r1: the craft of research, chapters 3–6

When deciding on a topic to research, I like to think if people would debate my question or problem at a bar. If the topic instigates that kind of casual but passionate debate, I usually believe a visualization exploring it is justified as the exploration may lead to some sort of conclusion to that debate, or promote even more conversation. Where I work, we say this more fancily: A topic is promising if it represents an idea debated in culture.

I always struggle with finding a topic that isn’t water is wet—one with an obvious answer just simply backed by data. I liked when the reading spoke about “silly” questions. I think there’s a lot of truth in this. Two of my co-workers were interested in the size of women’s pockets as opposed to men’s pockets. The idea started with a jovial tone, but they actually followed through with it, collected the data, and produced a visualization that won an Information is Beautiful award. I’ve ran down some “silly” paths—during an internship last summer, I started pulling every transcript from the TV show The Office, analyzed the text data, and produced a visualization with my co-worker that people still ask me about to this day. One last example, for my thesis in college, I created a visual essay about one of my favorite bands. Many were confused when I told them the topic of my thesis, but I was incredibly happy with the results, as were people I showed in the music industry.

I found it incredibly helpful when the book broke down the different levels of a topic, question, and significance. One of my personal goals for 2019 is to get better at thoroughly understanding a topic deeply before I start researching it—I often jump into data before I actually know what I'm looking for. I was eventually taught to go into a dataset with a cultural question in mind. Diving head first into a dataset makes the possibility of falling down a rabbit hole much more eminent because you're aimlessly searching through data without a clear goal. I've seen this work occasionally, but not often. This excerpt from Chapter 5 encapsulates this well to me:

"To do that efficiently, you need to have a plan. If you plunge unto any and all sources on your topic, you risk losing yourself in an endless trail of books and articles."
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