Research: How to make it manageable when you are finding too much info

Mount Vernon

Recently one of my students asked me a question.  She is working on a biography and busy collecting as much information as she can find about her chosen topic.  Her problem isn’t too little information but too much.  Did I have any tips so that she wouldn’t feel overwhelmed?

A big part of this is often solved by narrowing your topic.  Let’s say you are writing a biography of George Washington.  Not that this would be a good idea because the market is already saturated, but we’ll still use George as our example.
You are going to find an awful lot of information on George.  In fact, you will find almost too much to handle unless you narrow your topic.  You could write about George’s childhood or George and Martha.  Or you could write about his role as a messenger.  Any of these topics would narrow down the material.
But what if, for some reason, it was important for you to do a comprehensive biography?  That is when I think of the information in chunks.  One chunk would be George as a child.  Later you would have teen George.  Then George the messenger and so on.
Yes, I would still need to work with enough information for a birth to death bio of George  and I will almost certainly end up finding more information than I need.  But by working with just a bit at a time I can hold that particular portion in my head and temporarily ignore the rest which helps avoid that feeling of being buried under facts.
The latter technique is what I do when I write a teen book for Abdo.  The Ancient Maya and Trench Warfare in WWI are both huge topics.  But when I break each into 9 chapters, I can look at just one aspect at a time.
Each project is a bit different from the last, but this has worked for me so far.  Feel free to let us know in the comments if you use a different method.