24 Introduction to Research

Research

When you hear the term research, you most likely think of the work you must do to prepare a research paper, and for academic purposes, you are right. But what does research also mean in academia? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a resource that you can access through the CSU–Pueblo library, the important definition of research for you is
Systematic investigation or inquiry aimed at contributing to knowledge of a theory, topic, etc., by careful consideration, observation, or study of a subject. In later use also: original critical or scientific investigation carried out under the auspices of an academic or other institution. Occasionally with of; now frequently with into, on.
This definition might seem rather complicated but if you get out of it that research helps you to find ways to join in the conversation others are having on a specific topic or issue, you’re definitely headed in the right direction.
By the way, you conduct research every day but usually not in an academic manner. If you want to know when a new movie is playing, what the weather forecast is, or why your favorite team won or lost their last game, you most likely get on your phone and look that information up.

Understanding the Different Purposes of Research

So what are the purposes of research in your college courses? If you stay focused on joining the conversation, then your research helps you
  • to broaden your knowledge about a subject, topic, issue, controversy
  • to find questions that you can provide new answers to on the subject, topic, issue, controversy
  • to find arguments for and against a claim you want to make about a subject, topic, issue, controversy

In other words, you are continually becoming more knowledgeable to make a greater contribution to the conversation you are joining.

Understanding the Different Types of Research

What then are the major types of research that you can engage in? For most of your college course work, you should be familiar with
  • Online sources for both popular and scholarly information
  • Print sources for both popular and scholarly information
  • Field work with your own experiments, interviews, surveys, questionnaires

As a college student at CSU-Pueblo, you will be conducting a good deal of your research online using the many excellent resources that the university’s library offers–and that you have paid for through your tuition fees. The library also has many books, periodicals (magazines and newspapers), government documents, and if the library doesn’t possess a specific print source, the chances are high that it can still get it for you from another library, a service called ILL (interlibrary loan). As for fieldwork, some of your professors might require that you “go into the field“ and conduct your own experiments, interviews, surveys, or questionnaires to gather new results. Whether you are working with online or print sources or conducting your own work, you are still achieving the purposes outlined above so that you can improve your contribution to the academic conversation you have joined in.

Finding Sources

Once you have decided on a topic or issue that you are going to research in more detail, you have many options available to you: Some of the most common are
  • Internet search engines
  • CSUP library catalogue and databases (SuperSearch)
  • Google Scholar
  • Reference works and Wikipedia
  • Government sites
  • News organizations
  • Print media

Most of you likely use Google to search information, but Google is not the only search engine you should use. Check out others like Bing, Yahoo!, Ask, Aol Search, DuckDuckGo, WolframAlpha, WebCrawler, search, dogpile, ixquick, excite, or Info.

However, the best resource you have for finding high-quality sources is the university’s library, so you want to familiarize yourself with the ways it can help you as soon as you start your studies at CSU-Pueblo. When you come to the library’s homepage, you will find an array of options to choose from. The first is to find sources using SuperSearch, which is in the middle of the page. Using this option allows you to search the library’s catalogue, which contains all of the print materials the library owns as well as many of the items in the library’s databases, which contain many different types of sources on many different topics. But don’t limit yourself to only SuperSearch. If you want to search a specific database, you can find a list of all the university’s databases by scrolling down the library’s homepage and then clicking on Databases. Moreover, if you know the title of the publication (i.e., of the journal, magazine, newspaper), you can also search that database by clicking on Journals A-Z and then entering the title of the publication. Finally, you also want to explore the different Research Guides the librarians have prepared for the different subject areas at CSU-Pueblo. For example, after clicking on Research Guides on the library’s homepage again, scroll down to English, click on it and then on Composition classes: ENG 099, 101, 102. Here you find a lot of useful information for the composition class you’re taking right now.
You may be required to find “scholarly” or “peer-reviewed sources” for a research assignment. The following PowerPoint offers a description of these academic sources.  Scholarly Sources
Other options for finding sources include Google Scholar, but if you’ve never used this resource, you might find it rather frustrating until you figure out how best to navigate it. Wikipedia is a resource all of you certainly know about and have used. It is a good place to get ideas but you should be careful about how extensively you want to use it because the information can be out of date or even faulty. A much better option is to use the library. If you go back to the library’s homepage and click on Databases again, the new page has a tab named All Subjects and one named All Database Types. Under All Subjects, scroll down to Reference Sources and click on it to be taken to a new page where you can type in search terms to find sources in the library’s databases, or under All Database Types, scroll down to Encyclopedias, Dictionaries, & Handbooks, click on it, and do the same as you did for All Subjects.
Government sites, those that end in .gov, can also be good places for you to find information. For example, if you are researching the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, you can go to https://www.epa.gov to research the changes the Trump administration is making on environmental policy. But you should also check what the university library has to offer, so go back to Databases and then All Database Types and click on Government to explore the resources there.
There are also many news organizations that provide print and digital sources especially on very current events; these organizations produce both newspapers and magazines and are often cited by scholars. A few newspapers you should be familiar with are The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. A few magazines you should know are The Atlantic, National Review, Newsweek, The New Yorker, and Time. Important news organizations in broadcast media include CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and PBS. Also, check out the library’s database Kanopy for many documentaries and movies.
Finally, there are many areas of print media that are still very important in the digital age. Trade publishers and university presses publish high-quality books that can enrich your knowledge about countless topics and issues and make you much more competent when joining the academic conversation on an issue. This is where you want to know more about interlibrary loan. Go back to the library’s homepage, scroll down to Interlibrary Loan, click on it, and then on WorldCat to search for just any book you can imagine.

Navigating and Evaluating Sources

Now you have found some sources that you think will help you in whatever project you are pursuing, but are the sources the right ones? This is probably the most difficult question to answer. They must be the right ones because you probably spent a lot of time searching for them but you still want to make sure they are. So now you must focus on
  • Finding claims
  • Finding evidence to support claims and warrants to see the connection between the claims and the evidence used to support those claims
  • Determining purpose and audience as well as currency (date of publication)
  • Determining sponsorship
  • Finding fallacies
  • Understanding structure (organization) and length
  • Analyzing language and style

Authors always make claims, and for purposes of academic argument, those claims are always arguable; that means that other authors can take issue with a claim to show that it is wrong or at least partly wrong. This is because academic authors produce their scholarship to advance our knowledge on a topic or issue, knowing that that new angle on the knowledge is always open to challenge, refutation, and rebuttal, but these are the means we have to progress as a society. So where are those claims? Once you have found a source, read first the introduction, then the conclusion, and finally the first sentence of each of the remaining paragraphs. You should see patterns in the author’s argument that help you decide what central position the author is making. Wherever a point is made in different wording you can be pretty sure that is a major claim.

Once you feel you’ve got the claim down, you have to break down the argument to see how the author supports the argument with evidence, which can come in many forms like facts, statistics, personal testimony, references to authorities on the topic or issues. All of this evidence is important because it shows you how seriously you should take the author. Here you also want to find the author’s warrants or the assumptions that the author has to link his claim to his evidence. What values does the author evoke? How does the author let the targeted readers share those values? (For more on warrants, see Toulmin argument).
In addition, you should analyze the author’s purpose and audience. Why is the author writing and publishing the argument at this specific time? In other words, how is the author joining the conversation and why does the author feel that she has something to add to that conversation? And who is the author primarily directing the argument to? To people who already agree or disagree with the author or to people who might just be interested in what the author has to say? To answer these questions, analyze where the argument is published. Who owns or sponsors (funds) the publication? Whose interests is the author serving? Has the author written other pieces for the publication? If so, how have the targeted readers responded to them and how have other readers responded? What other types of arguments does the publication publish? Are the arguments similar or different? Can you detect any trend? If so, what does that trend reveal?
Furthermore, you should analyze the structure and length of the article.  How has the author organized the argument? What comes first, second, third, and so on? Why has the author used this specific organization? What other ways could the author have organized it? How long is the complete piece? How many paragraphs and sentences does it have? How long are the paragraphs and sentences? Are they short, long, or a mixture of the two? What do these facts tell you about the author’s targeted audience and the complexity that they are willing to accept?
After you have completed the tasks above, look at the author’s language and style. Does the author use words that most adults would be able to understand or more complicated words, words that refer to technical terms (jargon)? Is the style more formal or more informal? Is the tone more serious or less serious? Does the author use a lot of figurative language? If so, what kind of figurative language? What does the author’s language and style tell you about the audience she is targeting?
As you finish analyzing the source’s argument, scan it for fallacies that the author seems to have committed. How do those fallacies reveal bias on the author’s part? Remember that everyone commits fallacies but that some are more egregious than others.
Another way that you can evaluate your sources is to apply the CRAAP test. CRAAP stands for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy and Purpose. This is very, very similar to what you read above, but it gives you a quick and easy way to remember the concept because you can ask yourself: is this source craap?
You can also find a worksheet on the CRAAP test from the University of Twente here.

Integrating Sources

  • Understanding disciplines, genres, and conventions
  • Keeping track of sources
  • Understanding the differences among quotations, paraphrases, and summaries
  • Integrating quotations, paraphrases, and summaries

Once you have found a source that you feel is a good fit for your own argument, you must know how the specific discipline you are writing the argument in uses genres and conventions.  Disciplines are the subject areas that you can study in college like English, psychology, history. Genres are the specific types of writing that you produce like essays, blogs, research papers, reports. Conventions are the standards you are expected to follow in a discipline. For example, English majors usually follow MLA style, psychology majors APA style, or history majors Chicago style. These styles require certain formats and ways to document sources.

After you have decided on your source, make sure that you can easily access it. The best way is to save it on your computer and in some other form. Make sure that you have the author and title written down so that you can find the source again if you misplace it.
Obviously, a source won’t help you unless you use it effectively to support the argument you are making. There are three ways to cite a source: to quote it word for word and put the passage in quotation marks “…”, to paraphrase it, and to summarize it[1]. All three ways are legitimate but which type of citation you use depends a lot on the genre conventions you are following. Note, though, that if you don’t give credit to the source when you use it, you will certainly be accused of plagiarizing, an offense that you should never commit willingly and knowingly. As you integrate your source, always ask yourself how effective the information from the source is, how clearly it fits in to the point you are making, and how much of the information you really need from it to satisfy your readers. Citing sources well and properly is one of the hardest things to do in college, so understand that it takes a lot of practice to do it well. One last tip: study the ways other authors integrate sources for their genres and conventions; that practice can really help you.

  1. See the "Integrating Source Material" and "MLA Documentation" Chapter later in this section.

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Writing and Rhetoric by Heather Hopkins Bowers, Anthony Ruggiero, and Jason Saphara is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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