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Prewriting: Generating Ideas forResearch Papers
The Purpose of Research • When scholars write down ideas and conclusions about a concept, they join an on-going conversation in which the academics of today respond to and build upon each other’s ideas as well as the work of those who have come before them. • Graduate school requires that students be aware ofthe ongoing debates in their field and related fields of study and become active participants in those debates. • To add our voices to the conversation, we must fully understand the ideas of others who have gone before us. • The best research is not wholly original but develops from previous discoveries.
Where to Start • If we’re expected to enter debates in our field, it makes sense that we first become aware of them. • As you read, note the places in the text that excite you, engage your interest, rouse your passion, or stimulate a desire to add to or challenge the author’s argument. • You are building toward something as a master’s level student, developing a point of view. • As you attempt to develop a topic for research, ask yourself: • What am I curious about? • What am I trying to prove? • What have other researchers said on this topic?
The Research Essay (fr.) Essayervt.1: to try, to attempt 2: to test, to try out • To trywhat? • To attempt what? • To test what? • To try out what? Often, a Prompt sets the question(s) for us, and we mistakenly treat it in these narrow terms rather than allowing it to remind us of the relationship it implies between the writer and her audience. Click here for notes on the writing process, the purpose of research, and getting started.
Reading for Silences and Gaps As you read, seek out areas that current and previous research fails to examine or has not fully explored. • As you read, write down your assessment of the author’s argument. This is useful for developing ideasfor research or finding sources pertinent to your research question. • Look for places where an argument has gaps or silences that require further research, or ideas that you can question or challenge. • Think of each field of study as its own tree with branches springing up in all sorts of directions (which sometimes drop seeds that grow/lead to new and interesting fields of study).
Silences and Gaps: an example from Jerry Moore’s The Prehistory of Home Question: “So why is there home? Why did the human home evolve?” Field: Anthropology Main Argument: “One prominent hypothesis argues that human home originates from two biological imperatives: reproductive success and the extended dependency of human offspring.” - This is an explanation as to why humans make homes based on scientific research of the day. Branch Argument: “When this eminently plausible ‘home-base hypothesis’ was first articulated, it seemed to account for a broad range of anthropological facts…” - Using the main argument (the hypothesis mentioned above), scholars attempt to explain other aspects of human behavior. These ‘other aspects’ could be complex - say, hierarchical structures or division of labor OR more simple – for example, why certain cultures used clay and others stoneware . Counter-argument: “But when more detailed ethnographic research was conducted, a different picture emerged…” - More rigorous or ‘detailed’ research reveals that some of the base assumptions made in the main argument may be flawed.
Silences and Gaps: an example from a series of studies Question: “Where do bears live? What factors have an effect on bear populations?” Field: Biology Main Argument: Traditional studies show that bear populations depend on region, climate and availability of food sources. Yet, upon further study you note that the main line of research deals with how proximity to human habitation affects bear populations. - Academic thought changes over time; and many studies will reflect the priorities of scholars and scientists of the day. Argument congruent with original ideas/methods: Scholars continue to research how natural phenomena effect bear migration habits and population density. - This line of thought agrees with (is congruent with) base assumptions of earlier studies, but may not reflect the priorities of the most prominent studies (or individual scholars) of today. Branch Argument: A study on how climate change affects bear populations: the study is concerned with how humans affect the species, but most interested in how bears relate to measurable climate factors. - In this case, the branch argument follows change in priorities taken by the main argument, but the study will examine human impact within a ‘traditional’ context, for example, weather patterns.
Surveying Texts and Research Sources Scan & Skim the text, targeting and gathering together essential information: • Read the title • Read the abstract • Note each boldface heading and subheading • Note any charts, diagrams, or graphics • Note any reading aids • Read the introduction & conclusion, and summary • Check out the list of references used by the author
Framing Debates “Even as our knowledge of the physical workings of the brain advanced during the last century, one old assumption remained firmly in place: most biologists and neurologists continued to believe, as they had for hundreds of years. that the structure of the adult brain never changed. Our neurons would connect into circuits during childhood, when our brains were malleable, and as we reached maturity the circuitry would become fixed. The brain, in the prevailing view, was something like a concrete structure” “Although the belief in the adult brain’s immutability was deeply and widely held, there were a few heretics. A handful of biologistsand psychologists saw in the rapidly growing body of brain research indications that even the adult brains was malleable or ‘plastic.’” Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains Click here for notes on critical reading, silences & gaps, surveying texts, & framing debates.
Brainstorming: Developing Research Ideas & the Thesis
Cluster/Web x Flow Chart Click here for notes on brainstorming techniques.
Developing Ideas for Research: Example 1. In what ways do built forms accommodate human behavior and adapt to human needs? How does the social group “fit” the form it occupies? • What is the meaning of the form? How do built forms repress and represent aspects of a culture? • How is the built form an extension of the individual? How is the spatial dimension of human behavior related to mental processes and conceptualizations of the self? • How does society produce forms, and how do forms produce society? What roles do history and social institutions play in generating the built environment? What is the relationship between space and power?
Using Sources to Refine Ideas: Example “Architectural space is also a way of thinking and philosophizing, of trying to solve philosophical or cognitive problems” (125) Moore: “these buildings have become such an integral part of our cultural existence that it is hard to think of them as something separate from our Self…We are usually, to use Edward Ralph’s (1976) apt phrase, “existential insides” (1) “constructed reality” (1) “buildings may be designed to defend, separate, or exclude” (4) STUDENT’S IDEA: Humans both shape and are shaped by the built environment. Research support: a point of view captured in Clifford Genitz’ phrase, “man is the only animal suspended in webs of meaning which he himself has spun” (Genitz 1973: 5). (1)
Organizing the Outline When outlining, consider the various ordering schemes you can employ either separately or in combination to achieve your purpose: chronological, climactic, spatial, compare/contrast, logical, etc. Click here for notes on developing and refining ideas and outlining the argument.
Keep a Working Annotated Bibliography • An annotated bibliography lists not only the relevant information of author, date, and publication, it also discusses the author’s argument and offers ideas as to how the text might be useful for your purposes. • Index cards can work for this purpose: write the works cited information on one side of the card, and write the author’s thesis and general usages for the text on the back.
Gloss Your Sources’ Sources • Authors often refer to research that others have done, either in the text, in the footnotes, or in the list of works cited. • This is one of the best places to gather ideas for research sources. If a source is mentioned in 2 or 3 articles that you’ve read, then it might behoove you to go to that source yourself. • Use the sources referenced in your text that you find useful, or use them to learn who are the authorities in your field and to lead you to other source materials.
Think Outside Your Field • What analogous processes, concepts, paradigms, themes (patterns), debates, and/or problems appear in other disciplines that could inform your line of inquiry? • Professionals (academic or otherwise) use clear methodology – do you know what kinds of methods your discipline uses? Are there multiple schools of thought? What school does your professor/advisor adhere to? (Seriously, ask them): • Does your psychology teacher adhere to a specific school of thought • Are there other methods of conflict resolution that CSUDH does not employ? • Does the history department practice new-historicism? • How do your professors differ in method/approach from other scholars or schools of thought? Click here for notes on research tips.
Now that you’ve composed your thoughts, considered your purpose, the modes of achieving that purpose, existing debates concerning your subject, gaps in those debates, the kinds of questions you can raise about your subject, and your audience—beprepared to do it all again, to continuously re-assess as you draft and revise your essay. You’ve only just begun!
Prewriting Exercise: Reading for Silences & Gaps “In this new era, the single most immediate and most serious challenge to America’s traditional identity comes from the immense and continuing immigration from Latin America, especially from Mexico, and the fertility rates of these immigrants compared to black and white American natives. Americans like to boast of their past success in assimilating millions of immigrants into their society, culture, and politics. But Americans have tended to generalize about immigrants without distinguishing among them and have focused on the economic costs and benefits of immigration, ignoring its social and cultural consequences. As a result, they have overlooked the unique characteristics and problems posed by contemporary Hispanic immigration. The extent and nature of this immigration differ fundamentally from those of previous immigration, and the assimilation successes of the past are unlikely to be duplicated with the contemporary flood of immigrants from Latin America. This reality poses a fundamental question: Will the United States remain a country with a single national language and a core Anglo-Protestant culture?” Samuel P. Huntington, “The Hispanic Challenge.” Foreign Policy. 141 (2004): p. 30-45 Member of Harvard’s Dept. of Government, 1950-1959 Associate Professor of Government at Columbia University, 1959-1962 Tenured Professor of Political Science at Harvard, 1963 – 2008 Click here for handout with quotes.
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Works Cited “Baby Reading.” Photograph. “Why Read?” Usborne. Web. 23 July 2013. Carr, Nicholas. The Shallows: How the Internet Is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember. New York: Atlantic Books, 2010. Print. “Essay Writing.” Photograph. “The Reliable Essay Writing Service in the United Kingdom.” Urban Education Semester. Web. 25 July 2013. “The Huntington Library, Art Collection.” Photograph. L.A. Avenue.com. Web. 25 July 2013. Huntington, Samuel. “The Hispanic Challenge.” Foreign Policy. 141 (2004): 30-45. Web. 25 July 2013. Moore, Jerry. The Prehistory of Home. Berkeley: University of California P, 2012. Print. Moore, Jerry. Architecture and Power in the Ancient Andes: The Archaeology of Public Buildings. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996. Print. “Search the Stacks.” Photograph. “Teens Go on a Scavenger Hunt at Firestone Library.” Princeton University. Web. 25 July 2013. Thinkstock. “Left Out of the Party.” Photograph. “Empower Yourself.” Oprah.com. Web. 24 July 2013.