Friday, July 11, 2008

The Craft of Research: Chapter 8 and a Quick Tip

Having previously surveyed the components of a good argument, the core of any research, the authors discuss claims and evidence in detail. These two elements of an argument should always be stated plainly.

Characteristics of a good claim:
  • substantive (not "what I did"; not "what this paper will do"; but saying something that matters about a topic;
  • contestable (not historical fact alone, but taking a side of an issue that can have many sides. See Quick Tip, below); and
  • specific. Example: Thus the emancipation of the Russian peasants was only symbolic, because while they gained control over their daily affairs, their economic condition deteriorated so sharply that their new social status did not affect the material quality of their existence.
Claims like the one above can be used to guide research and sort evidence. Phrases such as (for example) "material lives," "low," "control," "rose," and "deteriorated" can be used as categories.

Six tests for evidence: it must be
  1. Accurate. Get the authors' context right and aim for factual perfection.
  2. Precise. Don't use vague, fudgy words (great deal, a high probability, large, etc.).
  3. Sufficient. Get more than you think is necessary. Never settle for just one bit of data.
  4. Representative. Take a proper sampling of the population/research/etc.
  5. Authoritative. Good criteria include a source being cited often and current. Don't settle for oversimplification or "uninformed cynicism" (i.e. views of "authorities"). Know the material before trusting a source.
  6. Perspicuous. Show the relevance of your evidence and unpack data and quotations to show readers your train of thought in using that evidence to reach a conclusion.
Your main claim, backed up by various categories of evidence, will spawn sub-claims for each of those categories. Each sub-claim will have its own evidence as well.

Quick Tip: a sampling of idea categories in which to look for possible contradictions to make (which could make up the argument of your paper).
  • Substantive: new data, wrong data, bad logic.
  • Feature: category (the evidence can be sorted otherwise), part-whole ("Though X seems to be an integral part of Y, it is not"), internal development ("Though both X and Y may seem to have come from Z, X didn't"), external cause-effect ("Though X and Y seem to correlate, they do not"), and value ("Though X seems to be good, it is not")...
  • Perspectival: thinking outside the box that the author used can lead to different conclusions.
If you find contradictions of or like these, the authors recommend keeping a record for later use in your introduction (chapter 15).

No comments: