This post is part of my "research" series.

Red. How to Do Research. Overly Sarcastic Productions, 2019.

  1. Why
  2. In one paragraph
  3. Table of Contents
  4. An alternative outline
  5. Highlights
    1. Notes
    2. Thesis last
    3. Primary and secondary sources
    4. Legally, of course
  6. General commentary


Overly Sarcastic Productions are two friends making short (around 14 minutes) video presentations about history, mythology, and literature. I stumbled upon this video by scrolling through their back-catalog, and the title hooked me in.

In one paragraph

This video describes the core loop of the bibliographic research process: reference mining, finding sources, extracting relevant information to research notes, and generating a research thesis. It is good as a light introduction, but if you've read Eco's How to Write a Thesis then you can definitely skip it.

Table of Contents

The video doesn't include timestamps so I just extracted the locations of the section cards.

Step 1: Wikipedia 0:34
Step 2: Hunt down sources! 1:51
Step 3: Bury yourself in notes 5:25
Step 4: Break out the thumbtacks and string! 6:24

An alternative outline

Broadly, how this article reads from my perspective.

Introduction 0:00

Step 1: Wikipedia
    1.1 Yes, Wikipedia, I'm serious 0:31
    1.2 Never cite Wikipedia 0:39
    1.3 Source of sources 0:48
    1.4 Get greedy! 1:15

Step 2: Sources
    2.1 Acquiring sources 1:43
    2.2 Primary and secondary sources 2:30
    2.3 Context is everything 4:06

Step 3: Notes 5:11

Step 4: The Conspiracy Board
    4.1 Thumbtacks and string 6:17
    4.2 Thesis LAST 6:51

Conclusion 7:06


The good, the bad, and the extremely revealing. Direct quotations in no particular order. Some of these ideas may not be discussed at length, but it still seemed worthwhile to put them here.


BURY YOURSELF IN NOTES. Take notes on everything. […] If you're researching a historical or mythical figure, write down EVERYTHING they did [on screen: Write what they did! Put the accounts on a linear timeline! Write about the writers doing writing!].


It doesn't matter if you think you'll remember it, you want to write it down anyway, because this isn't about memorizing, it's about putting all your information in one place so you can deal with it all at once later.


Thesis last

Now that you have a huge pile of everything you know about this person, place, or thing, you get to start on the fun part: filling in the gaps. You have to take the mess of information you've acquired, organize it into categories, lay it all out, and start bringing the big picture together. This is where you get to be creative.

You have all these static points of data, you just need to find a… best-fitting curve that connects all the dots together into one coherent narrative. Basically, a thesis that all the evidence you've collected supports. It's pure creative puzzle solving and it's gonna be great.

By the way, if there was any justice in the world this is what high school English teachers would tell you when they assign essays. But since they almost always make you figure out the thesis statement first, they basically flip the whole process upside down by making you figure out the big picture rundown before you get any actual evidence. It's dumb. Don't do that.

(6:27, paragraph breaks not in the original)

Primary and secondary sources

[…] the number one rule in any kind of research is you always want to find the primary sources first. […] No text is free from bias, but the farther away the writer was from the subject they're writing about the more bias will be present in their interpretation.


To understand the possible biases and factors present in the primary sources you want to know who wrote them, and when, and what exactly was happening at the time. Primary sources help you examine the thing, secondary sources let you examine the primary sources.


Legally, of course

[…] you can either check your local library catalog and see if they have the sources you need, or you can give the titles a Google and see if you can find them online. Legally, of course. Sometimes Google Books has a preview available; and sometimes, it even contains the pages you need. But mostly you're gonna be looking for e-books or library copies.

Now, this advice all applies pretty much universally: No matter what you're trying to research, the process of finding sources is usually going to boil down to: find a library or Google it and get really lucky.

(1:58, paragraph breaks not in the original)

General commentary

This video is so snappy and fun that I really wish there was more to it. While it captures the core research loop really well, it's a dead end. When you inevitably want a more comprehensive guide, you'll be on your own.

I don't know if the suggestion of acquiring research material legally is to be read tongue-in-cheek. Red says it entirely straight-faced, but she also has a YouTube channel. A video in which you tell people to do crimes is a pretty big liability, so it could be a statement under duress. A quick search on the OSP twitter account didn't find a position in either direction.