Are You a Creative Researcher?



6 August 2014

Creativity in historical research is a good thing. It doesn't mean creating records. It means creating new ways to look at those records and link them into something greater than individual tidbits of information. If you're looking for ways to develop your creativity, here are six of them:

1. Avoid "group-think." If everyone has the same theory, try another.

2. Question "the rules." Why does everyone say, "Do it this way"? Rules exist for a reason; but we have to understand the reason before we can decide if it is being validly applied to the case at hand. (This, of course, is why Evidence Explained does all that explaining!)

3. Break routine. If you do things the way you've always done them, you're going to get the same results you've always gotten.

4. Look at the problem backward. A sunset may be red and orange; but if we turn around and look east, we see silver, blue, and black.

5. Read one good case study every week—from a peer-reviewed journal that discusses its methodology and analyzes its evidence. Ideas are like plants. They don't thrive in sterile soil and they need cross-pollination.

6. Never accept defeat. A brick wall is not a dead end. It's just a wall we haven't yet learned to climb.


Photo credits: "Business Creativity and Success Concept," CanStockPhoto ( : accessed 4 August 2014), used under license.

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yhoitink's picture
Love these tips! One strategy

Love these tips! One strategy that works for me:

  • Play the what-if-game. What if the ancestor whose death record I can't find emigrated to another country? What if my ancestor did not have the same religion as most of his neighbors? What records would be available then? What if this couple who is about a generation older than my brick wall are indeed the parents? What records would they have left that show who their children were?

Yvette Hoitink, CGSM, the Netherlands
Dutch Genealogy Services

EE's picture
What if?

A great suggestion, Yvette. "What if ..." can open our minds to a whole world of new ideas.


The Editor

Jade's picture
Navigating the sea of small icebergs

A great list!  Along the line of number 4, I am constantly struggling to ask "why did . . ." and "how did . . ." as well as "who did . . . ."  There are so many ways to let assumptions substitute for evaluation.

Cheers and thanks :D


EE's picture

Ah, yes, Jade!  Those who, what, when, where, why, how questions are immensely valuable!

The Editor

Dianar9999's picture
Creativity is hard for me ~

~ so I am grateful for these tips. While I can appreciate the concept in #4 about looking at the problem backwards, as an accountant it's something that doesn't come naturally for me.  I think I'll take the suggestion in #5 and read a case study EVERY WEEK.  I'll take it as an assignment.  Maybe that will help expand my thinking. 

EE's picture
Dianar9999, my admin needs to

Dianar9999, my admin needs to give this site a thumbs-up button I can use.


The Editor