Saturday, January 22, 2011

"Advanced" Internet Research Techniques?

I suppose it had to happen.  I've been to so many good talks lately that I was overdue for a dud.  Today a fellow researcher and I went to a presentation given by an investigative reporter who published a well reviewed book a couple of years ago.  I will not give the name of the reporter or the book because I unfortunately found the talk extremely disappointing.  The reason I am writing about it is because it was interesting (and dismaying!) to see the research skills the speaker discussed as being advanced and unique, but which my friend and I considered to be basic skills any professional researcher worth his salt should have in his arsenal.  Facts presented during the talk were not sourced; a broad list of sources without specific citations was given at the end, and there was no way to tell where any given piece of information came from.

The topics of deep research skill sets and good source citations come up semiregularly on some of the genealogy e-mail lists I'm on.  I have often read comments from long established genealogists who say that the quality of research done by serious family history researchers not only rivals but often surpasses that of researchers in many other fields.  I used to take those views with a grain of salt, perhaps because most of the researchers I knew outside of the family history field did quality work.  After today's presentation, I'm not so sure.

I realize one cannot draw a conclusion from just one speaker, and I am not trying to paint all investigative reporters with the same brush.  I attended a talk given by a different investigative journalist at last year's IAJGS annual conference in Los Angeles, and it was excellent.  But the fact that today's speaker has been published and has received positive reviews for the research done for the book leads me to question the standards used to measure nonfiction books in the general market.

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