Reading: “From Topics to Questions” from The Craft of Research (2008)
February 10, 2013 § 1 Comment
This week we asked you to read an excerpt from The Craft of Research by William Booth, Gregory C. Colomb, and Joseph Williams. Booth, Colomb, and Williams were English Language at Literature at the University of Chicago and the University of Virginia and together developed The Little Red Schoolhouse , a curriculum for introducing undergrads to academic and professional writing.While The Craft of Research is not written specifically for the historical discipline, the book is a useful reference about the research process for undergraduates. The authors stress that they wrote the book with the assumption that “Despite the differences between beginners and experienced researchers…their challenges are pretty much the same.”
This particular chapter gives you several suggestions for ways to discover topics and turn them into research questions. One useful device is the topic-question-rationale statement.
1. topic: I am studying ______.
2. question: because I want to find out who/what/when/where/whether/why/how _______.
3. rationale: in order to help my reader understand how _______.
Here’s one of the examples the authors give us:
1. I am working on Lincoln’s beliefs about predestination in his early speeches
2. because I want to find out how his belief in destiny and God’s will influenced his understanding of the causes of the Civil War
3. in order to help my reader understand how his religious beliefs may have influenced his military decisions
Don’t get too hung up on crafting the perfect TQR statement right now. Instead of viewing the TQR as a guiding compass for your research, think of it as a tool you could use in your weekly research assignments. Writing these statements down each week is one way of watching how your research evolves over the course of the semester.
The authors remind us that the rationale is the hardest part of the statement to answer. By working through the academic literature of your field through reading seminars, practicing new lenses of analysis in your courses, and staying in consultation with a professor (someone who is an expert in their field and is tuned in to the most pressing concerns of scholarly discourse at the moment), you’ll discover questions that remain unaddressed by academic literature or are deserving of more nuanced analysis.
I’ll leave you with some advice from the authors:
“Don’t fall in love with your first answer; always hope that you’ll find a better one.”
If you’re interested in consulting the rest of the book, you can access an electronic copy of it through UC Berkeley’s library.