I was thinking of this in terms of graduate students particularly, but if you are looking for a job, you may need to do this too. Or if you are one of those people who dithers around thinking of all you could work on but never working on anything, you could use this too.
From Robert’s Rules of Writing by Robert Masello, rule number 96:
[O]nce you do make a decision, and pick one project and stick to it, you’ll notice something strange happens.
You become a virtual magnet for related information and ideas. Suddenly, you will start discovering, all around you, all sorts of juicy tidbits–observations, quotes, statistics, stories–that directly relate to, and nicely amplify, the project you are working on. You’ll stop at a yard sale and find an old book, for fifty cents, which provides great background research…. You’ll open the morning paper and come across a piece in the science section that neatly explains a rather arcane bit of business….
The more you focus in on one piece of work, the more attuned you are to everything around you that might help. And there’s a lot.
While I found this more true about my novel than my research, which would match up with his “nonfiction tome,” it is something that students need to be told so that they will
1. choose a topic and
2. start seeing what floats to the top around them.
The best line, and its explanation, comes immediately following the quote above.
Writers are scavengers–we find all kinds of odds and ends and either paste them into what we’re working on, or into notebooks for later use.