The Study Dude – How to Turn Your Topic into a Research Problem

Study Tips from a Semi-Anonymous Friend

The Study Dude – How to Turn Your Topic into a Research Problem

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to write a paper you feel proud of?and you remember?years later.

Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.

Today’s Study Dude article contains part two of the examination of the the book The Craft of Research by Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams. Their book is the pinnacle of research overview books for both the undergraduate and graduate level.

Unveiling a Research Problem in Sources
In last week’s Study Dude article, I ranted about the ever-elusive definition of a gap. What exactly is a gap in the literature? I suggested that gaps could be extending others? ideas or contradicting others ideas. Yet, as will be revealed in this article, gaps can include so much more. Furthermore, when we study our sources, they offer a whole slew of gaps that we can work from. We just need to develop a discerning eye for the proverbial gap.

When I wrote research papers, I used to collect facts and string them together into an organized fact dump. As painful as that may sound, that method got results. Now, after writing the Study Dude articles, I’ve learned that much better strategies exist for writing a paper. Namely, writing an A++ paper involves finding a compelling research problem from the gaps in the literature and developing your paper around that research problem.

Now, don’t run away. Wayne C. Booth, Gregory C. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams outline the various gaps you might find in the literature:
– An article might make a claim that you can further support with additional evidence. The article’s evidence might be outdated, whereas you have current information, for instance, or the article’s evidence might be on the weak side, whereas you have stronger support to add.
– An article might make an assumption or a speculation on a matter that you have solid evidence to support. So, your view is essential for furthering the soundness of the argument.
– An article might say a certain situation holds for a specific event or instance, but you can prove that the situation holds for other areas as well.
– An article might say something is a certain “type” or “kind” of something else, or has a certain quality, or has a certain value, but you don’t agree and have some sort of proof.
– An article might say something is a part of something else, or connects with something else in a certain way, or is always present in a larger thing, but you can show That’s wrong.
– An article might say that something is changing or originated from something else, or is growing in a certain manner, but you can show that it isn’t.
– An article might say that something causes something else, or is caused by something else, or causes just one thing, but you think you can show that there is more to the story.
– An article might analyze an issue from a certain lens, but you know another lens/theory/view reveals a different outcome.

Is your head aching yet? Well, let’s dissect more of the research process…

Drafting Claims
don’t you want to write a paper that makes people say “Wow”? We all do. In my undergraduate studies my professor insisted that the book Heart of Darkness wasn’t racist. To me, the book was laden with racist language that I found offensive. I imagined myself as a person of African descent reading the book. The book’s contents would horrify me and could possibly spur me to run out of the classroom to shed some tears.

I told the professor I aimed to write a paper that gave evidence of the book’s racist nature. He, insistent that the book contained no racist underpinnings challenged me to the task, and I set out to prove him wrong.

When he read my paper, he changed his view to accept that the main character in the book possessed racist tendencies, but he maintained his view that the book itself was not racist. To him, the book posed as a relic of past times.

Although the paper didn’t shine as my best piece of writing, it did prove one of his core beliefs wrong. I felt like my paper’s claim contained some significance. I felt pride.

Wayne C. Booth, Gregory C. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams show us how to make our claims significant and specific, while also addressing limitations:
– Brief one sentence short claims often don’t disclose enough. They are not specific enough. Define variables, such as “the poetry is too long.” Define long in your claim, such as through numbers: “the poetry is too lengthy, at over 100 pages.”
– Fill your claim with keywords that you could refer to as themes in your research paper or thesis. This endeavour makes your claim for specific, once again.
– Start your claim with the word “although” to capture a naysayer’s point of view, and then end your claim with “because” to provide a reason. Give your claim the structure: “(1) Although I acknowledge X, (2) I claim Y, (3) because of reason Z.”
– A significant claim challenges a readers’s most dearly held views. Reveal new insights. Make people curious. Show divergences in views. Take factual data to throw a curveball in long held beliefs.
– You know that your claim is the most significant it could be if people rise up in arms against it.
– Your claim sucks if you reword it in the negative, and the claim just doesn’t seem very interesting or, worse, is false: “Hotdogs contain nitrates” reworded becomes “Hotdogs do not contain nitrates.” The reverse claim is clearly false, and therefore, the original claim reveals little new information.

Producing Reasons and Evidence
How do you validate your research? How do you ensure that your reasons and evidence pass the scrutiny of that white haired, bearded professor, peering at your writing through a magnifying glass? Surely, he knows what makes a paper monumental, and you are capable of writing monumental work, aren’t you? I believe we all are capable of writing papers that can change the world.

In fact, in one of my undergraduate classes, I put up my hand and called out that everyone has something they know that could change the world for the better. When I called out my view, one naysayer hammered my contention. Joining in with his voice was a female who rarely spoke. She peeped, “What do I know that can change the world?” She was a naysayer, but not really. She was really looking for confirmation, and I gave it to her. I assured her that she knew something extraordinary that could change the world, or else she wouldn’t be speaking up now, especially after a semester of silence. The naysayer bickered even more loudly, and I held firm to my view.

When drafting your reasons and evidence for a paper, Wayne C. Booth, Gregory C. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams say you need your stuff to be sufficient, representative, accurate, precise, and authoritative. While you can feel your shoulders slouch forward in defeat at that past comment, once you understand a little more about what these terms mean, you can get yourself in the game for making relevant, meaningful research. Booth, Colomb, and Williams help you find your voice to make your mark in this world, to better the world:
– In order for your evidence to be accurate, you want to double check your data and ensure you recorded it properly and fairly.
– In order for your evidence to contain precision, you want to define words that lead to subjective interpretations. For example, define what exactly constitutes “a lot of money.” $50? A million? Define what constitutes “some,” “most,” “large,” or “many.”
– In order for your evidence to demonstrate representativeness, you want it to be true in every case. If you claim that all religions warn against consulting psychics, you want to ensure that all in fact clearly do, and no instance of religions condoning psychics prevails. Otherwise, your claim fails to be representative. If you say Prime Minister Stephen Harper hates minorities, your claim would not be representative if one instance of him supporting minorities prevails (for instance, Mr. Harper supports foreign workers migrating into Canada).

So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.

Booth, Wayne C., Colomb, Gregory G., & Williams, Joseph M. The Craft of Research. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

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