Thursday, November 15, 2012


The important thing is to be learning something. As the writing process becomes more and more dependable—a stable, recurring opportunity to write down something you know—you will become increasingly interested in the research process that prepares you for it. Every day (at least ideally) you will have a moment or two (or six) to write a paragraph, to support a single claim with what you know, and you will begin to see your reading, your analysis, your thinking, and even your conversations with peers as activities that bring those claims into focus and indicate the basis on which you might better make them. Those activities, that is, become occasions for learning.

Scholars are sometimes said to be "learned". They have acquired learning, their competence is grounded in learning something. Unfortunately, many scholars spend a great deal of time learning how little they know relative to the great mass of "what is known" on their subject. There is always a book that everyone is talking about but they haven't read yet. And after engaging closely with their empirical material, whether that be ethnographic fieldwork in a particular organization or the early novels of a particular writer, they get the sense that what they don't know about the subject greatly outweighs what they do know. They have so much to learn, they think. While it is true that there is always more to learn, it is important to experience progress.

The way you experience that progress is to write paragraphs that support claims. And that is why the research process should be organized around the claims you want to make. When you read, make sure that your reading is answering questions. "What does the author mean?" for example. "How does the author know?" When you think, do really try to move from a vague sense of the importance of your theme, or the connections between themes, to actual claims about actual objects that can be true or false. Thinking can also move the other way: start with your claims and question them. Move from actual objects to possible themes. Just be aware that these themes must eventually re-focus on actual claims about objects. You are not just "doing research" you are learning the truth of things.

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