Friday, July 4, 2008

The Craft of Research: 2 quick tips and Part 2 prologue

Quick Tips 1: audience analysis checklist. (The book advises periodic updates of each researcher's answers to this list's questions.)
  • Who is your audience? Professionals in your field? General readers who know as much about the topic as you do? a different amount?
  • What do they expect? Entertainment? Problem solving? Understanding?
  • How much do they know? What is their level of background knowledge compared to you? What is their level of knowledge about the specific topic compared to you? What special interest do they have? What do they expect you to discuss about the topic?
  • Do they already understand the question? Do they recognize the question of the paper? Do they not? Is it their problem at all? How much persuasion that it's important do you have to do? Is the problem more pragmatic/tangible or scholarly/conceptual?
  • How will they react to your answer? What do you want your readers to do after reading? Will the solution be at odds with their beliefs? Will they know standard refutations? Will the readers want to see the process leading up to the solution?
  • In what context will they read the paper? Did they ask for it? Will it be in a publication? Are there approval procedures you must pass through? What format do the readers expect of the paper?
Quick Tips 2: writing in groups.
  • Three keys: (1) Talk a lot - make a flexible plan, make goals, use checklists, maintain an outline (topic first, then argument later), keep to some schedule, make an annotated bibliography, etc. (2) "Agree to disagree, and then to agree" - don't let minor issues sidetrack the group, but rather keep conflicts in perspective. (3) Have a leader and a team - the leader can be a transitive position (everyone takes a turn) or permanent.
  • Three strategies: (1) "Divide, delegate, and conquer" - tailor skills to tasks; do not have each person write a separate section of the paper by themselves alone, for this will make the final product more like a patchwork quilt. (2) "Write side-by-side" - especially when the group is small and can devote many meetings together. Ideas will probably be half-formed for much of the time, which makes some uncomfortable. (3) Take turns - there are many ways to do it. Keep flexible.
Part 2 prologue: practical tips for planning.
  • First steps: specify the topic (e.g. from a history of geology to a history of non-dinosaur fossil excavation in America between 1800 and 1950), develop questions based on that topic (these will guide your research), and gather data pertinent to those questions. After these steps, you will generally shape your argument (part 4 of the book).
  • Write along the way! Brainstorm, mull connections between facts, summarize positions, make notes on sources, outline, make lists, consider alternate viewpoints, etc.
  • Remember that the research process is almost never linear: you will repeat stages in parts, take stages out of order, and sometimes end up in a dead end.
Tomorrow we get into more 'meat.'

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