One thing I have learned from being involved in a research project for more than four months is that there is nothing like writing down your ideas and impressions about what you are reading at the time. I usually take verbatim notes so I can go back and get what I want, and I am happy with that. I also take some notes by paraphrasing and summarizing sections that will require a close reading and are the primary of the primary sources or very important secondary sources whose argument requires special attention. And these kinds of notes are very helpful for filling things in a long time after the material has been written.
But what is especially helpful to me are the sections that I wrote at the time I was full of the reading. I wrote sections on the Scopes trial when I was enjoying the transcript last winter. I have been revisiting the stuff I wrote on Machen back in November or December and I do not think I would be able to come up with anything like this at present. Now when I get an idea for the conclusion I write it out and stick it in there even though I’ve not really started on that.
I started this project not really knowing how to go about it. I think it was assumed that I knew what I would do, but I didn’t really know how to proceed. It took me months just to figure out what was expected on the formal proposal. Now I have a much better idea. I still don’t like the notion of planning it all out ahead of time. I would rather get something I’m interested in and then follow it onto the next thing, and the next, till the minimum page limit was reached. Perhaps that isn’t scholarly, but another thing I’ve learned is that I don’t really care for scholarship too much. John Lukacs has set me free of that!