Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of presenting at the Pennsylvania Historical Association's Annual Meeting. I shared my research in a paper entitled: Black Women: Education and Literacy as Pathways to Equality in Gilded Age Pittsburgh. In this paper, I highlighted 19th and early 20th-century Black women in Pittsburgh who uplifted their communities through education and forming literary clubs to push for equality. The paper was a success, but it didn't come without hard work and thoughtful research. I've collected so much material I am now in the process of writing a book about it!
When we approach research, we must be serious about it, as it takes time and effort. It can be easy to go off the rails and down rabbit holes, finding things that may be related but not on par. However, if it is a topic you are passionate about, you should respect your research and the time it takes to collect it. These are precious hours, minutes, and days you can't get back, so it's best to stay prepared and on task as you go.
So how does one do this?
I would start with brainstorming and writing down the three main questions you hope to answer. This will give you a focus to zero your search on. Then, with brainstorming, think of themes and topics you'd like to address, and then go to scholar.google.com and see what scholarly articles are on those topics.
Next, start collecting sources. Use sites like www.newspapers.com or your college/university site to peruse articles from the period or about the topic. Then, jot down book titles that appeal to your piece. Make a list in your writing document of choice, whether that's Word or Google Docs. Then, go back through those sources and read for context, highlighting the main points, quotes, and other ideas that support your topic.
Next, on a separate document, make a timeline of events, especially if you are discussing the progression of an idea or a person's life. This will make it easier to write your paper without constantly having to ask yourself when an event happened. For example, you can build your paper outline using related events from the person's life to coincide with your other source material. A regular outline works for this, too. Look for an outline template in your program of choice.
These are just a few ways I approach my research and writing when I begin working on a significant undertaking project. By being methodical, I respect my time and all of the items that have lent themselves to me to make my papers and presentations a success, and I can use most of what I find; I hope this will help you as well.