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Research Process

Academic or Scholarly Research

Definition of knowledge: "Familiarity, awareness, or understanding gained through experience or study. The sum or range of what has been perceived, discovered, or learned." (From The Free Dictionary)

Knowledge is what has been learned through study, observation, or experience. Research is a path towards knowledge.

We all do research all of the time in our personal lives or at work. We do research when searching for jobs to apply to, when choosing a movie to see, when looking at universities to transfer to, when the doctor tells us we have some sort of illness, when our boss asks us to look into something at work, during election season when it's time to vote, etc. During these instances, most of the time we simply start our research by going to Google. In college, you will be expected to do research in a more academic or scholarly manner.

So what is academic or scholarly research?

When scholars and researchers do research on a topic, they typically formulate a hypothesis or thesis, do research on the topic, do studies and experiments to test their hypothesis, study the results to see if their research supports their hypothesis, and then see if anything went wrong and where things can go from there. They then usually publish their research study as an article in a scholarly journal.

You might have a hunger to learn about music, psychology, literature, or skateboarding.  If it is skateboarding, you might study engineering or physics and decide you want to build a skateboard that is lighter and safer. You would research to see what others have done, come up with an idea or hypothesis on what materials or design you think would work, conduct an experiment to create a skateboard, and then test the skateboard to see if your hypothesis actually helped you design a lighter, safer skateboard. You would then write articles on how you invented a skateboard and your research into skateboarding would add to the body of knowledge and inspire future generations of skateboarders to expand on your discoveries. At the end, you would have created new knowledge.

Research is important because those who engage in it work to progressively move ideas and knowledge forward. These ideas help in the advancement of our society, whether you are coming up with a safer skateboard, a cure for cancer, or a new field of study.  For example, the Journal of Cross Cultural Psychology was first published in 1970 and helped inspire the emergence of a whole new movement - the study of culture and ethnicity within the field of psychology. Now people’s experiences as a culture or ethnicity are taken into account when they are being analyzed from a psychological perspective.

At the end of a scholarly research article is a works cited list. It lists all of the past research that is referenced in the article. This research is what the author uses to see what was already written on the topic. It helps shape the way they view their topic. Also, reading past research is important so that they do not redo research that has already been done and so that they know what new directions they can take with the topic. Research is never ending. Where one researcher ends, another will pick it up and the research will move forward or branch off. Someone will research an idea, then someone will come afterwards and add to that, and it goes on and on. Also, what was true and valid at one point in time may not be valid in the future, so it is important that ideas and knowledge are revisited.

You can think of this whole research process as a conversation. Researchers put their studies and research out there with their new ideas and knowledge, other researchers read it and respond and add to it, and then other researchers respond and add to those responses, and so on. Your instructor uses research from their field of study to communicate concepts and ideas to you. And when your instructor asks you to do scholarly or academic research, they want you to engage with and add to this conversation. They want you to find appropriate academic sources to support your own thesis and use them to support your own unique point of view. The sources you find will shape your writing and your point of view of your topic, just as the sources researchers find shape their view.

Academic research in college is:

  • You take a stance on a topic. Come up with your own unique point of view. Formulate a thesis that presents your point of view.
  • You do research to see what others have said about your topic. You decide how to use these sources: to give an alternate point of view you can argue against, to give an example, to give statistics, to give background information and definitions, to lend some authority to your point of view. Your paper is not about these sources; you just use them as conversation pieces. Your paper is about your own point of view and you use the sources you find to support that.
  • When searching for sources, it is important to evaluate the sources you find to make sure they are credible and authoritative. Who is the author/publisher? Do they say where they got their information? Is there a works cited list? What is their agenda? To inform you about a topic, to persuade you to their point of view, to sell you something, to entertain you? Evaluating your sources will help you choose more academic sources. Pick sources that are credible and research based.
  • Once you have your sources and start writing your paper, you weave them into your paper by paraphrasing and quoting them. You also cite them appropriately within the text of your paper and at the end in a works cited page. Your instructor should tell you what citation format to use. The humanities usually use MLA citation style and the sciences usually use APA citation style. 

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Read Argumentative Essays for more information on what type of writing is expected in college courses.