In which Wikipedia solves a dilemma

I solved a problem yesterday, I think. It’s not a nice, clean solution, but it’s workable, which means I can move forward.

I’m currently working on my dissertation research proposal. This will be its third iteration. The first I wrote when I was applying to PhD programs (fall 2007). That idea was abandoned sometime between finishing my master’s thesis and starting my PhD. The second I wrote when I finished my coursework and was starting my comprehensives (spring 2010). I needed to explain the new direction I was headed so that my comprehensive plan made sense. I’m still headed in that same general direction, but now instead of a rough plan, I need a detailed outline.

The whole research proposal thing stymied me for a while. I did one for my master’s thesis, of course, but it was pretty informal. The PhD proposal needs to be more formal. So I got out some books from the library and spent some time thinking about structure and outlines and what needs to be included. I still didn’t feel like was getting anywhere. Yet, when I thought about actually doing the analysis and writing, that part didn’t block me at all. I could see myself zipping forward when I got to that point. Finally, I asked: what’s the hold up? What is preventing me from writing this proposal so I can get started on the analysis and writing?

The answer: writing about my plan without knowing whether it is actually possible or not. I realized I need to actually generate the list of texts I’m going to analyze and the rest will follow.

In general terms, my plan is to analyze some narrative texts (print books) to see if what, if any, effect social media/web 2.0 had on narrative writing in the 2000s. More specifically, I want to limit the texts to memoirs and non-genre fiction and the authors to generation-X Canadians. If it seems like it would be easy to do a search in any book database and find books that match these criteria, you would be wrong. Depending on the database (and I’ve tried many: bookstores, libraries, WorldCat, etc.) searches either turn up too much or not enough.

Memoirs are often bundled with “nonfiction” and categorized by topic (i.e. the main subject of the book). In some cases, they’re not tagged as “memoir” at all and so are unsearchable by that term. Going through every nonfiction book would be, of course, ridiculous. Fiction is often lumped into a big “literature” category that includes poetry and anthologies and genre series. But the bigger problem is that even when I found books, I had to make sure the authors met my criteria. I kept trying different databases and different search terms and kept being frustrated.

Yesterday, I went to Wikipedia and I found this list of Canadian writers. Immediately, I realized that I was going about this step backwards. I need to find the writers first and the books will follow. That list is not perfect, obvs. It’s Wikipedia. But it’s a lengthy list of Canadian writers with (drum roll) birthdates and genres. And that will do.

Update: Just plunked the info from that page into a spreadsheet and sorted by birthdate and genre. Eliminated ones outside of range. Left with a list that is more than long enough to generate what I need. Woohoo, progress.

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