Imagine this: you’re diligently working on a draft of a manuscript when you reach a section that would benefit from a bit more research. Perhaps you need to cite a few more authors to support your point, or you just need some background literature to provide additional context. You go to find the relevant literature, and before you know it, you’ve spent an hour on JSTOR/Proquest/Lexis-Nexis or what have you. This is what I call a research rabbit hole.
The research rabbit hole is dangerous because it can easily lead you astray. First, you end up looking at way more literature than you need to. Further, you move out of writing mode. All writers know that once you are in the zone, or you have flow, the worst thing you can do is disrupt your momentum. Stopping to conduct research does exactly that.
It’s tempting to think that you simply will not be able to write another word unless you find the perfect quote, statistic, or piece of secondary literature to support your argument. It’s the act of looking for that research, however, that prevents you from writing. That’s why it pays to consider research and writing as two distinct activities that you do not work on simultaneously.
Climb Out of the Research Rabbit Hole
There are easy ways to avoid finding yourself in a research rabbit hole. Make a note of where you need to insert more research, what research you need, and how much. This should take less than two minutes. Then, move on and keep writing. Devote a fixed amount of time to looking for the research you need, but treat this as an independent research session rather than an extension of your writing session.
It’s easy to become distracted while writing, especially if you think that your argument is weak and in need of bolstering. In those cases, distraction can quickly turn to anxiety or overwhelm. Remember, there will always be something else to read. Even so, you simply cannot spend all your time reading! That’s why it’s vital to protect your writing time, not only from external distractions but also from your own desire to read just one more article.