Teleri (telerib) wrote,

On Research

I have to have a disclaimer here: I have done very little SCA A&S myself. So when I'm talking about documentation, I'm talking a little about what I've seen at events and a lot about what I've seen and done professionally. But I am not a guru of SCA standards for documentation.

Documentation is the viewer's guided tour of your project. While your logbook is what we call your "primary documentation," it probably isn't something you can hand to a passerby and expect that they'll be able to understand what you've done. So you will want to write up, either briefly or in depth, what you've read and what you've done.

Anatomy of a Research Report
I will be using a hypothetical research project on the militant Order of the Weasel, which battled vermin in 1200s Bohemia.

This is a single-paragraph summary of what problem you set out to solve, how you approached it, and your solution. Someone who is browsing the A&S exhibitions should be able to read your abstract and, from it, decide if your research is interesting enough to them to read the whole report. So, for our example:
House Weaselslayer was formed based on legends of the Order of the Weasel, a little-known militant order of warrior-monks found in Bohemia in the thirteenth century1. To improve our re-creation of the Order2, I undertook a comprehensive project to research the foundation and customs of the Order3. I wrote up the customs (some of them modified)4 and history into a small pamphlet (since submitted to Compleat Anachronist)5 and distributed it to the household. At Pennsic, we used the initiation ceremony I researched to induct three new members.6 The ceremony was enjoyed by all and we will continue to use it in the future.7

1 - This background helps make the rest of the abstract comprehensible.
2 - This states why the researcher has undertaken the project
3 - What exactly the researcher set out to do. This A&S project is a research paper, not a re-created artifact. (Perhaps the traditional robe of the Order can be the next project.)
4 - "Some of the modified": this alerts the reader that some interpretation has been done. We might assume "for the modern era" or perhaps the texts have only been translated into English.
5 - This is how the research was translated back into the goals. House Weaselslayer wants to be more authentic; research was done; a handbook was produced to help with authenticity.
6 - How the research was applied to the problem.
7 - The outcome. In this case, House Weaselslayer likes its new handbook of customs and rites.

You get to tell the reader a story here. It is the story of your research problem and why it is important. In academia, you need to convince the reader that you are contributing to the sum of new knowledge. In the SCA, you might just want a new dress for Twelfth Night. Your Introduction can be as personal or academic as you like. But the reader should understand why, to you at least, this project was worth pursuing.

So our House Weaselslayer author will start out with something like:
Authentic re-creation is one of our goals in the SCA. But our resources for the customs and mannerisms of our personae are often lacking. And the more specific your persona, the more difficult it might be to locate documentation on the customs of your particular time and place. Luckily for House Weaselslayer, who re-create the thirteenth century Bohemian Order of the Weasel, at least one copy of the Rule of the Order is extant.

So we have an idea: the researcher is addressing a problem of persona development. Note the unsupported assertion that "the more specific your persona, the more difficult" persona development is. Says who? This helps to motivate the Introduction, but it's really more of an opinion than a fact. It may not even be a widely-held opinion. Others might argue the point that "resources for customs and mannerisms" are hard to find.

It is tempting in an Introduction to make sweeping statements like this, because they were true for you and they are your motivation. But if the person reading your report, say, maintains a database of persona resources, you are going to have one hostile reader on your hands. We might rewrite our Introduction:
Authentic re-creation is one of our goals in the SCA. House Weaselslayer, founded to re-create the thirteenth century Bohemian Order of the Weasel, has decided to be more active in promoting such authenticity.
[A paragraph on the founding of the House as a party household]
[A paragraph on the House's increased interest in its historical counterpart]
[A paragraph on the researcher's determination to assist his household in their quest for authenticity]

This is where you write up what you learned from your literature search, your conversations with experts and with fellow researchers. This is where you use citations. You may have several subsections of Background if that helps you organize all the reading that you did.

You should absolutely make a note of any reading that you did which you later disagreed with, or found lacking in some way (even if it is your own). (You do not need to disparage the other research, though.) Research is incremental, so we make progress by seeing that Exhibit A is very nice, but it lacks features B and C. You research how to add B and C and science marches on.

Our Weaselslayer researcher might have subsections on: thirteenth century Bohemia and its chronic weasel problem; the papacy's interest in gaining legitimacy in Bohemia through creating a knightly Order to combat the weasels; the savage and wily nature of the Bohemian weasel and why it so thoroughly resisted previous attempts to control it; the formation of the Order; the climb of the Order to its apex as a respected and powerful fur-trader; and the Order's eventual fall amidst rumors of heresy.

Also known as Method, Test Plan, Current Work

So you've covered what your problem is and what the literature currently says about it. What are you going to do about it? That is your Procedure.

For a typical A&S project, this is the heart of your documentation. It is the step-by-step process by which you made your item. Continue to use citations if they are relevant, as you discuss why you did such-and-such instead of this-and-that.

Be honest. You are an independent researcher and are only required to devote as much time, money, and energy to a project as you want to. Don't say that you didn't hand-sew a gown because good hand-sewing is "indistinguishable" from machine sewing. I have a feeling that the hand-sewers will dispute you! Just say that you were not interested in that level of re-creation, or that it was not necessary to meet your goals.

We often need to make substitutions because medieval items or ingredients are not available, or are toxic. (!) Explain why you made a given substitution, and why you feel that the replacement is adequate.

If you diverge from the "expert consensus" present in the literature, explain why you did and what evidence, if any, you have to support that divergence.

Photo-documenting the creation process, when possible, is a nice touch. It is tempting to expand into multimedia documentation of the performing arts as well, but then playback issues vs. medieval ambiance issues start to show up. Ye Olde DVD Plaier does not sit so well on the A&S display table.

The Weaselslayer researcher says:
My primary source was the Rule of the Order of the Weasel. I viewed the extant copy in Germany and made a transcription of the original Latin. Then I translated the Latin into English. Some of the rites had to be modified for use in the SCA, as they would be at odds with modern animal cruelty laws. For example, consider this initiation rite from the original: [original rite goes here]. Poor weasel! I have recommended that House Weaselslayer use only plastic toy weasels. (Stuffed toys were too cute; recall that the Bohemian weasel was a feared and hated creature.)

Your result is probably an A&S item sitting on display. In your documentation (especially if you are putting it online) do put some pictures of the finished item. You can also note intangible or non-obvious results: a dress fits better when made in such a way; the flavor of a dish was more intense than before; armor bites are decreased when this padding is worn.

Again with House Weaselslayer:
The end result is a handbook of rites and etiquette of the Order. Copies were made and distributed to members of the household, and we resolved to use the initiation rite at Pennsic. Suitably vicious-looking toy weasels were found, and we enacted the rite (on page 12 of the pamphlet) on Wednesday night. The general agreement was that the ceremony was very moving, and gave us all a sense of what it might have been like to have been true Bohemian weaselslayers.

If appropriate, any conclusions you have drawn. It's tempting to point to the Results and say, "That! I conclude that!" but you probably have something more to say. What did you learn by making that? How does it fit into what you learned by reading and talking to people? Do you have any new insights into life in the Middle Ages or Renaissance?

House Weaselslayer might conclude that the initiation rite is a powerful expression of group unity in the face of horrible Bohemian weasels. And also that the charges of heresy against the Order were well-founded.

Future Work
So you know your research isn't the be-all and end-all. There are some things you would do differently if you had it to do over. There are new projects suggesting themselves from what's lacking in this project. This is what goes into your Future Work section.

All your cited sources go here. As a general rule, if you didn't cite it, don't list it. If you did cite it, absolutely list it. There are many different formats for doing bibliography entries, and if you look up "bibliography style guide" on the Internet you will probably have your pick of them. At a minimum, you should include author, title, and date of publication. (And if it's a periodical article, journal name, volume and issue number.) For Internet resources, include a URL and the date you accessed the web page.

Small, Medium and Large: Documentation Sizes
You can always include a full report with your A&S exhibit. It may not get read much, but it definitely shows that you did the work.

If you are being judged, include an extended abstract. This is a one-page summary of your work, with a focus on your Procedure and Results. Append a full Bibliography to it. Judges are often crunched for time, and this gives them more to go on than the bare-bones index card information.

You will probably be asked to provide a half-page information sheet or index card summary of your work. This will be little more than your name and a few lines about the entry: what it is, what time and place it is from, and maybe one or two more sentences highlighting the most important things about it.

Sharing Your Wealth
If your documentation is very solid, consider submitting it for publication. Compleat Anachronist is a good venue for research papers; Tournaments Illuminated has a more how-to focus (and accepts poems and art as well). Many (probably all, but I haven't researched it) kingdoms have A&S newsletters which would be happy to publish either kind of article. You may have to edit for length.
Tags: research, sca
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