One of my main projects this month has been writing two encyclopedia entries for an upcoming publication on American women. Yes, encyclopedias still exist and they are handy to have around whether they are in print, online or both.
My task was to do something I find myself frequently doing as a grad student: reading and writing. I read everything I could find on a topic (in this case, two people) and tried to pull all of it together by writing something about it that coherently summed up my reading. Yet, this assignment had some unique benefits compared to the usual stuff I do:
1. I like having projects that are not connected to my coursework, regardless of who sets the deadlines or how much control I have over the process. It gives my workload more variety. It also helps me keep my mind on the bigger picture, beyond readings and assignments for classes.
2. I knew nothing about the two women I was assigned to write on. As I read more, and eventually everything the library could get me, I realized I had hit the jackpot: these two women were really interesting and this made them easy to write about. It didn’t feel like a chore.
3. I didn’t have the choice of who or what to write about. So, this forced me to go beyond the topics I’m usually working on and do something quite different. Understandably, this is not necessarily something that we want to sign up for and staying in our comfort zones has its benefits. But, expanding our horizons is good once and while, especially for a smaller project.
4. Being planted into new readings, biographies, primary sources, etc. definitely spurred my creativity. I am now in the planning stages of an article that was inspired by some of my readings for this project.
5. The audience for the publication is quite different that the scholarly audience I’m used to. I was forced to rethink some of my taken for granted ways of writing to ensure that the information would be useful to a high school or undergrad audience. Also, I had a pretty short word count, which also forced me to plan strategically about word choice, sentence length, and organization.
This was definitely I project I would take on again. Contributing to an encyclopedia is a really worthwhile undertaking, and it makes for a interesting yet manageable mid-semester side project.