Friday, April 13, 2012

The Craft of Research

"I still don't know what the f**k I'm doing." I was so relieved when recently I heard a superstar researcher, a full professor in computer science, say this about research.  I have so much to learn about how to be a good researcher.  That's why I was really pleased with this book I just finished reading: The Craft of Research.

I learned about this book through Steph.  It was assigned for a class on how to do research that she's taking for her Masters in Computer Science.  I always wished I had such a class, so I figured reading this book might be a good substitute.

There are three main topics that make up the core of this book: figuring out what you want to research, putting together an argument as a solution to your research problem, and finally writing an effective report on your solution.

In the first stage, you have to get from a general topic to a specific question you and your readers want answered.  From that question you find your research problem, something that readers think is worth solving.  Whether theoretical or practical, your problem consists of a situation or condition, and undesirable consequences caused by that condition.

Once you know your problem, you can begin to argue the solution.  Each argument consists of a claim, backed by a reason based on evidence.  You acknowledge and respond to issues you anticipate readers will have with your argument as best you can.  You can also use warrants when needed to illustrate how your reasons connect with your claims.  Each reason or piece of evidence might require a sub-argument of its own.

Finally, once you have the structure of your overall argument, you figure out how to structure the written report.  The advice on how to approach drafting the paper in this section seems really good, and I look forward to using it for my next paper.  There are a lot of specifics on how to revise sentences to be more understandable for readers, including what kinds of subjects your sentences should have and how to use the appropriate level of abstraction.

With lots of concrete examples and really clear writing, I highly recommend this book to everyone.  It is a great way to mechanize the process of research for beginners, yet helps seasoned researchers by bringing exactly what they are doing back into their consciousness.  I imagine that many of the tips within would be useful for any level of experience.  This will be a source I will return to often.


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