From Chit-Chat to Research

My notes for you on Chapter 2 of The Craft of Research

2.2 Changing your Role

I think the authors are right, many of us have been taught to become children when we wrote: to stop talking like the critical observers of ourselves and those around that we mostly are and become instead childish grade-grubbers and saying, basically: “here’s a bunch of facts I’ve dug up, have I got enough? Give me a good grade!”

  • You want to solve research problems at school and in business just like you solve every other problem in you life, by asking others, watching others, looking things up, and figuring out what is going on
  • And you want to share your wonderful solution, and discovery, and share both that you’ve solved the problem and how

2.2.1 Step One: I’ve got some info for you!

  • That’s great, you’ve found a pile of interesting stuff, and I’m happy for you, but I want to know how you are going to help me solve my problems and help me better understand what I got wrong and how I might better think about it
  • So, yes, be happy, share your enthusiasm, and tell me (briefly): I’ve found some new stuff!, but the move on to you really want to know about this!” and give me some good reasons why

2.2.2 Step Two: I can help you solve your problem!

  • Find a bunch of real world problems, select the most interesting and potentially rewarding, and survey how people are addressing them before you pull a rabbit out of the hat: you want to know what others are thinking, and learn from them, so you can say to your boss not only: “this info will really help you solve a problem you really care about!”, but also, “here’s how others are solving the problem, but our problem is a bit different …”
  • So go ahead, survey and solve a problem, but then get ready to step back and explore what there is to be learned from it, the larger questions of understanding

2.2.3 Step Three: I can help you understand something better

  • So you’ve found some interesting stuff that will help solve problems, but what did you learn along the way that will help me understand this problem and other problems better?
  • That is, you want not only to solve the practical problem, but the conceptual issue that come with it
  • Craft’s example is to say that It is one thing for a cryptologist to crack a code, but quite another to figure out problems of prime numbers — something larger, more abstract, but of greater relevance to the discipline
  • Research involves all three: lots of interesting stuff that excites and motivates you, practical problem-solving that will get bread on your table, and a larger understanding of the way things work and the way things are and might be

Summary

The authors of The Craft of Research are dedicated teachers, they’ve read a zillion papers and know how we think, and they see the problem of research as a problem of developing a more sophisticated understanding and the tools to go along with it. They write for those who would speak, who would find a voice, and they compare and contrast the different voices: it is one thing to talk like a student wanting approval, another to be skilled and offering a solution, and yet something else to be able to explain the larger meanings: they want you to do all three, one after the other, so you end up speaking as one professional to another, sharing interests, solving problems, and looking at the big picture