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29 April 2016

Freebie Friday: Goal Setting Worksheet for Future Research Planning

I have a project that needs some serious research planning. It's your typical genealogy "project." It involves an entire family which means many branches over many generations. The problem is being in the midst of research and needing to start thinking about this project as several smaller projects---with attainable goals.
Keeping a list of genealogy goals can have you ready to research when you finally find time.


Until now I had no trouble creating research plans for specific goals, but the project has reached a point where it has become unwieldy in my mind.

This is pretty typical. You start with yourself, one person and then go to your parents, two people, grandparents, etc. Suddenly you realize you're scrambling from couple to couple instead of researching a family.

That's the obvious sign it's time to set goals and subdivide your project.

A goal of "research the whole family as far back as possible" is not really an attainable goal. Sure, I'll get there eventually, but how? That's the point of setting attainable goals.

You know how to eat an elephant, right? Genealogy research may be the biggest elephant out there. Get a really small spoon, though, elephants, I mean genealogy projects, can be really tough.

Part of the "freebie" in this Freebie Friday is the idea of creating a list of goals. The goal setting worksheet (in Evernote) is so simple you don't particularly need my help to set it up. It contains three columns:

  1. person/couple the goal is for, 
  2. reference number, and
  3. goal.


Do You Need to Use a Numbering System?

I have included a column for a reference number because this is meant to be a quick worksheet. You don't have to use a numbering system, but if you are creating a list of goals, they have to be specific to a person or couple. It has to be clear who the person/couple is.

When you go to write your research plan, you will include details on the person, but the goal setting worksheet is just a preliminary step when you are short on time (as Occasional Genealogists usually are). You may not have time to access, or the ability to access, the full details for a person while using the worksheet.

There's no point recording a goal if you don't know who it belongs to. I only use reference numbers if it makes referencing the correct person easy and fast. Otherwise, describe the person sufficiently. This is a worksheet just for you but make sure your future self will understand what you've written.

How To Use the Worksheet

I want to make a few comments on ways I think this worksheet might be helpful.
  • Use it to accomplish something in a short amount of time. It doesn't require a specific order so you can just brain dump ideas for future reference. Make sure it will still be useable without any order (i.e. if it gets long, will you use it?).
  • Use it to overcome writer's block (or planning block). I often find creating a research plan either daunting or boring if I'm not in the right mindset. I know I need to do it but if it feels like too big a task, I tend to stare at my computer screen. A good research plan requires a specific research goal but sometimes I'm not sure which goal I want to work on when I know I'll only have time for one. This worksheet can get you started. You then have the advantage of being able to look over it when you need another specific goal---when you have time for another plan.
  • Inspire yourself to get better organized. This is similar to overcoming planning block. Sometimes you need to adjust how you think about a project, and that may also require reorganization. Trying to define specific goals may help you see your need to reorganize. This may not mean a different filing system; it may mean how you approach this project, or thinking about it as separate projects. There are any number of ways you might "reorganize," even if it is just in your thinking.
Here's what NOT to do with this worksheet. Don't try and list every possible goal for every possible person. Research plans are NOT supposed to be all encompassing. They will change depending on the results of research. That's part of why you need such a specific goal.

I described my "problem" as a typical project involving a whole family because that's the kind of broad project this worksheet is for. You can come up with several goals, all needing a research plan, because the research into your paternal grandfather's family probably won't affect the research into your maternal grandmother's family. Your possible reorganization may focus on research you should do first and determining how to differentiate subprojects.

If your project is fairly specific, this worksheet may not be appropriate because you may need to identify one goal to research next.

There is a research cycle that you need to follow for great research. It begins with setting a specific goal or asking a specific research question. You then create a plan for answering the question. Next do the research and take great notes. Don't forget the dreaded "reporting" step. You need to write up what you found (hint, base it on your plan to reduce the writing and to give yourself a framework). That should lead you back around to asking another specific research question and creating a plan.

I know this doesn't happen smoothly for Occasional Genealogists. This goal planning worksheet is for the reality many OGs face, insufficient time. Sometimes knowing you are short on time makes it hard to get started. This worksheet can give you inspiration to start towards a research plan. Don't abuse it, let it inspire you.
You can get a copy of the worksheet in the Resource Library (you'll need a password, click here to subscribe for free).

What part of creating a research plan do you struggle with? Leave a comment.

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