ENGLISH 101. ACADEMIC WRITING
Instructions for Lesson 12:
1. Read the page sample articles on Socrates.
2. Read this page.
Submit your preliminary
(compare/contrast) essay as assigned
in Lesson 11. This is an important essay, because it's a first
step in your research project, so take your time and find articles that
suggest good research questions.
Left: Old ruins of the Acropolis dominate the Athenian landscape as if the people of the city still revered their ancestors. All images show things as they used to be.
The critical part of any research report is the research. The rest is only a report of it. What are the types of academic research, and which kind will we be practicing?
In scientific or "primary" research, the research is conducted by experiment. Published scientific articles, based on experiments, tend to be organized in a standard seven-part structure.
This scientific model of "primary" or experimental research indicates what's different, if not wrong, in nonscientific fields of study such as literature, history, politics, philosophy, and religion. These fields that we call "arts" are not based upon the physical world that we can observe or detect with technology. Instead, they deal with "other-world" realms, such as the region of Ideas or Forms that Socrates hoped finally to experience as a disembodied soul.
In spite of Socrates' attempts, and those of other investigators after him, scientific experiments have yet to prove the existence or nature of any "other-world" besides the physical one. How do we prove anything in the arts?
If I write a report about Socrates, or any other subject in "secondary" research (that is, research that is not primary or experimental), I am writing words about other words. I can use only parts 1, 2, 6 and 7 from the scientific research model described above. That is, I can review the literature of the field to find a "problem" that seems to exist in the existing research, and then I can propose a solution to this research question, and finally I can provide a works cited list and an abstract. But I can't use parts 3 and 4 of the experimental model because I can't design any real experiment to prove anything conclusively.
If I actually write an article about Socrates' inter-brain activity, or Socrates' control of his body temperature through Buddhist-style meditation (recall citation quiz #2), I will have to raise Socrates from the dead or else travel back in time to ancient Athens to prove my case experimentally. But history is gone, and it can be "presented" again only in words or art. At best, I can research the literature related to these topics, and then I can draw my conclusions or interpretations about that literature. At best, I can hope that other scholars in the field will find my arguments persuasive or at least interesting. If I eventually become an acknowledged "expert" on Socrates, it will not be due only to positive peer review, not because I actually got Socrates hooked up to some brain scanning or biofeedback measuring devices that proved my claims about him.
Obviously, in English 101; we don't have long white coats or mice or test tubes or any other lab equipment. We deal in secondary research. Our method is not experimental but investigative, and our writing is not scientific but persuasive. We investigate by reading. We persuade by offering reasoned interpretations or conclusions about the readings. If I read some books about the human brain and some other books about Socrates, I have gained information that I can use to persuade readers that the two sets of writings are related: "Socrates' conscience was his cortex, in conflict with his lower mammalian and reptilian brains, as can be inferred from Plato's dialogues in passages X, Y, and Z. . ." This secondary kind of writing about sources aims to convince readers to believe in spite of the absence of any physical proof. This job isn't easy, especially if the audience is a skeptical academic one.
I am trying to emphasize that in secondary research, like our research project in this course, the final report is an argument. That is, the source "literature" has been investigated to find a "research question": an unresolved issue, an uncertainty or controversy or disagreement, among the experts. After a thorough investigation of the question has been made, by reading everything that there is to read about it, the researcher takes a position and makes a persuasive argument--perhaps agreeing with one side or another, or trying to reconcile opposing sides, or taking issue with all sides and trying to advance the argument in a new direction.
Academic writing is full of arguments, many of them in the arts not notably practical, some of them (apparently) argument for its own sake. The controversy over Socrates' politics is a good example. Was Socrates an enemy of the democracy, as claimed by journalist I.F. Stone and others, or was he an extraordinarily loyal Athenian, as portrayed by Professors Brickhouse and Smith and others? It might seem not to matter one way or the other, but amateur and professional scholars have participated in this particular debate for centuries (Lane). One might question the importance of countless academic disputes of this kind.
Debate theory says that argument brings us closer to correct understanding. As in Socratic "dialectical method," or in courtroom trials, argument is supposed to be a process that leads generally toward truth. But does it? It does in the sciences, where conflicting views often get resolved with conclusive evidence, but argument is more problematic in the arts. It's hard to claim that today's scholarship about Socrates is more truthful than the scholarship of 100 or 200 years ago (though it's clearly far more sophisticated these days). Perhaps the better explanation for academic arguments in the arts is that, when advocates put forward their best arguments, the competition strengthens them. Perhaps it strengthens the contestants' minds for debates that really do matter, such as current political controversies or personal decisions.
We beginners may not be terribly persuasive, but we will have made excellent progress if, by the end of our research training, we know how to find relevant literature, how to identify some key points of controversy or uncertainty in it, and how to summarize one of those questions clearly and fairly using proper MLA form and standard American English. We begin toward these goals now in the preliminary (compare/contrast) essay of the research project. We will make further progress later in this module with our research journals (assigned today) and our research narratives (to be assigned in Lesson 13).
4. Selecting articles and books for your research
Your eventual goal, in your written research report, is not to explain a topic, but to make an argument of some kind about it, so look for sources that will explain a topic to you, but also search for sources that will suggest arguments that can be made about it. What's the difference between explaining and arguing? Argument makes claims and offers proof to support those claims in an effort to persuade. Here are some examples:
You will find both explanatory and argumentative sources in your research. After you have read a source, can you determine which category it belongs to? If it is argumentative, what is its main argument? how is the argument supported? is the argument persuasive?
Keeping Research Journals
What do we do with sources when we find them? In a small research project, it's not a big problem. In the Plato exam, for example, we worked with only one source--our paperback Five Dialogues--and all of the notes that we might need for future reference could be written in the margins and blank spaces in the book. Likewise, in a small research project involving only a couple of ProQuest articles, we could simply hold the sources as emails in a mail folder, or print out photocopies of the articles and annotate them. There's not much to it.
But in a big project, like our research project in this course, what can we do? How can we collect and manage multiple sources so that we can pull the information from them efficiently, as needed, when the time comes to organize and write our research reports?
From da Vinci to Darwin, great scholars have maintained research jounals for their data, rough concepts, diagrams, memos and professional what-have-you. A research journal is simply a written record of research activities. It can contain, among other things:
Leonardo and Darwin notwithstanding, current technology should enable researchers today to produce journals that are far superior to any in history. Keeping a journal on a computer has great advantages in efficiency over keeping a longhand notebook. For example:
Left: Socrates' prison cell today. Proof positive that he must have flown the coop after all?
Left: After Socrates helped to break the mould, Greek statues took on a more realistic and democratic cast, as shown in this Hellenistic statue by Appollonios of Athens (cir. 150 BCE), known as "the Boxer," broken nose and all.
Left: from Leonardo da Vinci's notebook, one of the most famous of all journals. Leonardo used the journal as a workbook--most famously to make sketches for inventions and to practice rough drawings that he would later turn into finished paintings. Artists' sketches serve the memory by focusing attention and also rehearsing the lines prior to producing finished pieces of art. Think of your journal as a sketchbook where you can get the feel of writing about your subject.
Left: Young Darwin, an unmotivated student, took up journal writing on a long and lonely voyage at sea. The result years later shook the world.