Thursday, September 25, 2008

A tiny tip that will save you hundreds of hours

Time saver extraordinaire: Before returning any source (especially if you have traveled to a distant archive) do four things: (1) Enter the complete citation into your electronic end-note source such as RefWorks, and make sure it is absolutely letter perfect; (2) double-check your page numbers and your quotation of the source; (3) take a photocopy of both the publication page and the quoted text itself, in case your computer crashes or is stolen; and (4) write up your thoughts about those sources while they are still fresh for you.

Does this sound like beginner's advice? Then you'd be surprised how many famous scholars come to me with end notes that are a mess, and without complete certainty that x set of notes came from y archive. One stopped by recently with over 500 haphazard citations and a pitiful question, "Will someone in your office please check all of these for me?" The answer is of course was no (it would take months if not more than a year of quite a few hours per week from one individual), but someone must do it before his book is published.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! If you do just a few citations as you write, you'll get there, and you'll be so relieved not to have to face it all at once.

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