My notes to Chapter 10 of “The Craft of Research”.
Responding to predictable questions and objections
Imagine how research is just like life: it involves others and they might well have different opinions, engage you, and even help you
- Ignoring or dismissing others?
- When writing, you imagine your audience
- Anticipating and addressing predictable alternatives objections
- And you speak to and for these invisible people
Three predictable disagreements (p. 150)
- There are almost always more things going on than we might at first see, multiple factors, so just about any claim we might make will invite alternatives (learn to live with it!)
- There are almost always counterexamples others will come up with, so look for them and welcome them
- There will usually be someone who defines things differently, “I don’t define X as you do; to me, X means …,” so find good support for your definitions (see my Definitions)
Objections of two kinds
Get straight the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic objections.
- intrinsic soundness: clarity of claims, relevance of reasons, quality of evidence
- extrinsic soundness: alternative ways of framing problem, overlooked evidence, how others have written about it
10.1 How to imagine your readers
Imagine a warm debate (run through this checklist, it gives you things to do)
- Problem Definition. What is the problem, costs, consequences?
- Alternatives.. How differently has or might this problem be posed?
- Solution Strategies.. How balanced your solution, practical vs. conceptual?
- Exceptions to Your Claims.
- Compare to others?
A catalog of objections
- They don’t believe your evidence is good enough: how else might you support it?
- The numbers don’t add up
- Not precise enough (“many”?)
- Outdated, there is better current stuff
- Not representative, there are others to consider
- Not authoritative, consult people who know more
- You need more evidence, one number is not proof
They suggest that students
- Grab on to the first things they find and run with them, overlooking altogether too many alternatives in the way of claims, argument, evidence, etc.
- Don’t readily imagine others who might object and have legitimate reasons for doing so
- Don’t readily or easily imagine how to work with someone who objects to their argument overall: what do you do then?
10.2 Imagining Alternatives
We all want others to consider things from our point of view, so your job is to anticipate your readers, welcoming them and their objections, and not just by being nice, but by learning what their objections might be and the value in them.
- Look for people who have already addressed your topic and question, consider them having done you a favor, being good company, and welcoming your adding to what is known
- Look for differences in approach that you might learn from, build on, and so be a part of (rather than getting into a pissing contest)
- Feel free to reject what others say, just do so with good reasons and respectfully (and thankfully!)
10.3 Acknowledge What?
But we can’t account for all who might object, so narrow your review strategically to give you a chance both to acknowledge those who object AND clarify and extend your argument (not just repeat)
- Include great great arguments you can answer
- Take on alternatives that others think important
- Engage conclusions others have accepted (and would appreciate learning the limits of)
- Certainly account for evidence that everyone knows
- Certainly account for important exceptions people are talking about
And to this I would add “talk/write,” where you discuss this in front of your screen or others and play out the alternative’s you’ve found, those your partner might bring up, and talk about it: write down what you’ve discussed and how.
Embrace questions you can’t answer
Ignoring a problem does not make it go away. You gain respect (and maybe help) from respectful work-arounds
- The objection is small potatoes, you are preparing a feast
- Your answer might not be so great, but your question is the right one
- Treat objections as hypotheses, whatever anyone offers you is always a good question (but unfortunately …)
10.4 Frame responses as subordinate arguments
You need not always respond with a term paper, especially with a limiting framework does good too: “Some say …, but we are here concerned with something more limited (and precise) …
- This limiting strategy offers a wonderful chance to “thicken” your argument, is how Craft puts it: in the process of writing this you highlight your answer in maybe a new, illuminating way
10.5 How to talk the talk of acknowledgement
Here are a series of prompts which you can wrap your head around and then legally use by filling in the blanks.
- Despite …
- Although …
- While this appears to be …, but others think …
- Some claim …, but there is another explanation
- Speaking in your own voice is good, especially with the passive voice … (“some have claimed …, however …”)
You can disagree strongly, too …
- “I don’t see how they can claim, when …”
- “But there are other issues here …
- “As insightful as that may be, it ignores …”