Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Craft of Research: Preface and Chapter 1

While my copy is the first edition (which is why it got discarded from the local library's shelves, which was why it was on sale for a quarter a few months ago), Google Books features the third. Some notes from the preface:
  • Purposes: acquaint "beginning researchers" to the general topic of research, help those same students (in the old sense of the word) with a well-argued research project, and give tips for reading your writing like a reader.
  • Rather than "[moving] sequentially from finding a topic to stating a thesis to filling in note cards to drafting and revision" - the typical given sequence that almost never works precisely that way, the authors show the loop nature of research: repeating parts of processes, jumping around between steps, etc.
  • "That means, of course, that you must read this book twice, because we will describe not only how earlier stages anticipate later ones, but how later stages motivate earlier ones." There goes the rest of my summer. :-)
  • They explain the otherwise "mysterious creative process"; this should prove helpful to all the non-omniscient among us, including me.
Part 1 of the book (which we should get through a bit before the weekend): "Research, Researchers, and Readers." The Prologue lays a scaffold, viz:
  • A plan for research should be rough, general, not half-cocked ("don't just start writing"!), flexible, yet have a form. Two analogies for the flexible-vs-form criteria are a sonnet (rigid design - 14 lines, arranged in such and such a way, rhyme scheme, etc. - yet freedom within that design to write about anything) and DNA (the genes for muscle quality give a range of strength that a given person may develop).
  • Practical benefits of research include your own comprehension of the material, skills for later research, persistence, and, of course, critical thinking, without which society falls.
  • How to use the book: Part 1 is for new researchers; part 2 describes the process; part 3 details argument-making; part 4 is the final-report guide; "Quick Tips" are lists or flashes of insight.
Chapter 1 deals with the whys of research: why do it, why write it, and why write it formally. Tidbits:
  • Why do research? To answer a question for yourself or for others. We do it informally all the time, but few of us like to write it down in "research-y" ways. But [emphasis in original]...
    In fact, without reliable published research, we would be prisoners to what we alone see and hear, locked in the opinions of the moment.
    And we all know how bad that would be! Our choices are: do research, or else miss out on standing on giants' shoulders.
  • Why write it up? To remember what we learn ("What you don't write down, you are likely to forget, or worse, misremember"), to understand ("Writing induces thinking"), and to gain perspective ("we see [our ideas] in a clearer light, one that is always brighter and usually less flattering").
  • Why write the research paper? The authors' reasons are very similar to those in the above bullet. To quote an ancient sage: Qui docet, discet (He who teaches, learns). A word on education from page 9:
    It would be a feeble education that did not affect who and what you are . The deeper your education, the more it will change you. (That's why it is so important to choose carefully what you study and with whom.)
Isn't this tantalizing?

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