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What is Research?: The Truth about Research

Research isn't what you think it is.  It's not just dusty books written by men long since gone from this world.  No...research is something we all do almost every day of our lives.  You do it when you ask your friend if the movie they saw was any good.  You do it when you go on Yelp to find a place to eat.  You even do it when you read the comments section of an article on your favorite site.  The key is knowing how to do it well.  Doing it well doesn't mean putting the same amount of research into every problem--it means knowing the level of research needed, as well as how to reach that level.

Fact #1

Different Topics (and Different Needs) Require Different Expertise

For example, Wikipedia is fine if I want to know what happened on my favorite tv show last season, but I can't cite Wikipedia on my term paper.  I also wouldn't go to a lawyer to see if I need to have my appendix taken out.  So when doing research, it is always important to take the author's experience and credentials into consideration.  Just because I trust Rachael Ray to provide good recipes for game day doesn't mean I should take financial advice from her.  So always consider the source.

Fact #2

All Information is Created for a Reason

The person creating the information you're reading, hearing, watching, etc., is doing it for a reason.  Maybe it's to inform or educate you; maybe it's to entertain or persuade you; maybe it's to get back at his roommate for not washing the dishes.  The point is that every piece of information you read was created with a specific purpose.

Fact #3

Knowledge is Power

All information has value.  The amount of that value depends on the person who created that information and on the person who is receiving it.  For instance, if your 8 year old nephew tells you that a meteorite is about to hit New Orleans, you are not going to value that information the same way you would if Neil deGrasse Tyson said it.  Likewise, you probably wouldn't value details of the latest kids movie as much as your nephew would.

Fact #4

Research is Answering a Question

Any time you do research, you are simply trying to answer a question.  In the process of answering that question, you may find that even more questions pop up.  For instance, you may wonder why the sky is blue.  You learn that it has to do with the way light refracts.  You may wonder why light refracts, which would lead you to discover that light acts like a wave and a particle.  And it goes on and on.

Fact #5

Articles and Books are Just Really Public Conversations

Most scholarly articles and books started as questions that the author had about a topic.  From there, the author either agreed or disagreed with what he/she read.  Tons of research later, the author publishes their opinion.  Think of it as a really public, really slow, really long conversation between scholars on a topic.

Fact #6

Searching for Information is an Exploration You Should Plan for

It's easy to get lost in the din of information.  Have a plan.  It's okay to venture from the plan from time to time.  But having a plan makes it easier to find your way back to what you're trying to find out.  As you go along, you may decide that you'd prefer to go a slightly (or totally) different direction with your research.  That's fine.  That's normal.  Just don't go off in a direction because you got distracted.  Think Wikipedia--you start out looking up the plot of Game of Thrones and end up reading about cheetahs in the Serengeti.

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