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Writing 2 (Terhaar): Science Research Projects

Developing an Inquiring Mind

Some people seem to slog through research as if they were walking through a huge, mucky swamp on an overcast night, fearing they will never get the mud off their shoes and never see the light of day again. In short, their research experience is a long, painful prelude to an even more painful experience: the act of writing a research essay.

I cannot promise you that writing a research essay will be a pain-free experience, but through this tutorial and our class I hope to show why I love research and writing and then offer you some tips and suggestions on how to make the process of discovery and writing go smoother.

Things you should bring to the research process:

  1. Research is an act of inquiry and discovery, so it helps if you have an “inquiring” type of mind. It helps if you are curious about stuff, if you want to know why or what or how or when or who about something. It also helps if you want to find out stuff or learn stuff.
  2. Research is a creative act, so it helps if you can think “outside the box” or figure out how to see something from a different perspective. If you can describe a camel by looking into its face, and then describe the camel after going around and looking at it from the side, then you have the ability to see the camel from two different perspectives. The camel is still a camel, but it looks slightly different from each perspective. That’s what I mean by looking at something from different perspectives.
  3. Research requires a skeptical mind as well, a mind that both believes and doubts at the same time, a mind that tolerates ambiguity, a mind that says “hmmmmm …. well, maybe.”
  4. Research also requires good planning and organizational skills, but, after a few mishaps, most people learn these skills as they go along.
  5. Research needs determination and persistence, the ability to keep going when the way forward is unclear or the amount of work is daunting. But researchers also need the ability to discern when a particular line of research goes off on a non-relevant tangent or becomes unfruitful and then cut it off. And they also need to know when and how to get help if something is beyond their skill level or ability. (So that’s why it pays to know a librarian! Look for the librarian chat box on this page.)
  6. And finally, research sometimes entails a little luck, too.

You don’t need all these skills and abilities at first (they’ll develop as you go along), but you’ll be more likely to like research (and maybe even develop a passion, like mine, for research) if you’re open to their possibility.

So let’s get started.