The Craft of Research

The Craft of Research

Paperback(Older Edition)



This manual offers practical advice on the fundamentals of research to college and university students in all fields of study. The Craft of Research teaches much more than the mechanics of fact gathering: it explains how to approach a research project as an analytical process. The authors chart every stage of research, from finding a topic and generating research questions about it to marshalling evidence, constructing arguments, and writing everything up in a final report that is a model of authority. Their advice is designed for use by both beginners and seasoned practitioners, and for projects from class papers to dissertations.

This book is organized into four parts. Part One is a spirited introduction to the distinctive nature, values, and protocols of research. Part Two demystifies the art of discovering a topic. It outlines a wide range of sources, among them personal interests and passions. Parts Three and Four cover the essentials of argument—how to make a claim and support it—and ways to outline, draft, revise, rewrite, and polish the final report. Part Three is a short course in the logic, structure, uses, and common pitfalls of argumentation. The writing chapters in Part Four show how to present verbal and visual information effectively and how to shape sentences and paragraphs that communicate with power and precision.

"A well-constructed, articulate reminder of how important fundamental questions of style and approach, such as clarity and precision, are to all research."—Times Literary Supplement

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226065847
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 03/04/2003
Series: Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing
Edition description: Older Edition
Pages: 258
Product dimensions: 5.48(w) x 8.38(h) x 0.81(d)

About the Author

Gregory G. Colomb (1951–2011) was professor of English at the University of Virginia and the author of Designs on Truth: The Poetics of the Augustan Mock-Epic. He is coauthor, with Wayne C. Booth and Joseph M. Williams, of the best-selling guide The Craft of Research, published by the University of Chicago Press.

Read an Excerpt

The Craft of Research

By Joseph M. Williams

University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2003 Joseph M. Williams
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0226065685

In this chapter, we define research, then discuss how you will benefit from learning to do it well, why we value it, and why we hope you will learn to value it too.
Whenever you read about a scientific breakthrough or a crisis in world affairs, you benefit from the research of those who reported it, who themselves benefited from the research of countless others. When you stand in the reading room of a library to pursue your own work, you are surrounded by centuries of research. When you log on to the Internet, you have access to millions of research reports. All those reports are the product of researchers who have posed endless questions and problems, gathered untold amounts of information, worked out answers and solutions, and then shared them with the rest of us.
Teachers at all levels devote their lives to research. Governments spend billions on it, and businesses even more. Research goes on in laboratories and libraries, in jungles and ocean depths, in caves and in outer space. It stands behind every new technology, product, or scientific discovery--and most of the old ones. Research is in fact the world's biggest industry. Those who cannot reliably do research or evaluate theresearch of others will find themselves on the sidelines in a world that increasingly depends on sound ideas based on good information produced by trustworthy inquiry.
In fact, research reported by others, in writing, is the source of most of what we all believe. Of your three authors, only Williams has ever set foot in Australia, but Booth and Colomb are certain that it exists, because for a lifetime they have read about it in reports they trust and seen it on reliable maps (and heard about it from Williams). None of us has been to Venus, but we believe that it is hot, dry, and mountainous. Why? Because that's what we've read in reports we trust. Whenever we "look something up," our research depends on the research of others. But we can trust their research only if we can trust that they did it carefully and reported it accurately.
In the broadest terms, everyone does research: we all gather information to answer a question that solves a problem. You do it every day.
PROBLEM: You need a new head gasket for a '65 Mustang.
RESEARCH: You call auto parts stores or get on the Internet to see who has one in stock.
PROBLEM: You want to know where Michael Jordan was born.
RESEARCH: You go to the library and look in a biographical dictionary. Or you call up and then sort through the 410,000+ references to him.
PROBLEM: You want to learn more about a discovery of a new species of tropical fish.
RESEARCH: You search the Internet for articles in newspapers or magazines.
Though we all do that kind of research, we don't all write it up. But we do rely on those who did: the auto parts suppliers, Jordan's biographers, and the fish discoverers--all wrote up the results of their research because they anticipated that one day someone would have a question that their data would answer.
In fact, without trustworthy and tested published research available to all of us, we would be locked in the opinions of the moment, either prisoners of what we alone experience or dupes to everything we hear. Of course, we all want to believe that our opinions are sound; yet mistaken ideas, even dangerous ones, flourish because too many people accept too many opinions on not very good evidence. And those who act on unsound opinions can lead themselves, and others, to disaster. Just ask the thousands who invested in the failed energy giant Enron because they heard so many good opinions of it from analysts and the media. Only after Enron's deceptive bookkeeping was exposed and analyzed in writing did they see how those high opinions were based on bad, sometimes even faked research.
That's why in this book we will urge you to be amiably skeptical of most of the research you read, to question it, even as you realize how thoroughly you depend on it. Are we three authors 100 percent drop-dead certain that reports of Venus being hot, dry, and mountainous are true? No, but we trust the researchers who have published reports about it, as well as the editors, reviewers, and skeptical readers who have tested those reports and published their own results. So we'll go on thinking that Venus is hot and dry until other researchers report better evidence, tested by other researchers, that shows us otherwise.
If you are reading this book because a teacher has assigned you a research project, you might be tempted to treat it as just a chore or an empty exercise. We hope you won't. You have practical reasons to take the work seriously: you will learn skills that pay off in almost any career you choose. Beyond that, your project invites you to join the oldest and most esteemed of human conversations, one that has been conducted for millennia among philosophers, engineers, biologists, social scientists, historians, literary critics, linguists, theologians--the list of researchers is endless.
Right now, you may feel that the conversation seems one-sided, that you have to listen more than you can speak, and that in any event you have little to contribute. That may be true for the moment. But at some point you will be asked to join a conversation that, at its best, can help you and your community free yourselves from ignorance, prejudice, misunderstanding, and the half-baked ideas that so many charlatans try to impose on us. The world changes every day because of research, not always for the better. But done well, research is crucial to improving every facet of our lives. It is no exaggeration to say that your research and your reports of it can improve perhaps not the whole world, but at least your corner of it.
For some of you, though, the invitation to join the conversation of research may still seem easy to decline. If you undertake it, you will face demanding tasks in finding a good question, searching for sound data, finding and supporting a good answer, and then writing it all up. Even if you turn out a first-rate report, it will likely be read not by an eager world, but only by your teacher. And, besides, you may think, my teacher knows all about my topic. If she just told me the answers or pointed me to the right books, I could concentrate on learning what's in them. What do I gain from writing up my research, other than proving I can do it?
Here are some answers.
1.2.1 Write to Remember
Researchers write up what they find just to remember it. A few lucky people can retain information without recording it, but most of us get lost when we think about what Smith found in light of Wong's position, and compare both to the odd data in Brunelli, especially as they are supported by Boskowitz--But wait a minute. I've forgotten what Smith said! Most researchers can plan and conduct their project only with the help of writing--by listing sources, assembling research summaries, keeping lab notes, making outlines, and so on. What you don't write down you are likely to forget or, worse, to misremember. That's why careful researchers don't wait until they've gathered all their data to start writing: they write from the beginning of their project so that they can hold as much of it in their minds as clearly as they can.
1.2.2 Write to Understand
A second reason for writing is to understand. When you arrange and rearrange the results of your research in new ways, you discover new connections, contrasts, complications, and implications. Even if you could hold in mind everything you found, you would need help to line up arguments that pull in different directions, plot out complicated relationships, sort out disagreements among experts. I want to use these claims from Wong, but her argument is undercut by Smith's data. When I compare them, I see that Smith ignores this last part of Wong's argument. Aha! If I introduce it with this part from Brunelli, I can focus on the part of Wong's argument that lets me question Smith. Writing supports thinking, not just by helping you understand better what you have found, but by helping you find in it larger patterns of meaning.
1.2.3 Write to Gain Perspective
The basic reason for writing, though, is to get your thoughts out of your head and onto paper, where you can see them in the clearer light of print, a light that is always brighter and usually less flattering. Just about all of us, students and professionals alike, think our ideas are more coherent in the dark warmth of our minds than they turn out to be in the cold light of day. You improve your thinking when you encourage it with notes, outlines, summaries, commentary, and other forms of thinking on paper. But you can't know what you really can think until you separate specific ideas from the swift and muddy flow of thought and fix them in an organized, coherent form.
In short, you should write so that you can remember more accurately, understand better, and see what you think more clearly. (And as you will discover, the better you write, the more critically you will read.)
Even if you agree that writing is an important part of learning, thinking, and understanding, some of you may still wonder why you can't write it your own way, why you must satisfy the formal constraints imposed by a research community, particularly one that you may not yet belong to (or even want to). The constraints imposed by writing for others often vex students who believe they
have no reason to conform to the practices of a conversation they did nothing to create. I don't see why I should adopt language and forms that are not mine. What's wrong with my own language? Aren't you just trying to turn me into an academic like yourself? If I write as my teachers expect me to, I risk losing my own identity.
Such concerns are legitimate (students should raise them more often). But it would be a feeble education that did not change you at all, and the deeper your education, the more it will change the "you" that you think you are, or want to be. That's why it is so important to choose carefully what you study and with whom. But it would be a mistake to think that learning to write sound research reports must threaten your true identity. Learning to do research will not turn you into a clone of your teachers. It will change the way you think, but only by giving you more ways of thinking. You may be different, but you will also be freer to choose who you want to be and what you want to do next.
Perhaps the most important reason for learning to report research in ways readers expect is that you learn more about your ideas and about yourself by testing them against the standards and values of others. Writing for others demands more from you than writing for yourself. By the time you fix your ideas in writing, they are so familiar to you that you need help to see them not for what you want them to be but for what they really are. You reach that end only by imagining, and then meeting, the needs and expectations of others: you create a kind of transaction between you and your readers--what we like to call a rhetorical community.
That's why traditional forms and plans are more than empty vessels into which you pour your findings. Those forms have evolved to help writers see their ideas in the brighter light of their readers' expectations and understanding. You will understand your own work better when you explicitly try to anticipate your readers' questions: How have you evaluated your evidence? Why do you think it is relevant? How do your claims add up? What ideas have you considered but rejected? How can you respond to your readers' predictable questions, reservations, and objections? All researchers can recall a moment when writing to meet their readers' expectations revealed a flaw or a blunder, or even a great opportunity that escaped them in a first draft written for themselves.
Traditional forms embody the shared practices and values of a research community, matters that contribute to the identity not only of that community but of each of its members. Whatever community you join, you'll be expected to show that you understand its practices by reporting your research in ways that have evolved to communicate it. Once you know the standard forms, you'll have a better idea about your particular community's predictable questions and understand better what its members care about, and why. But what counts as good work is the same in all of them, regardless of whether it is in the academic world or the world of government, commerce, or technology. If you learn to do research well now, you gain an immense advantage, regardless of the kind of research you will do later.
Writing a research report is, finally, thinking in print, but thinking from the point of view of your readers. When you write with others in mind, you give your ideas the critical attention they need and deserve. You disentangle them from your memories and wishes, so that you--and others--can explore, expand, combine, and understand them more fully. Thinking in written form for others can be more careful, more sustained, more attuned to those with different views--more thoughtful--than just about any other kind of thinking.
You can, of course, choose the less demanding path: do just enough to satisfy your teacher. This book can help you do that. But you will shortchange yourself if you do. If instead you find a topic that you care about, ask a question that you want to answer, your project can have the fascination of a mystery whose solution rewards your efforts in finding it. Nothing contributes more to a successful research project than your commitment to it.
We wish we could tell you how to balance your belief in the worth of your project with the need to accommodate the demands of teachers and colleagues, but we cannot. If you believe in what you're doing and cannot find anyone else who shares your belief, all you can do is put your head down and press on. With our admiration.
Some of the world's most important research has been done by those who persevered in the face of indifference or even hostility, because they never lost faith in their vision. The geneticist Barbara McClintock struggled for years unappreciated because her research community considered her work uninteresting. But she believed in it and pressed on. When her colleagues finally realized that she had already answered questions that they were just starting to ask, she won science's highest honor, the Nobel Prize.


Excerpted from The Craft of Research by Joseph M. Williams Copyright © 2003 by Joseph M. Williams. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

1: Thinking in Print: The Uses of Research, Public and Private
2: Connecting with Your Reader: (Re)Creating Your Self and Your Audience
3: From Topics to Questions
4: From Questions to Problems
5: From Questions to Sources
6: Using Sources
7: Making Good Arguments: An Overview
8: Claims and Evidence
9: Warrants
10: Qualifications
11: Pre-Drafting and Drafting
12: Communicating Evidence Visually
13: Revising Your Organization and Argument
14: Revising Style: Telling Your Story Clearly
15: Introductions

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Paul Signorelli

An easy-to-read guide with helpful hints for almost anyone who puts words on paper. It reflects the authors' love of writing and their respect for readers. -- San Francisco Bay Guardian

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