How Research is like a Reality TV Singing Competition

Want to know a secret? In my past life I was a serious American Idol fan. I don’t know why I got so swept up in the concept of a reality singing competition. I certainly can’t sing, but I’ve always been a sucker for the contestants who are portrayed as train wrecks and then shock the judges with their talent. While I’ve made efforts recently to overcome my addiction to Idol, I admit that I recently snuck a peek at the US version of X-Factor, which, unsurprisingly, has now become a weekly must-see.

As I’ve continued to push through the overwhelming amount of reading material for my research, the X-Factor has become a retreat for my tired, overworked brain. I’ve hit the proverbial wall in my research: that point where you think you’re done with your readings, and then find 5, 10, 20, or perhaps 30 more sources that you must read in order to ensure that you understand “all perspectives.”  No one warned me that being detail-oriented would lead me into such a research abyss. But, I have faith that, in spite of this seemingly endless supply of theory, statistics, and points of view, I’ll be able to make sense of the madness and produce a shiny “star” of an article in a few months’ time. Right?

Maybe it’s my mushy brain talking, but I see many similarities between this stage of research and reality TV singing competitions:

The judges are provided an endless supply of “talent” to sort through. You know those shots early in the season where cameras pan across an entire stadium of potential contestants? That’s how my bibliography looks right now.

Every contestant gets their shot to prove themselves worthy of being included in the competition. Just as each contestant has a chance to be heard, all of my sources will be read …with the prospect of inclusion in my article to be determined.

Some contestants steal your heart but don’t make the cut. I often end up becoming overexcited about a book or an article, but in the end the content just isn’t right for the scope of my research. Setting an article aside for the future is similar to the judges’ line: “You just weren’t right for this season. Please, do try again next year!”

Somehow, after three months and a lot of audience voting —  you have a winner. Once the judges craft that core group of contestants, the viewer voting takes over and eventually a star emerges. I’m looking forward to the point where I can share my draft with peers who will help my article shine.

If you have a method for organizing your reality competition-like mass of sources into a coherent, star-worthy article, please share!

Photo: American Idol hopefuls by Bamakodaker on Flickr, CC By-NC-ND 2.0

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