Posts Tagged ‘identifying individuals’

I recently had to buy a new printer, after my old one (which had lasted over a decade) finally caved in. Clearing out the old printer and making room for the new one prompted me to deal with a backlog of printout odds and ends which I hadn’t dealt with properly. Most are just scraps and can go into the paper recycling box, but I found a couple of interesting things tonight.

One was the notes for a talk I gave during my PhD to fellow postgraduate students about the difficulties of identifying individuals in the past. This came out of my Masters dissertation, where I had built a very large database of pursuers and defendants in 17th century court cases. There are many references to people with the same name, some would be to the same person multiple times, but more often than not references are to different people, but it’s really difficult to figure out from them who was who. This is despite the very helpful habit in the locality concerned of using nicknames, sometimes based on where the people lived, sometimes to do with their physical description, sometimes genealogical, and so on. Anyway the talk notes, which are accompanied by a spreadsheet page of similarly-named people from my court cases database, make some interesting points. Maybe I should write it up into something more formal? Even a blog post would be good.

The other useful thing I found tonight in the pile of printouts was my initial plan/notes for an essay from 2006. I think this was part of a training exercise we did on writing skills, and we were advised to break down our writing task under certain headings, to focus ourselves more. The piece of writing I used to practice this technique on was part of Chapter 6 of my PhD thesis, and what would ultimately turn into my recent Scottish Historical Review journal paper.

The headings that the essay plan is broken down into are really helpful:

  • Title and summary:
  • Title
  • What is the focus of this essay?
  • What is the purpose of this essay?
  • Deadlines (start date and 1st draft due date)
  • Research:
  • What is the essay about?
  • What is the focus of this essay?
  • Why is this topic interesting or relevant to me?
  • What is my working hypothesis?
  • What questions or conflicts need to be resolved?
  • Audience:
  • Who is going to read this essay?
  • What does my audience know about this subject?
  • What do I want my audience to learn from this essay?
  • What am I trying to tell the readers about this subject?

And under each of those subject headings I have a short paragraph expanding on my thoughts accordingly. Often in ways I had since quite forgot. I mean I had a working hypothesis at that point?! And thoughts about conflicts?! If I was planning a set of questions like this myself now I’d add other ones, for example to stress my contribution, and why it is of interest to other people not just me. But they are a very good start, and could be really helpful when planning a piece of writing, or indeed research. This technique would also work well with my mind mapping technique for breaking down ideas and fleshing them out. I wish I hadn’t forgotten it over the last six years. But thankfully I rediscovered it tonight. And will aim to apply to my academic writing in future.

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