12. College Research 101

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Instructions for Lesson 12:

1. Read the page sample articles on Socrates

2. Read this page. 

3. 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. 


Module 1

1: Orientation  
2: Goals   

Module 2

  3: Euthyphro  
     4: The Library
 5: The Apology   
    6: Citation   
    7: Crito
    8: Phaedo  
    9: Exam Prep   
10: Plato Exam

Module 3

11: Research Project 
12: Research 101   
13: Books   
14: the Librarian   
15: the Web   
16: conferences  
17: Joy of Research 
18: Reasoning 

Module 4

19: Outlines 
20: Review the Plan:
21: Language 
22: Dr E's Grammar
23: Peer Review  
24: Hit Parade 

Module 5

25: About the Exam
26: Mock Final 
27: Exam Prep
28: Graduation 



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?

1. Primary Research

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.

1. Identification of the problem or "research question". First, the researcher indicates why the experiment is needed, what problem or gap in knowledge is to be addressed by the experiment. Normally this first part includes a summary of prior research that has been conducted in the same area of study, so that the writer clarifies how the experiment relates to other experiments--and also how the write up of the experiment fits into the existing literature in the field. (For instance: "A, B, and D have been researched, but C has not.") To present the existing literature (A, B, D), writers in the sciences, no less than writers in non-science fields, must be able to find, analyze and carefully summarize sources.

2. Description of the methodology used to solve the problem. Next, the researcher describes the design of the experiment in detail, so that other researchers will be able to duplicate it--and hopefully to obtain the same results. Research proposals and funding applications often consist of these parts 1 and 2 (identification of the problem and proposed description of research methodology), together with a list of references comparable to a works cited list.

3. Description and discussion of the data. After the research proposal has been accepted, and after funds have poured in and the experiment has been conducted, the results are written up. These "data" are described in as much detail as the experiment's financial sponsor requires, but the published summary of the data for public consumption may be much shorter. Many volumes of statistical results may need to be compressed into a couple of pages of summary in order to squeeze into a periodical.

4. Conclusion(s) to be drawn from the data.  The researcher then interprets the results of the experiment. This important part often discusses whether the experiment turned out as expected or, if not, what surprises were observed. Ideally, skepticism governs the interpretation of the results so that excessive claims are avoided. Obviously, other researchers can challenge either the methodology of the research or the conclusions drawn from the resulting data, so that the overall research system in the sciences tends to be self-correcting.

5. Statement of issues for further research. Usually, the researcher is careful to say what the experiment has not proved. This statement of issues for further research prevents readers from drawing the wrong conclusions. It also points out further research opportunities in the field.

6. List of references. a works cited list, a list of references or bibliography is appended to the write-up. This section is much the same as an MLA Works Cited list, but it will follow the slightly different writing rules of the APA (American Psychological Association; see Hacker 156-182) or some other professional scientific group.

7. Abstract. A short summary of the overall article, usually in one-paragraph, provides readers with a quick overview. Abstracts often are published without full text articles attached in various journals and magazines that specialize in publishing abstracts. When you need to keep up with the research in your filed, you may subscribe to an abstract service and quickly scan through the abstracts to see whether there's anything being published that's of interest to you. In ProQuest, InfoTrac and other databases, many so-called "articles" appear as "abstract only." To get the full text version of the article, you must ask a librarian to order it for you.

More comments on primary research are offered later in this course.

2. Secondary Research

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.

3. Your Argument

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:

topic: trends in sci-fi films

what's to explore and explain? What are some of the differences in sci-fi films of the 70s, 80s, or 90s or 2000s? What are some current trends?

what's to argue? Which sci-fi features or trends produce the best movies ? What do the current trends say about audience taste or values?

topic: U.N. peacekeeping forces

what's to explore and explain? Who are they ? Where have they been deployed? Which deployments have been considered successes, which failures ?

what's to argue? Advocate more or less deployment, or deployment in a particular situation. Advocate changes that will make deployments more successful.

topic: pets used in therapy

what's to explore and explain? whose therapy ... why animals ... what animals ... which pets ...

what's to argue? more dollars for research ... more animals used in therapy ... more people trained in pet therapy ... more institutions (like nursing homes and schools) involved

topic: missile defense system

what's to explore and explain? costs, types (land-based vs. sea-based systems; systems that target missiles in their boost phase, mid-course phase, or descent phase); problems yet to be solved (speed, accuracy); political acceptance, international coordination

what's to argue? Should the U.S. spend more, less, or nothing on missile defense? Why?

topic: the contamination of fresh water; the decrease in fresh water supplies worldwide

what's to explore & explain? causes; effects; (What accounts for the fact that every 20 minutes water contamination kills 80 of the world's children, every day over 9,000 people die because they don't have access to clean, fresh water?)

what's to argue? Which policies (individual, national, or international) might produce the best conservation of fresh water?

topic: animals in circuses (or zoos)

what's to explore and explain? current protections against animal abuse in circuses; current conditions

what's to argue? Are zoos and circuses abusive to animals ? Are legal and regulatory protections adequate?

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?

5. Keeping Research Journals
rough sourcebooks of your research

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:

summaries and evaluations of  research "finds," such as we have written in Library Assignments #1 and #2. Obviously it takes time to summarize and analyze and cite each relevant article that we read, but the time is very well spent. In the first place, writing these things helps us to read the sources much more carefully than we would read them otherwise as passive readers. Secondly, a written record of our research will be invaluable when the time comes to begin writing our research papers. Source information forgotten by our brains will be remembered by our journal and so remain available for our use. Developing a journal can be almost like growing a second head, one that never forgets.

goals and plans for research. We also can use the journal to make "to do" lists, or plans for further research, or outlines for the research report. Writing such things down aids our commitment to do them. Reviewing and updating research plans regularly helps to keep us on schedule and properly focused on priority steps to be taken.

brainstorms and other flashes of insight. When a good idea suddenly occurs, add it to the journal so that it doesn't get lost. Perhaps the idea will turn out to be an important piece in your research report, or perhaps it will not. Postponing the decision to write it down, however, often means forgetting it.

doodles. Because the journal is not a finished product in itself, you are free to experiment and play in it.If you want to draw a spiderman with eight arms and legs, go ahead! Leonardo did.

Traditionally, research journals have used a diary format, where all entries in the journal are recorded chronologically by date. The beauty of this system is that it disciplines the researcher. If I open my journal and realize that I haven't made any entries for a few days, I know I'VE GOT TO GET MY ACT TOGETHER RIGHT NOW! If I have no record of dates in my journal, however, I may not even notice my inactivity as I drift down Research Road to Mediocre City and Disasterville.

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:

  • storage is almost unlimited and almost infinitely flexible.

  • source information can be copied and pasted with ease. You might want to cut and paste into your journal, for example, all of the abstracts of the articles that you are summarizing. (But be sure to label what you have pasted from any source so that you will avoid unintended plagiarism)

  • when reviewing the research to figure out what we can say about it, we can reorganize the order of the journal entries so that items 1, 17, 19, and 22 are grouped together because of some common idea or relatedness that we find among them. Logically grouping the entries into categories is one way to organize the research details that we have amassed.

  • when we begin to write reports of our research, we may be able to assemble some of the first rough draft by cutting and pasting pieces of texts that we've already written in our journal entries.  Having good summaries in our journals can save a lot of time in organizing and writing the COW.

  • we can write the reference information for our "works cited" section once, as we find the research, and we won't have to rewrite it again later (though it may need to be edited or at least "cut and pasted" together).

The Research Journal Assignment. Keep a journal of sources for potential use in your research report. 

Over each of the next five Lessons of our course (Lesson 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17) enter at least three separate sources into your research journal. For each individual source, include correct citation information, a summary of points that could be useful to you when writing your research report, and a comment on the possible value of the source in your research project. Write up each source independently of the others; don't try to combine them in your journal. Your overall goal is to build a journal that describes at least 15 good sources. (Although the draft research report to be written later will require citations from only eight sources, the investigation underlying that report needs to be broader, to assure that stones are not left unturned.)

Other recommendations: (1) email sources to yourself whenever possible; (2) make printouts of sources that you can't email; (3) cut and paste into the journal any abstract or executive summary that a source may contain; (4) cut and paste into the journal key paragraphs of information that you are likely to cite when it comes time to write the draft research report.  Be sure to identify all cut and paste information so that you don't accidentally plagiarize from it when you write your report.  

This assignment is worth 1 course point per "Lesson," for a total of 5 points. Installments of the journal are due in Lessons 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17. 
For a student sample research journal, see "Student Sample Research Journal."






















































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.










gutchess@englishare.net                    Academic writing home page                    Gary Gutchess 2003