The Pros and Cons of Scholarly Organisation
The concept of organisation is fashionable at present, which is not to say that people are any more organised now than they have been in the past. In fact, the proliferation of books providing guidance on organising everything from closets to lives and the wide selection of templates and models available for almost anything a person wants to do might suggest that there is a general sense of being disorganised and wanting to be otherwise. For many academics and scientists who are juggling research and writing activities with teaching and administrative duties and also trying to tuck in a healthy amount of personal and family time, organisation is absolutely essential. No matter how important organisation is to a successful scholarly career, however, it is vital not to stick too rigidly to even the most perfect plans when stretching beyond them might benefit your work.
Deciding when it might be productive to break the bonds of a carefully organised plan and move beyond it, even just a little, can be tricky. Obviously, research projects require a massive amount of organisation to be successful. Proposals must be developed, funding earned, previous studies of a similar nature consulted and assessed, trials conducted in keeping with ethical standards and sound research practices, findings recorded with exactitude and then written up, polished and published. Anyone who believes that such activities can be thoroughly and effectively achieved without the benefit of extensive organisation and almost religious adherence to a plan has not tried to do them. The grand majority of the time, then, remaining within the structures and expectations created by their own organisational skills is the best choice for scholars, and some of the most respected and successful academics and scientists are blessed with wondrous powers of organisation, as well as the self-discipline to observe their own best-laid plans.
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Given that achieving organisation tends to be far more difficult than avoiding or neglecting it, I would certainly never recommend disorganisation to any scholar, yet there are situations in which choosing not to branch out means missing valuable opportunities. Perhaps as you are conducting your research an idea arises for testing a hypothesis in a way that had not before occurred to you. It would take very little time, no extra equipment and no additional cost. This is the kind of moment when it is wise to go out on that limb and do that extra bit of work to see what it might add to your understanding of the problem you are investigating.
The same principle applies when writing about research. You may have had your conclusions in mind for a very long time, but when you are actually writing that section of your paper, some fresh thoughts come to you. Taking the time to write an extra paragraph or two to see where your new ideas may take you will probably prove well worth the effort, if for no other purpose than to show you that those ideas did not work.
Organisation can be particularly detrimental when it stifles the new ways of thinking that advanced research strives to promote, so do avoid the neurotic kind of organisation that prevents you from progress because ideas or developments are unexpected or come at an inopportune time. Let us say, for instance, that you are in a restaurant eating lunch when an important thought comes to you, but the file for that sort of material is on your computer at work. Do not wait and risk forgetting your idea simply to preserve organisation; instead, jot it down on a napkin or in your smart phone and then add it to the appropriate file the next time you are in the office or laboratory.
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