In the last column I outlined a few organizational tips for handling all of the loose papers you will accumulate in your research. This week I want to focus on one particular area, correspondence.
There are three types of correspondence you will be dealing with, snail mail, e-mail and telephone conversations. It is very important to document all of your correspondence and have an organized filing system.
There are two main ways to organize your correspondence.
The first method is to simply keep your snail mail, e-mails and telephone conversation notes in separate file folders sorted in chronological order. Each folder should have a correspondence log in the front. A correspondence log records the address of the person you are writing to, the date the letter was sent, the reason it was sent, the date you received a response and the results of the inquiry.
A log will save you a lot of time in the long run. You can quickly glance at it and find the particular letter you are looking for.
The method I use takes up more room, but I think it is a more logical approach. I file my correspondence by dilemma or genealogical problem. All of the correspondence related to a particular dilemma is filed together no matter what type it happens to be. Again, a correspondence log is in the front. In this method you need only one log instead of three.
When you file your snail mail, staple the envelope to the letter so you do not accidentally lose the return address. If the letter is not dated, then write the date on the back. You should make copies of all your outgoing letters and file them as well. This is important because if you lay your work aside for a period of time and start working on another problem, it will be much easier for you to pick up where you left off if you have everything nicely documented.
E-mails should be printed out and filed. Again, you should be documenting the sender, date, and subject on your log. If you are the one sending the e-mail, you should also print it out and record it on your log.
Telephone logs are a little different. When speaking with someone on the telephone you should be jotting down notes. As soon as possible you should type up a synopsis of what was said in the conversation.
It is very easy to forget details over time. At the top of the page, document who you were speaking to and on what date. The 8 ‡ x 11 rule applies here. Do not write things down on scraps of paper. Use standard sheets of paper which file easier and neater.
It might seem that you are doing a lot of busy work when you could instead be doing research, but you will be doing yourself a big favor if you take the time to keep everything neat and organized.