14 Day Challenge #13: Report Outline

14 Day Challenge #13: Report Outline

[I’m participating in the 14 Day Mini Research Like a Pro Challenge. Thanks to Diana and Nicole at Family Locket for sharing their expertise and guiding us through the experience.]

I like the report-writing part of the research process. The precise thinking that it requires suits me. But I find it challenging on two levels — organizing the information in a logical way and choosing words that will make the writing tight. Separating those two activities might, theoretically, make both of them easier. Developing an outlining habit might be a useful thing for me.

The challenge for today is to create a report outline based on research that was undertaken during the challenge project.

But, before I dive into the assignment, this seems like a really good time to review the guidelines for what to include in reports. So, off to Professional Genealogy: Preparation, Practice & Standards I go.

Page 429 reminds me that I should include five things which I’ll try to put into my own words here: an overview of starting information; a quick summary of the research results; a “detailed” discussion of “sources, findings, analysis, and conclusions”; ideas for follow-on research; and attachments or additional information, if needed. [1]

That’s pretty consistent with the report structure that I’ve been using:

I. Background Information
II. Research Question/Objective
III. Research Plan
IV. Summary of Findings
V. Source-by-source Details of Searches and Results
(including source analysis, information analysis, evidence analysis,
correlation, and comments)
VI. Conclusions
VII. Suggestions for Further Research

I’m working on the outline for the assignment in a word processing document–too hard to format it in the blog editing window–and I’ve discovered the obvious.

One of the reasons I get bogged down with writing is likely the same reason that I’m finding parts of the outline tough to pull together–I don’t really know what I’m doing and I’m not sure what I want to say. [imagine the laughing-so-hard-the-tears-are-running-down-my-face emoji here]

Here’s an example.

I found a wonderful burial register page for Nicholas Connolly. The address on the record matches his address in 1891 and the address for his widow in 1901. I’m certain it’s a record for the person I’m after.

Great! So, I need to discuss it in the report.

I’m wanting to say it’s an original record. The likely scenario is that the cemetery had a burial register and added information to it as people were buried. But, I’m seeing an image of the page in my mind and I seem to remember that the hand writing was consistent across all the entries and that could mean that it’s a derivative record …

I could stare at my word processing document, trying to figure out how to explain the thinking I’m trying to think and I could change words and move phrases around this way and that, BUT, BUT, BUT —

If I’m having trouble writing things up then I’m probably not ready to write.

I went back to the burial register page and took a closer look. Yes, the handing writing for the general information is the same but the penmanship in the last two columns — “Officiating Clergyman or Minister” and “Remarks” clearly differs from line to line. It’s likely the officiants signed the register soon after the burials occurred and that means this is likely an original record.

But wait. I also notice that there’s a column for “Signature of Informant” and in this case it’s Nicholas’ wife, Catherine. But all of the “signatures” seem to be in the hand that wrote the other register information. I’m betting the death information was copied from a death record and, if that’s the case, that part of the register is likely, in a sense, derivative. But I’m thinking the burial information in the first eight columns was likely recorded for the first time in the register — before the clergymen signed which, logically speaking, would likely have been right after the burial? That means this would be an original record.

Oh, and back to Catherine’s signature for a moment. I took another look at the death registration image and it sure looks like the same hand wrote all of the information in the entry, including the “signature.” I did a bit of sleuthing and sure enough. “The GRO (national office) only has transcripts so the researcher either receives a photocopy certificate of the transcript, or a transcript of the transcript.” [2]

So, what does all this thinking out loud on virtual paper have to do with outlining my report? Everything. Now that I’ve taken more time to understand the record I want to consider, writing about it is so SO so much easier.

My takeaways from this assignment?

  1. When I say, “I need to get better at writing,” what I’m really saying is, “I need to gain more confidence in analyzing sources, information, and evidence; correlating the evidence; and drawing conclusions.”
  2. Creating an outline is an efficient way to identify foundational gaps before the writing begins.
  3. There is so much more to learn.

  1. Nancy A. Peters, “Research Reports,” Elizabeth Shown Mills, editor, Professional Genealogy (Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing, 2018), 429.
  2. “Using Major Original Sources (National Institute),” FamilySearch Wiki (https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Using_Major_Original_Sources_(National_Institute) : accessed 3 February 2019); citing Louise St. Denis, et. al., “Methodology: Part I” (online course), National Institute for Genealogical Studies.
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