Lesson in Research Redux

I had reason to go to our storage facility and bring home the boxes of files I accumulated researching my book as well as writing it.

To use a cliché, it truly was a “Blast from the Past.” The book was published in 2009, and I have not looked at these files since. I know I’m an intense researcher and I know I spent a lot of time… and money… researching Sara Jane and in particular, the time period which includes the 1960s and 70s.

To help you out, the book, Taking Aim at the President, was published by St. Martin’s Press/Macmillan in 2009. To say I had an intense editorial experience is a light expression that doesn’t come close to the reality of this experience.

I am proud that the book covers in-depth and deep detail of the time period and Sara Jane’s experience. I was particularly fortunate to have found her surviving relatives and that they agreed to talk to me when they never spoke to the media when she took her shot at Ford on Sept. 22, 1975.

I’m also pleased that Macmillan assigned lawyers to go over every word in the book to be sure it is fact-based. I really wanted to be put through that rigor. I learned that not only do publishers want to win a lawsuit if someone challenges a book they published, they don’t want anyone to even challenge a book as lawsuits cost money. I am proud that no one has ever challenged my book and its contents.

Getting back to my boxes, just my first look immediately brought back some very meaningful memories.

For example, I interviewed Tom Hayden. I went down to Los Angeles to do some research about Sara Jane’s life down there. I had sent emails to Tom when I would be there and could he give me 30 minutes to talk about the New Left and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) which Tom lead.

I wanted to get a good sense of the politics that led to the discomfort of the 1970s. I couldn’t have found anyone better to dig into than Tom Hayden as he was a significant person at the center of a new movement. Part of his contribution to the sensibilities of the time was when he wrote the Port Huron Statement in 1962. It is a political manifesto of the North American student activist movement that he wrote while a student at The University of Wisconsin. This document was the founding statement of SDS. “We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit.”

The challenge with good secondary and primary research is being sure your sources are solid. With so much misinformation online, it gets more difficult to proof your sources. So, how to do it? Here are my methods:

1. Start with a broad Google search-Key in a Boolean search with quotes or search strings and see what comes up. Each site should agree even though the results come from different sources.

2. If one or two differ greatly, you need to dig into them and see where they come from? Who or what are the sources? Is it a website and is the site current? Are there links to someone or something you can connect to? This is key in vetting a source?

3. Make lists of people and places to research and reach out for more or current information?

4. Be sure to get your information from a “primary source.” That means you never get all your information from only online information. You may be surprised when you speak to someone that what you saw online is no longer current and/or factual.

5. Try to find opposing opinions on what you are researching. Keep in mind, though, that these opposing opinions are valid.

6. It is your job to find out what isn’t generally known and you are going to expose new information not commonly available. Otherwise, you are just rehashing what everyone already knows. That is not acceptable reporting or investigative research.

Finally, once you have written your document, give it to someone else to read it and give feedback. You may be the most accomplished writer/reporter that ever lived, but we all need readers and/or editors.


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