New College Writing Program

Research and Inquiry

What academics include in their definition of research will vary from discipline to discipline. In some sciences, laboratory experimentation is a primary form of research, but those experiments will be different depending on the science. Some social scientists—sociologists or anthropologists, for example—often conduct extensive interviews or “ethnographies” to gather information about the experience, attitudes, or way of life among a particular segment of the population. This form of research requires methods of analysis entirely different from those of researchers in the “hard sciences” of biology, chemistry, physics, etc. Scholars in the humanities undertake other research methodologies. Historians and literary critics employ specific kinds of reading methodologies to interpret “primary texts,” perhaps hard copies aging somewhere in an archive, perhaps digitized and readily available.

You get the point; research is NOT one thing. What these approaches have in common, however, is a rigorous method of critical thought and analysis.

A common and fundamental element unites most research methodologies, however. Academic research is driven by questions. These questions emerge around gaps or problems within the overall body of knowledge that makes up a discipline. This kind of research question focuses on how to build on and correct previous scholarship.

Research questions also emerge in direct response to situations “in the real world,” for there isn’t much truth to the old stereotype that academic researchers are cut off from reality and work among abstract ideas in the “ivory tower.” Certainly, we hope your direction for inquiry will be “worldly,” so to speak, engaging issues all the more important for their immediate relevance in the social world.

Whatever the focus, the time for developing research questions has arrived.

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