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.”

Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams. The Craft of Research. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams. The Craft of Research. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

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.


§ One Response to Reading: “From Topics to Questions” from The Craft of Research (2008)

  • edbanger52 says:

    Reading Response 2: The Craft of Research
    I am writing on my topic because as The Craft of Research pointed out, I wanted to keep the conversation on the censorship of music in the US alive. I started with simple questions when I started my research project. Music Censorship is very real, so much so that entire countries ban an album from being released, as I have seen in the past (ex. Germany banning Cannibal Corpse’s “Tomb of the Mutilated” in 1992). Millions of Americans are shop and spend a lot of time at Walmart, but probably overlooked the fact that Walmart does not sell cd’s with “Parental Advisory” stickers on them (did you know that?). There is an underlying historical case to all of this that I want to discuss and help shed light on.
    Even though we are far into the course, and considering that this was the first class reading. I never got to do it and I am glad I did since I learned a few valuable things from it. I found figure 3.2 to be important on how to make generalizations into claims. A lot of the information in this particular reading helped assure me that I am going in the right direction with my work. I found his strong emphasis on asking questions as you go through your research to be valuable. I know what I am writing about, I know the information I am looking for, but I do need to start formulating questions that can keep the conversation going about music censorship. What are the relations between the Christian right and the PMRC? What were the alliances to the PMRC, were there similar lobbying groups? What is the relationship between the PMRC and the US Congress? Are these questions even worth asking?
    The Craft of Research rightfully asserts that the researcher should ask the question they think their audience has been thinking of. I hope to make a contribution to the Metal community by answering a question that many have asked since the 80’s about the relationships (if any) between the PMRC, the Christian right, the Congress, Heavy Metal and the Parental Advisory guidelines.


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