for an honours thesis that I only have one year to write. Instead, I decided to focus my efforts to what interested me most in my research. This is how I ended up comparing the evolution of digitization of the incunabula (early book) to the development of the ebook.

My research did not stop guiding me at that point. Once I began, I discovered that it was important to follow some tangents that needed clearing up. For instance, when I began discussing my experience with ebooks, I fell upon the topic of taking physically printed books off the shelf and making them into a PDF format that I can read on my computer. While this idea was the original inspiration for my thesis as a whole, it led me to write about another necessary step in the evolution of digitization, copying.

This sudden realization opened up a number of other tangents. Most importantly, the study of copying in general and how that process became digitized through a number of paradigm shifts in its evolution through history. While pursuing this tangent of research I discovered some amazing stories, my favourite of which was about a Jesuit named Father Busa who was born in Italy in 1913. While doing his doctorate in philosophy he went about creating the first digitized index of the work of Thomas Aquinas.

In order to do so he estimated that he would need around thirteen million punch cards to do so. Because of this Busa knew that some kind of machine was necessary so he teamed up with IBM to complete such a daunting task. It was a very interesting story that I discovered thanks to letting my research guide my work.

The point that I am trying to make is that at this level of academics it is not good to approach a work with a very narrow mindset from the beginning straight to the end. Do not be afraid of looking further into stories that you discover along the way that seem interesting. Never would I have discovered that the development of the ebook and the incunabula were so complex had I not been open to new ideas. I have been amazed at how my writing has improved since I have taken on this mindset.

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