Data entry can be both easy and tricky, and I wrestle with it every time I do it. Now that half of our summer research has past, it won’t hurt to share some of my experience and lessons with future CURI fellows who will definitely have so much fun in dealing with data.
1. Find a Good Source
Where does the data come from? Before diving into the ocean of primary sources, make sure that nobody has done this work before. For instance, there are many composers’ biographies containing organized catalogues that will make the process of data entry much easier. In fact, encyclopedia and secondary sources are good starting place for data entries, because they not only contain a good number of facts but also provide information about receptions, reviews and criticism that help construct a broader perspective to the topic.
2. Be Selective
Frequently an existing catalogue covers more information than what the project actually needs. A great amount of information can be overwhelming, so that it is important to cherry-pick the most valuable data related to the topic of research. For instance, when we were collecting data for the map of premieres, our team focused on the date and place of the premiere performance, while omitting facts such as the composition period and even genre of the piece.
3. Understand the Format
This is a trick that would help speed up the data entry work. When looking through a data resource, it is not a bad idea to pay attention to how the author organizes all the data. For example, if you are looking at a catalogue, knowing the format of the writing, including categorizations, order of information, functional punctuations, abbreviations, etc., can help you quickly locate the piece of information you need; if you are dealing with pages of newspapers, having a general idea of the arrangement of sections, especially the location of reports of musical events, can effectively make the searching process easier.
4. Try Out Variable Sources
The hardest part of data collection is checking the works people have done before and contributing to incomplete tasks. Missing information and discrepancies between sources happen almost all the time and I am also still trying to solve these problems in face of me. To my experience, data entry usually takes several rounds of browsing through materials, from which the researcher get inspired by referring to a broad number and types of primary and secondary sources. Citations, footnotes and bibliographies are typical places to trace the origin of information, which perhaps won’t reveal an answer right away but lead you to another promising place to find it.
5. Be Patient and Take Breaks!
Data entry is a both interesting and boring work. As frequent as the excitement it brings, mechanical and tiring processes are common as well. Therefore, patience is a necessity for data entry. Learning to take breaks is also important. I used to keep data entry straight through for hours only to exhaust myself from continuance and further achievement. Playing with map apps, listening to some French (of course not German) music, or reading some blog posts are good choices for a pause from working.
In all, enjoy data entry!