Reflection on The Craft of Research
I am currently working my way through my third semester of the Information and Learning Technologies master’s program at University of Colorado, Denver. This post is the first of a series I’ve been assigned to write for a course titled, Research in ILT. This series of posts will include 12 scholarly critiques, with the first one being this reflection upon The Craft of Research, a book by Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams.
The Craft of Research was originally written in 1995 and is now in its third edition. From what I’ve read about it, it’s become an ultimate resource for researchers at every level, from first-year undergraduate students to scholarly academics to research reporters at business organizations and government offices. As a graduate student who has, I’ll honestly admit, been struggling quite a bit in this research course, I found the first two chapters of this book extremely informative and quite refreshing!
A little background…the majority of my undergraduate studies revolved around English literature, acrylic paint, and graphic design. If I’ve ever truly written a research paper of any kind, it was most likely focused on a play by Shakespeare or a poem by Wadsworth. I certainly never wrote any research papers in my art classes. And right now, outside of my two master’s courses, I am a wife, a mother, a corporate trainer, and instructional designer. My point is…I am not an academic researcher by nature. It’s not something I would do were it not forced upon me (I mean that in the nicest way) and I came into this class with little to no knowledge on academic research.
Despite my inexperience in this area, I decided that with my background in writing and my love of learning, I would blow this course out of the water. I would knock it out of the park! I would eat this class for dinner. Sadly, that did not happen. Not in the least. Right out of the gates, in fact…a week before the gates were supposed to open, I learned that we were diving head first straight into action research, something as foreign to me as Chinese calligraphy.
For the past four weeks, I’ve been struggling to understand the concept of action research and how it would make for a valuable educational experience and a feasible project to complete in one semester. I feel like my mind has been fighting the concept every step of the way and I just couldn’t figure out why. But after reading the first two chapters (that’s all I have access to at the moment) of The Craft of Research, I feel that some of my resistance towards research in general has started to ebb.
The first two chapters are titled, “Thinking in Print: The Uses of Research, Public and Private” and “Connecting with Your Reader: (Re-) Creating Yourself and Your Readers.” Right from the start, the main aspect that I appreciate about this book is that it is written in a way that I completely understand it. The writers even state within the second chapter:
“Then we imagined a persona of our own: writers committed to the value of research, interested in sharing how it works, not talking at you like a lecturer or down to you like a pedant, but working with the “you” that we hoped you would be willing to be. At times we struggled trying to speak as easily to those of you starting your first project as to those doing advanced work. We hoped that new researchers would not be frustrated when we discussed issues they haven’t yet faced and that more experienced readers would be patient as we covered more familiar ground. Only you can judge how we’ve succeeded” (p. 18).
After reading just these two chapters, for me personally, they’ve certainly succeeded.
I found several elements of chapter one to be particularly beneficial and informative. The writers’ explanation of what research is finally convinced me that it’s not just “someone in a lab coat peering into a microscope or a white-bearded professor taking notes in a silent library” (p. 3). I realize now that how I’ve viewed research up until this point has been very limiting and somewhat juvenile and I actually perform research in some way almost every single day. I literally say at least once a day, “I’m going to Google it!”
The writers then go on to discuss why we write about our research. “And, besides, you may think, my teacher knows all about my topic. What do I gain from writing up my research, other than proving I can do it?” One answer is that we write not just to share our work, but to improve it before we do” (p. 12). The writers explain how we write to remember, we write to understand, and we write to test our own thinking.
I’ve never been one to prefer formal academic prose over a conversational tone and in fact, I sometimes struggle to keep my own personality out of my academic work (this blog reflection serves as an excellent example). So there were two specific statements in the section on why we write a formal report that I highlighted like the 4th of July.
“But even when they (researchers) agree that writing is an important part of learning, thinking, and understanding, some still wonder why they can’t write up their research in their own way, why they have to satisfy demands imposed by a community that they have not yet joined and conform to conventions they did nothing to create… But it would be a feeble education that did not change you at all, and the deeper your education, the more it will change the “you” that you are or want to be…it would be a mistake to think that learning to write sound research reports must threaten your true identity” (p. 13).
“But the most important reason for learning to report research in ways readers expect is that when you write for others, you demand more of yourself than when you write for yourself alone” (p.13).
I’ll try and keep these sentiments in mind when I am performing my umpteenth Google search on words like “parsimonious” from our course’s action research book (it means frugal, stingy, prudent).
Chapter two was equally enlightening for me with its explanation on how to create role(s) for yourself as the researcher and writer and role(s) for your readers. In imagining your reader’s role (crucial as you need to know who you’re writing for), “You establish your side of the relationship with your readers when you adopt one of those three roles – I have information for you; I can help you fix a problem; I can help you understand something better” (p. 21). I am still in the early stages of my action research project, but I think that one of the main obstacles standing in my way is figuring out which of these roles I am trying to play.
At the end of chapter two there is a checklist “for understanding your readers.” I plan to utilize this checklist as I work through my project this semester. The checklist has several questions I hadn’t truly considered until now.
All in all, I found the first two chapters of The Craft of Research to be incredibly helpful. To be completely honest, I wish that we’d been assigned these readings four weeks ago. To be even more honest than that, I wish we were reading this book in place of what we are actually reading (…but that would mean we’d be taking a completely different course). I’d consider purchasing this book for further guidance, but I haven’t read enough of it to convince myself it would continue to help me as much as I wanted it to.
Booth, W., Colomb, G., & Williams, J. (2008). The Craft of Research (3. Aufl. ed., pp. 3 – 27). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.