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How to improve Research process

how to improve the research process and how to research for a literature review and how to research for a report and how to write a research process paper
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Published Date:01-07-2017
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chapter one Thinking in Print the uses of research, public and private In this chapter, we define research, then discuss how you will benefit from learning to do it well, why we value it, and why we hope you will learn to value it too. Whenever you read about a scientific breakthrough or a crisis in worldaffairs,youbenefitfromtheresearchofthosewhoreported it, who themselves benefited from the research of countless oth- ers. When you stand in the reading room of a library to pursue your own work, you are surrounded by centuries of research. When you log on to the Internet, you have access to millions of research reports. All those reports are the product of researchers whohaveposedendlessquestionsandproblems,gathereduntold amounts of information, worked out answers and solutions, and then shared them with the rest of us. Teachers at all levels devote their lives to research. Govern- ments spend billions on it, and businesses even more. Research goesoninlaboratoriesandlibraries,injunglesandoceandepths, in caves and in outer space. It stands behind every new technol- ogy, product, or scientific discovery—and most of the old ones. Research is in fact the world’s biggest industry. Those who can- not reliably do research or evaluate the research of others will find themselves on the sidelines in a world that increasingly de- pends on sound ideas based on good information produced by trustworthy inquiry. In fact, research reported by others, in writing, is the source of most of what we all believe. Of your three authors, only Wil- liams has ever set foot in Australia, but Booth and Colomb are 910 research, researchers, and readers certain that it exists, because for a lifetime they have read about it in reports they trust and seen it on reliable maps (and heard about it from Williams). None of us has been to Venus, but we believethat itishot, dry,andmountainous.Why? Becausethat’s what we’ve read in reports we trust. Whenever we “look some- thing up,” our research depends on the research of others. But we can trust their research only if we can trust that they did it carefully and reported it accurately. 1.1 WHAT IS RESEARCH? In the broadest terms, everyone does research: we all gather in- formation to answer a question that solves a problem. You do it every day. PROBLEM: You need a new head gasket for a ’65 Mustang. RESEARCH: You call auto parts stores or get on the Internet to see who has one in stock. PROBLEM: You want to know where Michael Jordan was born. RESEARCH: You go to the library and look in a biographical dic- tionary. Or you call up and then sort through the 410,000 references to him. PROBLEM: You want to learn more about a discovery of a new species of tropical fish. RESEARCH: You search the Internet for articles in newspapers or magazines. Though we all do that kind of research, we don’t all write it up. But we do rely on those who did: the auto parts suppliers, Jordan’s biographers, and the fish discoverers—all wrote up the results of their research because they anticipated that one day someone would have a question that their data would answer. Infact,withouttrustworthyandtestedpublishedresearchavail- able to all of us, we would be locked in the opinions of the mo- ment, either prisoners of what we alone experience or dupes to everything we hear. Of course, we all want to believe that our opinions are sound; yet mistaken ideas, even dangerous ones,Thinking in Print 11 flourish because too many people accept too many opinions on notvery goodevidence. Andthosewho acton unsoundopinions can lead themselves, and others, to disaster. Just ask the thou- sandswhoinvestedinthefailedenergygiantEnronbecausethey heard so many good opinions of it from analysts and the media. Only after Enron’s deceptive bookkeeping was exposed and ana- lyzedinwritingdidtheyseehowthosehighopinionswerebased on bad, sometimes even faked research. That’s why in this book we will urge you to be amiably skepti- cal of most of the research you read, to question it, even as you realize how thoroughly you depend on it. Are we three authors 100 percent drop-dead certain that reports of Venus being hot, dry, and mountainous are true? No, but we trust the researchers whohavepublishedreportsaboutit,aswellastheeditors,review- ers,andskepticalreaderswhohavetestedthosereportsandpub- lished their own results. So we’ll go on thinking that Venus is hot and dry until other researchers report better evidence, tested by other researchers, that shows us otherwise. If you are reading this book because a teacher has assigned you a research project, you might be tempted to treat it as just a choreor anempty exercise.We hopeyou won’t.Youhave practi- cal reasons to take the work seriously: you will learn skills that pay off in almost any career you choose. Beyond that, your proj- ect invites you to join the oldest and most esteemed of human conversations,onethathasbeenconductedformillenniaamong philosophers, engineers, biologists, social scientists, historians, literary critics, linguists, theologians—the list of researchers is endless. Right now, you may feel that the conversation seems one- sided, that you have to listen more than you can speak, and that in any event you have little to contribute. That may be true for themoment.Butatsomepointyouwillbeaskedtojoinaconver- sation that, at its best, can help you and your community free yourselvesfromignorance,prejudice,misunderstanding,andthe half-baked ideas that so many charlatans try to impose on us. The world changes every day because of research, not always for12 research, researchers, and readers the better. But done well, research is crucial to improving every facet of our lives. It is no exaggeration to say that your research and your reports of it can improve perhaps not the whole world, but at least your corner of it. 1.2 WHY WRITE IT UP? For some of you, though, the invitation to join the conversation of research may still seem easy to decline. If you undertake it, youwillfacedemandingtasksinfindingagoodquestion,search- ing for sound data, finding and supporting a good answer, and then writing it all up. Even if you turn out a first-rate report, it willlikelybereadnotbyaneagerworld,butonlybyyourteacher. And, besides, you may think, my teacher knows all about my topic. If she just told me the answers or pointed me to the right books, I could concentrate on learning what’s in them. What do I gain from writing up my research, other than proving I can do it? Here are some answers. 1.2.1 Write to Remember Researchers write up what they find just to remember it. A few lucky people can retain information without recording it, but most of us get lost when we think about what Smith found in light of Wong’s position, and compare both to the odd data in Brunelli,especiallyastheyaresupportedbyBoskowitz—Butwait aminute.I’veforgottenwhatSmithsaidMostresearcherscanplan andconducttheirprojectonlywiththehelpofwriting—bylisting sources, assembling research summaries, keeping lab notes, making outlines, and so on. What you don’t write down you are likely to forget or, worse, to misremember. That’s why careful researchersdon’twaituntilthey’vegatheredalltheirdatatostart writing: they write from the beginning of their project so that they can hold as much of it in their minds as clearly as they can. 1.2.2 Write to Understand A second reason for writing is to understand. When you arrange and rearrange the results of your research in new ways, you dis-Thinking in Print 13 cover new connections, contrasts, complications, and implica- tions. Even if you could hold in mind everything you found, you wouldneedhelptolineupargumentsthatpullindifferentdirec- tions, plot out complicated relationships, sort out disagreements among experts. I want to use these claims from Wong, but her argu- ment is undercut by Smith’s data. When I compare them, I see that Smith ignores this last part of Wong’s argument. Aha If I introduce it with this part from Brunelli, I can focus on the part of Wong’s argument that lets me question Smith. Writing supports thinking, not just by helping you understand better what you have found, but by helping you find in it larger patterns of meaning. 1.2.3 Write to Gain Perspective The basic reason for writing, though, is to get your thoughts out of your head and onto paper, where you can see them in the clearer light of print, a light that is always brighter and usually less flattering. Just about all of us, students and professionals alike, think our ideas are more coherent in the dark warmth of our minds than they turn out to be in the cold light of day. You improve your thinking when you encourage it with notes, out- lines, summaries, commentary, and other forms of thinking on paper. But you can’t know what you really can think until you separatespecificideasfromtheswiftandmuddyflowofthought and fix them in an organized, coherent form. In short, you should write so that you can remember more ac- curately, understand better, and see what you think more clearly. (Andasyouwilldiscover,thebetteryouwrite,themorecritically you will read.) 1.3 WHY A FORMAL REPORT? Even if you agree that writing is an important part of learning, thinking, and understanding, some of you may still wonder why you can’t write it your own way, why you must satisfy the formal constraints imposed by a research community, particularly one that you may not yet belong to (or even want to). The constraints imposedbywritingforothersoftenvexstudentswhobelievethey14 research, researchers, and readers havenoreasontoconformtothepracticesofaconversationthey did nothing to create. I don’t see why I should adopt language and formsthatarenotmine.What’swrongwithmyownlanguage?Aren’t you just trying to turn me into an academic like yourself? If I write as my teachers expect me to, I risk losing my own identity. Such concerns are legitimate (students should raise them more often). But it would be a feeble education that did not changeyouatall,andthedeeperyoureducation,themoreitwill change the “you” that you think you are, or want to be. That’s why it is so important to choose carefully what you study and with whom. But it would be a mistake to think that learning to write sound research reports must threaten your true identity. Learning to do research will not turn you into a clone of your teachers.Itwillchangethewayyouthink,butonlybygivingyou more ways of thinking. You may be different, but you will also be freer to choose who you want to be and what you want to do next. Perhaps the most important reason for learning to report re- search in ways readers expect is that you learn more about your ideas and about yourself by testing them against the standards andvaluesofothers.Writingforothersdemandsmorefromyou than writing for yourself. By the time you fix your ideas in writ- ing, they are so familiar to you that you need help to see them not for what you want them to be but for what they really are. You reach that end only by imagining, and then meeting, the needsandexpectationsofothers:youcreateakindoftransaction between you and your readers—what we like to call a rhetorical community. That’s why traditional forms and plans are more than empty vessels into which you pour your findings. Those forms have evolved to help writers see their ideas in the brighter light of their readers’ expectations and understanding. You will under- stand your own work better when you explicitly try to antici- pate your readers’ questions: How have you evaluated your evi- dence? Why do you think it is relevant? How do your claims add up? What ideas have you considered but rejected? How can youThinking in Print 15 respond to your readers’ predictable questions, reservations, and ob- jections? All researchers can recall a moment when writing to meet their readers’ expectations revealed a flaw or a blunder, or even a great opportunity that escaped them in a first draft writ- ten for themselves. Traditional forms embody the shared practices and values of aresearchcommunity,mattersthatcontributetotheidentitynot only of that community but of each of its members. Whatever community you join, you’ll be expected to show that you under- stand its practices by reporting your research in ways that have evolved to communicate it. Once you know the standard forms, you’ll have a better idea about your particular community’s pre- dictable questions and understand better what its members care about, and why. But what counts as good work is the same in all of them, regardless of whether it is in the academic world or the worldofgovernment,commerce,ortechnology.Ifyoulearntodo researchwellnow,yougainanimmenseadvantage,regardlessof the kind of research you will do later. 1.4 CONCLUSION Writing a research report is, finally, thinking in print, but think- ing from the point of view of your readers. When you write with others in mind, you give your ideas the critical attention they need and deserve. You disentangle them from your memories andwishes,sothatyou—andothers—canexplore,expand,com- bine,andunderstandthemmorefully.Thinkinginwrittenform for others can be more careful, more sustained, more attuned to those with different views—more thoughtful—than just about any other kind of thinking. You can, of course, choose the less demanding path: do just enough to satisfy your teacher. This book can help you do that. But you will shortchange yourself if you do. If instead you find atopicthatyoucareabout,askaquestionthatyouwanttoanswer, yourprojectcanhavethefascinationofamysterywhosesolution rewards your efforts in finding it. Nothing contributes more to a successful research project than your commitment to it.16 research, researchers, and readers We wish we could tell you how to balance your belief in the worthofyourprojectwiththeneedtoaccommodatethedemands of teachers and colleagues, but we cannot. If you believe in what you’redoingandcannotfindanyoneelsewhosharesyourbelief, all you can do is put your head down and press on. With our admiration. Some of the world’s most important research has been done by those who persevered in the face of indifference or even hostility, because they never lost faith in their vision. The geneticist Barbara McClintock struggled for years unappreciated because her re- search community considered her work uninteresting. But she be- lieved in it and pressed on. When her colleagues finally realized that she had already answered questions that they were just start- ing to ask, she won science’s highest honor, the Nobel Prize.chapter two Connecting with Your Reader (re)creating your self and your audience Your research counts for little if no one reads it. Yet even experienced researchers sometimes forget to keep their readers in mind as they plan and draft. In this chapter we show you how to think about readers as you begin your research. We also explain one of the best ways to antici- pate how readers will respond—working in collaboration with others. Most of the important things we do, we do with others. Some students think that research is different: they imagine a solitary scholarreadingaloneinahushedlibraryorpeeringintoamicro- scopesurroundedonlybyglasswareandcomputers.Butnoplace is more filled with voices than a library or lab. Even when you work alone, you silently converse with others when you read a bookorcallupawebsite.Everytimeyougotoasourceforinfor- mation, you renew a relationship between writers and readers that may be centuries old. And when you report your own re- search, you can hope that other voices will respond to yours, so that you can in turn respond to them. And so it goes. But conversation is a social activity. Both sides have to under- stand what each expects of the other, what “social role” each is expectedtoplay.Andthat’sespeciallytruewhentheconversation is in writing and among professional colleagues. 2.1 CREATING ROLES FOR WRITERS AND READERS When we talk with others in person, we judge them by how well they play the roles expected of them: do they listen carefully, make claims thoughtfully, answer questions directly? It’s the same when you read: Hmmm, Abrams is modest but not careful aboutthisevidence.Quincyhasgooddatabutovergeneralizes.(Right 1718 research, researchers, and readers now,wethreeexpectthatyouarejudging us.)Butjustasincon- versation, these judgments go both ways: readers judge a writer, but a thoughtful writer has in advance also judged her readers, by imagining who they are, what they are like, what they know, what they need and want. And then she uses that judgment to shape what she writes. Forexample,thewriterofthesenexttwopassagesjudgedthat she was addressing readers with different levels of knowledge about the chemistry of heart muscles. So she imagined herself in very different relationships with them: 1a. The control of cardiac irregularity by calcium blockers can best be explained through an understanding of the calcium acti- vation of muscle groups. The regulatory proteins actin, myosin, tropomyosin, and troponin make up the sarcomere, the basic unit of muscle contraction. 1b. Cardiac irregularity occurs when the heart muscle contracts uncontrollably. When a muscle contracts, it uses calcium, so we can control cardiac irregularity with drugs called calcium block- ers. To understand how they work, it is first necessary to under- stand how calcium influences muscle contraction. The basic unit of muscle contraction is the sarcomere. It consists of four pro- teins that regulate contraction: they are actin, myosin, tropomyo- sin, and troponin. In (1a) the writer seems to cast herself and her readers in the rolesofequallyknowledgeableexpertcolleagues;in(1b)shecasts herreaderassomeonewhoknowsnothingaboutthesubjectand herself as the patient expert, slowly explaining a complicated is- sue. If she judged correctly, her readers will judge her favorably. But when a writer miscasts readers, she can lose their trust and often their willingness to read. Had she switched audiences for those passages, the nonexpert would likely think (1a) indifferent to his needs and her expert colleagues would judge (1b) to be condescendingly simpleminded.Connecting with Your Reader 19 In fact, writers cannot avoid creating a role for their readers. That’s why, in writing this book, we tried to imagine you—what you’relike,whatyouknowaboutresearch,whetheryouevencare about it. We cast you in a role, created a persona for you that we hopedyouwouldcomfortablyadopt.Thenweimaginedourselves in our own persona, talking to the “you” that we imagined you would be willing to be. That was not easy, because there are so many “you’s” out there, all different.We hoped to speak as com- fortablytothoseofyoustartingyourfirstseriousresearchproject as to those well into your careers. Only you can judge how well we’ve managed to talk to and with all of you. Thesepersonasandtherelationshipyoucreatewithyourown readers are so important that they are worth thinking about well beforeyouenvisionafirstdraft.Ifyoumiscastreaders,yourmis- take will leave in your early drafts so many traces that you won’t easily fix them in the final one. 2.2 CREATING A RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR READER: YOUR ROLE Few people read research reports just for fun. So you have to know what you can offer readers to create a relationship that makesthem wanttoread yourreport.Beginning researcherstoo often offer a relationship that caricatures a bad classroom ex- change: Teacher, I know so much less than you, who will give me a grade. So my role is to show you how much information I dug up, and yours is to decide whether I’ve found enough. That’s a big mis- take. Not only does it demean both you and your teacher, but it makes your project just one long, pointless drill. Worst of all, it casts you in a role exactly opposite to that of a true researcher. In a research report, you have to reverse the roles of teacher andstudent. Asaresearcher, youhaveto adopttheroleofsome- onewhoknowswhatothersneedtoknowandtocastyourreader as someone who doesn’t know but needs to. That will be easier if you find a research question that you want to answer and your teacher can’t, without your help. (In fact, your teacher is likely to know less than you about your specific question.) But even if20 research, researchers, and readers not, you have to step into the kind of relationship researchers have with their readers, one that goes beyond Here are the facts I’ve dug up about medieval Tibetan weaving. Did I get them right? So your first step in establishing a sound research relationship with readers is to offer them more than a collection of known facts. There are three such offers that experienced researchers typically make; the third is most common in academic research. As you begin, imagine that you will offer and your readers will accept one of the three following relationships, but most likely the third. 2.2.1 I’ve Found Something Really Interesting You take a step beyond mere data-grubbing when you can say to yourreaders,LetmesharesomeinformationaboutmedievalTibetan weaving that I think is really interesting. If you have learned some- thing that interests you and you can demonstrate that interest in your report, that’s the best start you can make in learning to do sound research. In an introductory writing course, the interest you seem to take in your work will roughly predict the interest your teacher will take in it. Ideally, of course, you want her to be as interested in Tibetan weaving as you are, and if you are in a class in Asian art, she may be. But even if not, you still have to cast yourself in the role of someone who has found something interesting, maybe even new and important, at least to yourself, and to cast your reader in the role of someone equally interested. As you become more experienced,you’ll alsoberesponsiblefor actuallyfinding anau- dience who shares those interests. But at the start, you must at least find a role for yourself that shows your own interest, even enthusiasm for what you’ve found. 2.2.2 I’ve Found a Solution to a Practical Problem Important to You You take a bigger step toward focused research when you can imagine saying to readers not just I have information that might interest you, but My information will help you solve a problem you care about. That is the kind of research that people in business,Connecting with Your Reader 21 commerce, and government do every day. They confront prob- lems whose solutions require research, first just to understand them, and then to figure out how to solve them, problems rang- ing from homelessness to falling profits to terrorism. To help you learn that role, teachers sometimes invent “real world” scenarios: an environmental science professor might as- signyoutowriteareportforthedirectorofthestateEnvironmen- tal Protection Agency on what to do about cleaning up toxins in a local lake. In this scenario you are not a student dumping data on a teacher, but someone who must play the role of a scientist giving practical, pragmatic advice to someone who needs it. To make your report credible, you have to play the role of a dispas- sionate expert, able to use the right terminology, cite the right sources, find and present hard evidence, and so on. But most of all,youhavetodesignyourreportaroundaspecificintentionthat shapes your role: to advise a reader about what he must do to solve his problem. That kind of research report is common in the world at large, but is much less common in the academic world than the following one. 2.2.3 I’ve Found an Answer to a Question Important to You Althoughacademicresearcherssometimesofferadvicetopeople likeEPAdirectors,theirmostcommonroleisthatofthescholar, someone who answers questions so that a research community can simply understand its area of special interest better. Others might later use those answers to solve a practical problem—an arcane discovery about the distribution of prime numbers, for example, helped cryptologists design an unbreakable code. But theresearchitselfaimedprimarilyatsolvingnotapracticalprob- lem, but a conceptual one, one defined by incomplete knowledge or flawed understanding. Some researchers call this “pure” as opposed to “applied” research. Teachers occasionally invent “real world” scenarios based on conceptualproblems:apoliticalscienceprofessorasksyoutoplay theroleofasenator’sinternresearchingtheeffectofTVonchil- dren’s intellectual growth. But more typically they expect you to22 research, researchers, and readers imagine yourself as what you are learning to be—a researcher who can address an academic research community interested in a question that its members want to understand better. Your re- port on medieval Tibetan weaving, for example, might help ex- plainsomelargerquestionnotentirelyunderstood,perhapshow medieval Tibetan art influenced modern Chinese art. 2.3 CREATING THE OTHER HALF OF THE RELATIONSHIP: THE READER’S ROLE When you adopt one of those three roles, you create one half of the relationship between you and your readers. You create the other half when you write in a way that casts your readers in a complementary role, one giving them a specific reason to read your report. To do that, you have to imagine them as the kind of readers who expect you to do what you in fact intend to do. In creating those roles, you offer your readers a social contract: I’ll do my part if you do yours. If you cast them in a role that they accept, but then you create one for yourself that doesn’t match, youseemnottobeupholdingyourendofthebargain.Butifyou offer them a role they are unwilling to adopt, you are likely to lose them entirely. For example, suppose you are a researcher who is an expert on blimps and zeppelins. You have been invited to share your researchwiththreedifferentgroupsthathavethreedifferentrea- sons for wanting to know what you know. 2.3.1 Entertain Me with Something Interesting I Didn’t Know Imagine that the first group that has invited you to speak is the local Zeppelin Club. Its members are fascinated with zeppelins, andthoughtheyknowalotaboutthem,theyarenotexperts,just ordinary folk who have made zeppelins their hobby. You decide tosharesomenewfactsyou’vedugupandtotellanentertaining taleortwo.YoureadaletterfromGreat-UncleOttotoyourfather describing a trip on a zeppelin in 1936, and you pass around some photographs and menus he saved. In planning that report, you judge that not much is at stakeConnecting with Your Reader 23 in it other than a diverting hour of zeppelin lore. If so, you fulfill your side of the bargain when you tell them something about zeppelins that is new and interesting to them, even unsubstanti- ated folklore—and you don’t bring along overheads, data tables, or footnotes to substantiate your sources. Your audience fulfills its role by listening with interest, maybe by sharing their own anecdotes. You don’t expect them to challenge the authenticity of the letter or the menu or ask skeptical questions about how the photos andmenus should change their widerunderstanding of the social history of zeppelins. Somebeginningresearchersimaginetheirreadersarelikethe Zeppelin Club—eager to hear any information new to them. While that sometimes works for experts who find the right audi- ence (see the box below), it rarely works for students learning to do and report research. Your teachers assign you research proj- ects to see not just what you can find, but what you can make of it. 2.3.2 Help Me Solve a Practical Problem Now imagine that you have been invited to meet with the public relations department of They suffer from low name recognition and want to use a blimp to get their logo before the public, flying it at sporting events, outdoor concerts, and other large gatherings. But they don’t know whether that’s a practical solution. So they have hired you asa consultant to tellthem how much it will cost, how many days the weather is good enough to fly, and so on. For this group, you won’t mention what Great- UncleOtto hadfordinner onhiszeppelin flightin1936. Tosuc- ceed in this relationship, you mustoffer them a solution to their problem and only those facts that back it up. That is the kind of situation you are likely to face if you have ajoborinternship,orifyourteachercreatesoneofthosescenar- ios for a “real world” writing assignment—you are an environ- mental scientist advising the state EPA about the polluted lake. Academicresearchersdosometimeswriteonpracticalproblems, butconceptualonesarefarmorecommon,eveninapplieddisci-24 research, researchers, and readers plines like engineering. So pose a practical problem only if your teacher has created a specific scenario for one or you have checked with her first. (We’ll discuss practical problems in more detail in the next chapter.) 2.3.3 Help Me Understand Something Better NowimaginethatyouraudienceisthefacultyofZeppoUniversi- ty’sDepartmentofLighter-than-AirStudies(withthesamestand- ing as, say, your departments of English or physics). They study thehistoryofblimpsandzeppelins,doresearchontheireconom- ics and aerodynamics, and participate in a worldwide conversa- tion about their cultural history and social significance. They competewithoneanotherinproducingnewknowledgeandnew lighter-than-airtheoriesthattheypublishinlighter-than-airjour- nals and books read by everyone in their field. These scholars have invited you to talk about your specialty: transatlantic zeppelin flights in the late 1930s. They don’t want you just to amuse them (though they will be happy if you do) or to help them do something (though they would be pleased to learn how to get consulting work with What they most want is for you to tell them something they don’t know about zeppelins, not just for its own sake, but so that they can better understand something new about them. Because these lighter-than-air scholars are interested in the Truthaboutzeppelins,youknowtheywillexpectyoutobeobjec- tive, rigorously logical, faithful to the evidence, able to see every questionfromallsides.Youalsoknowthatifyoudon’tnaildown thefacts,theywillhammeryouduringthequestionperiodafter- ward and during cocktails after that, not just to be contentious or even nasty (though some will be), but to get as close as they can to the Truth about zeppelins. If you offer something new, likeGreat-UncleOtto’smenus,theywillwanttoknowwhereand howyougotthem,andhowthoseitemscontributetotheirunder- standing of the topic. And to be sure they’re the real thing, they willquestionyoucloselyabouthowyouknowtheyareauthentic. Moreimportant,theywilltakeaninterestinthosemenusonlyConnecting with Your Reader 25 ifyoucanshowthemhowtheyhelpansweraquestionimportant to their understanding of zeppelins, especially if you can con- vince them that they do not understand something about zeppe- lins as well as they thought. If you don’t, they will ask you the mostvexingquestionofall,Sowhat?WhyshouldIcareaboutyour menus? So you begin your talk: As we all have been led to believe by a number of studies on the food service on transatlantic zeppelin flights in the 1930s (espe- cially Schmidt 1986 and Kloepfer 1998), shellfish and other highly perishable items were never served because of fears re- garding health. However, I have recently discovered a menu from the July 12, 1936, crossing of the Hindenburg indicating that oysters were served at dinner. . . . That is the kind of conversation you join when you report re- search to a community of scholars, whether lighter-than-air or not. When you enter into this relationship with them, you must imagine them having this conversation with you in their minds: Never mind whether your style is graceful (though I will admire your work more if it is); don’t bother me with amusing anecdotes about your great-uncle Otto (though I like hearing them if they help me understand your ideas better); ignore whether what you know will make me rich (though I would be happy if it did). Just tell me some- thing that I don’t know so that I can better understand the topic of our common interest. Sinceyourparticularreaderswillbestronglyinclinedtoadopt this third role, they will think you have fulfilled your side of the bargain only when you meet their expectations and answer their questions, only when you treat them as who they think they are. To be sure, the faculty over in chemistry or philosophy probably won’t care much about your views on zeppelins, much less their meal service. Who cares about the trivia they study over in the Lighter-than-AirDepartment?Butthenyoudon’thavemuchinter- est in theirissues, either. You are concernedwith your particular communityofreaders,withtheirparticularinterestsandexpecta-26 research, researchers, and readers tions. The trick is to get your research community to recognize and accept not only the role you’ve adopted for yourself, but the roleyouhavecastforthem—whichmeansyoufirsthavetolearn what kinds of roles they are willing to play. Several of the follow- ing chapters show you how to do that. Who Cares about That? Academic researchers are regularly chided for their esoteric inter- ests. That charge is usually unfair, but some researchers do seem to have a blinkered fascination with narrow objects of study. Wil- liams once attended the dissertation defense of a Ph.D. candidate who had discovered reels and reels of silent film shot by European anthropologistsin AfricaandAsiain theearlypart ofthetwentieth century. No one had known that those films existed. These new data fascinated most of the examiners, film scholars who never questioned their worth. But when Williams asked, “But how does this discovery improve or even correct our understanding of mov- ies then or now?” the candidate had no answer. She merely de- scribed again the specific content of the films, concluding, “And noonehaseverseenthisfootagebefore.”Williamsaskedhisques- tionindifferentwaysbutnevergotabetteranswer.Thefilmschol- ars, on the other hand, were untroubled, because they, no doubt, were already thinking about how the footage might change their thinking about early film. Besides, they all love the movies. So sometimesnewdataaloneareenoughtointeresttherightreaders. But if that candidate hopes to write a research report that gets anyone but a small group of specialists to care about her work, she will have to make an offer better than Here’s some new stuff. 2.4 WRITING IN GROUPS One of the best ways to see how the reader-writer relationship works in person is to share your writing in an organized group. Agroupisbetteratanticipatingwhatyourintendedreaderswill expectandatpredictingtheirresponses.Agroupcanalsobemore critical of its collective work than any individual can. Moreover, a groupcanbringmoreresourcestobearonaprojectthansomeone working alone. So if your teacher does not set up writing groups, ask her to consider doing so. Or form a group on your own. AtConnecting with Your Reader 27 the least, recruit some friends to respond to your drafts as surro- gate readers. (If you are trapped into working entirely alone, skip to 2.5, p. 30.) 2.4.1 Three Keys for Working Together Successfully TALK A LOT. Create conditions that get you talking a lot. Set regular meeting times, share e-mail addresses and fax numbers: do what you can to ensure that you talk regularly. At your first meeting, work on telling your “elevator story”—how you would describe your project to a stranger in an elevator as it goes from the first to the twentieth floor. It should describe your question or problem, the kind of claim you expect to offer, and the kind of evidence that supports it. Practice your elevator story at every meeting (even with outside friends), until you can explain your projectinawaythateveryonethinksisclearandinteresting.(You will find the next two chapters particularly useful for this.) You should also talk about your intended readers. What do they know already, what is important to them, what do you want them to do with your report? Use our checklists to share ideas aboutreaders(pp.32–33),toaskquestionssystematically(pp.45– 49),andtoreformulatethemasaproblem(pp.49–52).Themore your group talks together, the better you will write together. You will need to talk less if (like the three of us) you have already worked together and can anticipate how the others think. Yet in writing this book, we three still made scores of phone calls, ex- changed hundreds of e-mail messages, and sat together a dozen times (sometimes traveling hundreds of miles to do so). AGREE TO DISAGREE. Don’t expect to agree 100 percent on every issue. You will differ over particulars, sometimes heatedly. Inresolvingthosedifferences,yourgroupcandoitsbestthinking if everyone is explicit about what each believes and why. On the other hand, nothing impedes progress more than someone’s in- sisting on his wording or on including only her data. If the first rule of writing in a group is to talk a lot, the second is to keep disagreements in perspective. When you disagree over minor is- sues with little impact on the whole, forget it.