I just threw away old notes and photocopies of books and articles related to my doctorate studies. Two trash bags. Both full.
According to my experiences so far, doing research is a very messy process. Believe me: It really is. At first you think you have a clear idea of what you are going to do. Then you start doing it and notice that it is taking you to places where you were not even aiming at going to. Finally you end up with something that includes two bags of literature, paper clippings and notes among other things. At least this is true with qualitative research and grounded theory.
However, also according to my experiences so far, this is only a half-truth. What you thought is the end, is only a beginning. This is where your work starts seriously: clearing, removing, blazing, demining and bulldozing everything that you have scraped together. Everything that is either too old, irrelevant or just nonsense, has to go.
What a waste, someone might think – all those working hours you have invested in them, and now they have turned to trash. At first the two trash bags appeared sad to myself as well. Then I started to see them as essential parts of my very own research process. I would not stand right here where I am now, if I had not taken those paths that the trash bags were a concrete evidence of.
This phase of the research process demands much more than what it takes to drop two trash bags in a garbage can. In fact, this phase is much harder than the former one. Searching and finding others’ knowledge is a lot of fun and gives a lot of new energy (and produces a whole lot of mess as a side product), whereas crystallizing your own knowledge requires struggling and takes energy (and reduces the mess).
What makes this phase so hard is that you have to evaluate your material and set it against the big picture before you end up in throwing it away. It is just like cleaning up your own binders, desk drawers, room or house of everything that you have grabbed along the way doing this and that in your life. At some point (at the latest when places are getting full) you have to decide, whether you really need all those things only as memories or if you are still going to use them some day – or preferably now.
Despite this trouble, you still want to do the clearing work, because in the real end everything – old and new knowledge – is in its own place creating a neat order together. Or to be honest still at this point: Let us hope so.