Do you remember that old SAT advice of committing to your first multiple-choice answer? I have realized that choosing not to second-guess yourself applies to much more than standardized tests, and this realization has been an integral part of my research experience at Princeton.
When I’m confronted with a writing task, like seeing an essay prompt for the first time, thinking of my JP for this fall, or even this blog post (#meta), it is tempting to let myself panic and frantically begin brainstorming. But, before all of that chaos begins, an immediate seed of an idea always pops into my head. I call it my “nugget.” It could be a tidbit from a conversation I had with a friend, a theme I had been following in class, or, most recently, a side-note I had made over the summer about a potential JP topic.
However, I’ll often ignore my nugget as quickly as it appears. I’ll abide by “first is worst” logic and assume that the first idea I think of to start a research project cannot possibly be as developed as the result of hours of brainstorming. So, I’ll put myself through the ringer searching for other topics. But, almost inevitably, the products of these intensive brainstorming sessions fall short, and I circle back to my initial idea.
I went through this process most recently while picking the topic for my fall JP. I knew since taking a French seminar last fall that I wanted to pursue a topic in media theory, but had no idea what to focus on within such a broad field. So to start narrowing down my options, I started looking up French media theorists over the summer, and I remember coming across one in particular, Jean Baudrillard, who had made some interesting comments on advertising that I both found reason in and disagreed with. This was especially interesting to me because I was considering advertising as a potential career path and thought it would be cool to bring a critical academic perspective to the field. I took note of these comments and observations and kept them in the back of my mind. Voilà the birth of my JP nugget.
When the time came to solidify my topic, I began the overwhelming task of systematically narrowing down the amount of options in French media theory—characteristically ignoring my nugget, as usual. But, about three hours (!) of the way into what would have turned into a days-long brainstorming session, I returned to my nugget about advertising: a topic relevant to my potential career path and academic interests that was already narrowed down to a single text. In that moment, I realized how much time I had wasted in past brainstorming sessions when I ignored my intuition. Beyond the advantage of saving time, committing to my nugget and expanding upon it has always yielded more naturally flowing and fruitful brainstorming sessions. They’re great starting points in the writing process because they are reflections of what materials I most strongly connected to. In following my nugget, I’m not fighting myself as I’m thinking– I’m only writing what speaks to me the loudest. In my most extensive research project yet, I decided to go with my gut, and I’m excited to see what comes of it.
The idea of the nugget is really an exercise in trusting your intuition. Rather than being an impulsive and unsubstantial tidbit, your nugget is a meaningful expression of something from class, a conversation, note-taking, or endless googling that genuinely impassions you. To make the research writing process smoother and more enjoyable, you should trust it.
— Elise Freeman, Humanities Correspondent