Research anything in ten minutes – seven steps

By admin
Category: Academic | Date: Sun 28 Sep, 2008

For me, having to research a new topic from scratch can mean the onset of severe procrastination. But once I’ve reorganised by bookshelves, de-cluttered noticeboard, uploaded and tagged all my latest photos on Facebook … that project’s still sitting on my desk, staring at me.

It’s time for a lightening strike: Ten minute research. I’ll take you through a real-time example on a topic I know nothing about, and frankly have no interest in – beanie babies – for an imaginary essay on “how products catch on as childhood fads”.

Step 1: Set a timer for ten minutes (or just look at the clock).

Ready? Set? Go!

Step 2: Head to Wikipedia to get an overview

No, you are NOT going to cite Wikipedia as a source in your essay – unless you’re writing on internet collaborative culture. But it’s a good place to start when you know nothing at all.

The Wikipeadia page on Beanie Babies

From the introduction here, I learn that:

A “Beanie Baby” is a stuffed animal made by Ty Inc. Ty was founded by Ty Warner who promoted the line in specialty stores and gift shops. The Ty company’s famous special “posable lining” is under stuffed with plastic pellets (or “beans”) rather than stuffing (see PVC and PE), giving Beanie Babies a flexible and cuddly feel. A Beanie Baby is essentially a fancy bean bag in the form of a stuffed animal.

This gives me some of the immediate information I need. For instance:

  • I now know exactly what a beanie baby is, and can infer what makes it different from other soft toys (it’s filled with ‘beans’ not stuffing).
  • I know who created beanie babies and who produces them.
  • I have a nice quote I could use to explain succinctly what a Beanie Baby is: “A Beanie Baby is essentially a fancy bean bag in the form of a stuffed animal.”

Step 3: Skim the Wikipedia article looking for relevant information for your project

My imaginary essay discusses how products catch on as childhood fads (let’s pretend I’ve already covered POGs, yo-yos, and pokemon cards…) This means I’ll take note of the marketing information, so that I can compare the ways in which companies deliberately create a craze or fad.

I might also be interested in the rarity aspect mentioned on wikipedia, as this often comes into play for “collectible” type fads – eg. some POGs and pokemon cards are rarer than others.

I copy this information into a “scratchpad” document for the project, with a reminder to myself that it comes from Wikipedia, so that I can refer to it when I write my essay.

Step 4: Take note of any references

Most Wikipedia articles have references to sources (other websites, books and journals) in the footnotes. Look for superscript hyperlinked numbers in the text and click to jump straight to the corresponding note.

The Beanie Babies section on Marketing has footnotes:

Becker, H. S. (1982). Art Worlds and Collective Activity. Art Worlds. 1-39.
Ty Warner’s Marketing Strategy. (2008).

The section on Rarity, though, has Wikipedia’s warning:

This section does not cite any references or sources..

So if I do want to include information on Rarity in my essay, I’ll need to make a note to hunt for this elsewhere.

Step 5: Follow up references, looking up any hyperlinks.

I go to the page and notice immediately that it’s quite amateurishly written, with a lot of typos and spelling mistakes:

It wasn’t anyone of these strategies it was a combination of each and everyone one of them! Lets examine each in more detail [sic]

This doesn’t mean the source is useless, but does suggest I’ll need to search for a book or more reputable source with the same information at a later stage.

Step 6: List books that you might want to use

Add any referenced on Wikipedia to your scratchpad document:

Becker, H. S. (1982). Art Worlds and Collective Activity. Art Worlds. 1-39.

Then head to Amazon, and search (just in “books”) for your topic. My search for “Beanie babies” came up with:

Beanie Babies (Complete Idiot’s Guide)

The other books listed were aimed at fans (collectors) rather than academics. If you have a similar popular culture topic to research, you too might find this is the case – but these books could still be worth a look, especially for background or introductory material.

Step 7: Head to Google scholar and search for your topic

If you’ve never used Google Scholar before, it’s a useful first step in finding relevant journal articles – especially if your topic is a little esoteric. It functions like a normal search engine, but ranks journal articles by the number of times that other journals refer to them.

For “Beanie babies”, the first link that comes up is:

Beanie Babies: a case study in the engineering of a high-involvement/relationship-prone brand

When I click this, I notice that it’s from the Journal of Product and Brand Management, which (along with the title) suggests it would have useful information about how Ty Inc markets beanie babies to cause a “craze”.

I copy the abstract and the details (authors, and journal name, volume and issue) into my scratchpad document. If I decide to follow this up when I come to write the essay, I could look up the journal on JSTOR or in my university library and try to get the article for free. I might even be able to get away with just quoting from the abstract:

Ty Inc., manufacturer of the popular Beanie Babies brand, has effectively engineered the brand to incorporate attributes of nostalgic value, personification, uniqueness, facilitation, engagement, aesthetic appeal, quality/excellence, association, social visibility and image congruence, and price risk.

So that’s it – in ten minutes, I’ve gathered all the basic information I need on Beanie Babies, and I’ve got a clear idea of what I might want to include in my essay – a discussion of the marketing strategies that Ty Inc uses to brand Beanie Babies in exactly the way they want, to derive maximum profit from Beanie Baby fans.

At this stage, I might even be thinking about conclusions for my essay – the Wikipedia article noted that beanie babies were first produced in the 1990s, but the craze still seems strong (at least compared to the crazes for POGs, yo-yos etc which lasted briefly then vanished) – does Ty Inc’s marketing strategy help account for the longevity of the beanie baby craze?

Good luck with your own research. If you’ve got ten minutes to spare, why not pick a topic related to your subject – but one you know little or nothing about – and research it? Let us know in the comments how much you can learn in ten minutes!

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