Prerequistes to Conducting Research

Some of the biggest challenges in helping students with research is their lack of preparation. The problem is not an ignorance of statistics or research design as that takes only a little bit of support. The real problem is that students want to do research without hardly reading any research and lacking knowledge of how research writing is communicated. This post will share some prerequisites to performing research.

Read Extensively

Extensive reading means reading broadly about a topic and not focusing too much on specifics. Therefore, you read indiscriminately perhaps limited yourself only to your general discipline.

In order to communicate research, you must first be familiar with the vocabulary and norms of research. This can be learned to a great extent through reading academic empirical articles.

The ananoloy I like to use is how a baby learns. By spends large amounts of time being exposed to the words and actions of others. The baby has no real idea in terms of what is going on at first. However, after continuous exposure, the child begins to understand the words and actions fo those around them and even begins to mimic the behaviors.

In many ways, this is the purpose of reading a great deal before even attempting to do any research. Just as the baby, a writer needs to observe how others do things, continue this process even if they do not understand, and attempt to imitate the desired behaviors. You must understand the forms of communication as well as the cultural expectations of research writing and this can only happen through direct observation.

At the end of this experience, you begin to notice a pattern in terms of the structure of research writing. The style is highly ridge with litter variation.

It is hard to say how much extensive reading a person needs. Generally, the more reading that was done in the past the less reading needed to understand the structure of research writing. If you hate to read and did little reading in the past you will need to read a lot more to understand research writing then someone with an extensive background in reading. In addition, if you are trying to write in a second language you will need to read much more than someone writing in their native language.

If you are still desirous of a hard number of articles to read I would say aim for the following

  • Native who loves to read-at least 25 articles
  • Native who hates to read-at least 40 articles
  • Non-native reader-60 articles or more

Extensive reading is just reading. There is no notetaking or even highlighting. You are focusing on exposure only. Just as the observant baby so you are living in the moment trying to determine what is the appropriate behavior. If you don’t understand you need to keep going anyway as the purpose is quantity and not quality. Generally, when the structure of the writing begins to become redundant ad you can tell what the author is doing without having to read too closely you are ready to move on.

Read Intensively

Intensive reading is reading more for understanding. This involves slows with the goal of deeper understanding. Now you select something, in particular, you want to know. Perhaps you want to become more familiar with the writing of one excellent author or maybe there is one topic in particular that you are interested in. With intensive writing, you want to know everything that is happening in the text. To achieve this you read fewer articles and focus much more on quality over quantity.

By the end of the extensive and intensive reading, you should be familiar with the following.

  • The basic structure of research writing even if you don’t understand why it is the way it is.
  • A more thorough understanding of something specific you read about during your intensive reading.
  • Some sense of purpose in terms of what you need to do for your own writing.
  • A richer vocabulary and content knowledge related to your field.

Write Academicly

Once a student has read a lot of research there is some hope that they can now attempt to write in this style. As the teacher, it is my responsibility to point out the structure of research writing which involves such as ideas as the 5 sections and the parts of each section.

Students grasp this but they often cannot build paragraphs. In order to write academic research, you must know the purpose of main ideas, supporting details, and writing patterns. If these terms are unknown to you it will be difficult to write research that is communicated clearly.

The main idea is almost always the first sentence of a paragraph and writing patterns provide different ways to organize the supporting details. This involves understanding the purpose of each paragraph that is written which is a task that many students could not explain. This is looking at writing from a communicative or discourse perspective and not at a minute detail or grammar one.

The only way to do this is to practice writing. I often will have students develop several different reviews of literature. During this experience, they learn how to share the ideas of others. The next step is developing a proposal in which the student shares their ideas and someone else’s. The final step is writing a formal research paper.

Conclusion

To write you must first observe how others write. Then you need to imitate what you saw. Once you can do it what others have done it will allow you to ask questions about why things are this way. Too often, people just want to write without even understanding what they are trying to do. This leads to paralysis at best (I don’t know what to do) to a disaster at worst (spending hours confidently writing garbage). The enemy to research is not methodology as many people write a lot without knowledge of stats or research design because they collaborate. The real enemy of research is neglecting the preparation of reading and the practicing of writing.

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