ENGLISH 101. ACADEMIC WRITING
Instructions for Lesson 14
1. Our search continues
Aristotle (figure left) spent twenty years with Plato at the Academy, so he must have figured that when the old man died, he would become the new head of the school. Blood is thicker than water, however, and at his death Plato left the place to his sister's son, Speusippus. Speusippus! Undeterred, Aristotle founded his own school at Athens, the Lyceum, and he seems to have competed very successfully with the Academy. He and his students ambitiously undertook to catalog all of human knowledge and publish summaries of it.
Apart from possible hints in Plato's dialogues, the little that we "know" about the Academy comes almost entirely from Aristotle's writings, from the period after he founded his own rival school. How much of this knowledge about the Academy do you suppose is true? What's your proof?
2. Introduction of Barbara Kobritz
Today we have honored with a guest lecture from TC3 Librarian Barbara Kobrits. It's always a pleasure to take "live" English 101 classes for her tour of the TC3 library, because she always makes the most key point of all, that research is all about proof. Whatever discipline we are researching, our search for truth is actually a hunt for the most persuasive evidence that we can find. Anecdotal evidence carries little or no weight. As the Yiddish proverb says, "for instance" is not proof.
I hope that you have taken Barbara's tutorial on evidence and tutorial on database searches. I hope that you also have seen her basic classification of periodicals. Barbara is an exceptional person and a great resource for student researchers who are clever enough to ask her for help. When you are not sure where your next source is going to come from, get help from a librarian!
Top 10 things you need to know
about using the library:
1. Librarians are here to help you. Everything we attempt to teach you will make your work easier if you learn it and apply it. Our goal is not to create hoops for you to jump through. Our goal is to make this research business easier.
2. Most of the information that has ever been generated by humankind is not on the Internet and never will be. No one is going to pay to digitize the millions of books that sit on library shelves and put them up on the Internet.
3. You need to understand how scholarly publishing works. Professors at large research universities do not teach a lot, maybe two or three classes a semester. Their main goal in life is to conduct research in the areas that interest them. When they are first hired by the university, their employment is provisional. The goal is for them to get tenure. Once you get tenure the university canít fire you. (Nice, huh?) Tenure is not easy to get. Professors have to meet a lot of requirements, one of which is that they must conduct research and publish the results Ė in the form of articles that appear in scholarly journals. These journals are the gold standard of quality information as far as your teachers are concerned. Elsewhere in the world, you can use whatever kind of evidence you want to make whatever claim you want. But for college papers and presentations, when you make a claim, you had better have the research evidence to back it up. It is our sincere hope that you will learn to like this idea of being able to back up your claims with facts. We consider it one of the hallmarks of an educated person. However, we have no control over what you do outside the classroom. Inside the classroom, support your claims with facts.
4. The research that professors publish has a recognizable and consistent structure.
ß REFERENCES: At the end of the article you will always find a long, long list of references (Works Cited). Although they come at the end of the written article, they are the beginning of the process. Our researcher/professor has some sub-, sub-, sub- specialty that she is interested in. For example a biologist might decide at some point to specialize in insects. She might get some grant money from the National Science Foundation (or someone) to travel to the Amazon Basin and catalog bugs. She might get interested in some particular species or genus of bugs that occur only in the Amazon and then, of course, she would be interested in reading anything thatís published about her favorite bug. If she wanted to publish a paper in a scholarly journal she would have to know all about everything thatís been written in the field and she would have to write something original. The list of references represents her understanding of whatís already been said about this bug.
ß PROBLEM STATEMENT: On the basis of whatís been written about her bug she would figure out some question scientists havenít answered yet about her bug and research that. Hereís a real-life example:
ß METHODOLOGY: Once the researcher tells us what she wanted to find out, she tells us how she went about it. In the Cornell study they said how many larvae they were working with, and how the exposure to the corn pollen happened within the laboratory. They also had to have a control group, a group of larvae for whom everything was identical to the first group except the exposure to the pollen. This was to make sure that the results they got were due to the variable they wanted to study, i.e. the pollen exposure. Think of it this way: If you had only the group of larvae exposed to the pollen, and they did die off rather quickly, without the control group you donít really know why. Itís possible that monarch butterfly larvae donít like being inside a laboratory and died because of the air conditioning or some such thing. But if you have a control group held under the same conditions (except one) and you get different results for the two groups, you now have evidence that the one condition youíre trying to isolate is responsible for the effect you see.
ß DATA/RESULTS: So what happened? The pollen-exposed larvae died much faster than the control group. In a typical research study this will be expressed in some very complex math using standard statistical techniques. If you donít understand this section, donít worry about it. Someone who knows what theyíre doing (sometimes many people) reviewed this piece of research to make sure that the methodology made sense and that the data were correctly analyzed.
ß CONCLUSIONS/DISCUSSION: On the basis of the data, what do we think we know? Where does this research point us? This section should be easier for you to understand than the mathematical data or results.
ß SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER RESEARCH: Not every article has this, but itís quite common. This closes the loop. The scholar is part of a scholarly community. She has studied everything thatís gone on before, added her own bit of research to the topic, and she is now saying to the community, "This is what I think we need to find out next." As a matter of fact, in the Cornell study cited above, the authors duly noted that this was simply a preliminary study, done under laboratory conditions and that more research was urgently needed under field conditions to find out if the danger is real. This discussion and research is continuing. Different studies point in different directions and the scientific community has not reached a consensus. This is how scientific knowledge develops. It is a conversation that lasts for years, or even decades, among a community of scholars in a discipline.
ß ABSTRACT: The abstract is the last part of the article to be written, but it is the first one you see when you look at the published article. It is a summary of the research and usually will tell you the three key things youíre looking for: What was the problem studied? What was the methodology for studying it? What were the results? (BIG TIP: Find all the articles you can on your topic and READ THE ABSTRACTS. Thatís how you start finding out what the research community is learning about your research question. You will learn more about your research question by spending an hour reading 30 or 40 abstracts than you will by struggling through one 20-page article. This will give you better results in less time. For example, if you were researching monarch butterflies and you came across the Cornell paper, but didnít find all the research that came after it, you wouldnít have much. Get your feet wet! Donít look for the first three articles the teacher will accept! Look for a vein of research thatís interesting to you and pursue it!)
5. Research articles, along with newspaper articles and magazine articles, are gathered by the millions for you into databases. Databases are quite expensive; you could never afford to have them available at home. SUNY and TC3 maintain database subscriptions for you as part of your library resources. In most databases, all kinds of articles are all thrown in together. Itís up to you to recognize this research model. Thatís why we are spending so much time going over it. Understanding this concept will give you better results in less time.
6. You can get to the databases from the Library Gateway at www.tc3.edu/library by clicking on "Find Articles and Databases." I suggest that you start with ProQuest or InfoTrac to get going.
7. In databases, you will get better results if you use the same language the database people use to describe things. Duh! Hereís how it works (a real example from my work with a student a few days ago):
8. Once you have the article you want you can email it to yourself or print it out and use it however you like for your paper. If the database is showing you a citation to an article but not the article itself, let us know. Weíll get you a copy.
9. GIVE CREDIT! GIVE CREDIT! GIVE CREDIT! If you use other peopleís ideas without citation, you have committed plagiarism, and you will flunk.
10. We also have databases of books which, for arcane reasons, we call catalogs. You can get to them through the Library Gateway at www.tc3.edu/library by clicking on "Find Books and Media." You can search TC3's collection by clicking "TC3 Library Catalog, or you can "Search WorldCat" to do a combined search on 30,000 libraries worldwide. Any book that you locate on WorldCat, but that we don't have in the TC3 library, we can get for you through interlibrary loan in as few as two days. When you search a book catalog the same rules apply about subject headings. Figure out what they are and use them. This will give you better results in less time.
Oh, and one other thing.
11. ASK A LIBRARIAN! Call us! E-mail us! Come in and talk to us! Look at the bottom of every page on our website for the Ask a Librarian link to send us a question form. Reference librarians are different from other people. We have an almost freakish ability to retain the most esoteric information. Our heads are jammed with it, all stored at random, just waiting for someone to ask the right question. In the unlikely event you should stumble on a topic that we havenít already searched several dozen times with previous clients, we will just get even more excited at the thrill of a new hunt!
The biggest problem you will have with librarians is that, once we have the scent of your topic, itís hard to get us to stop. We may be looking for information long after you have slipped out the back door. With a resource like that available, why on earth would you try to do this on your own? If you expect to go anywhere in your academic career, the best thing you can do for yourself is to learn how to use a librarian.
For a sample of the scholarly writing that Barbara Kobritz discusses above, read the attached Underage college students' drinking behavior, access to alcohol, and the influence of deterrence policies. This article illustrates the form of professional research writing in the sciences that Barbara describes under heading 4 above.
Left: ancient Roman mosaic showing those noble Romans "Socrates," "Plato," and "Aristotle."