The remarks below are to orient a novice to intellectual life or/and to aid a novice on initiating a particular research venture.
THE QUEST OF A QUEST-ION:
One of the tried and tested ways of initiating re-search on a theme/topic is to begin with carefully crafting a question or two that you seek to answer. Crafting a clear and compelling question is therefore the launching pad for your thinking and study. If a question lies at the heart of research and discovery, it also sends the one asking that question on a quest, the quest called research. Embedded thus within every quest-ion is a ‘quest’ motivated either by a deep concern, or a strong curiosity.
But let’s not assume that your concerns, curiosities, motivations and excitements are shared by others (i.e., your audience, readers and listeners), or are obvious to them. They must, therefore, be clarified and intentionally communicated to them. Tell them clearly and precisely what concern has motivated or inspired the quest, and why do you – but especially your audience – care about it? In other words, articulate concretely the significance of your carefully crafted question. Seeking the input of the professor may help refine the question and stakes in it, and that of the intellectual community, family and friends, assess whether and to what extent your quest and underlying concerns resonate with others.
ANNOTATING A BIBLIOGRAPHY:
Taking the question as your guide upon the quest – it will keep you from being distracted -seek to arrive at an Annotated Bibliography (AB). If done well, the AB is a critical landmark in the process of answering one’s question. A strong annotated bibliography should be a consolation that in terms of (re)sources you have what you need to pursue your quest. Inevitably, in your quest (i.e., during the process of research) your questions may change, may be revised, or may need even be discarded – yes, that happens too!
Obviously, at this stage you are not expected to answer your question. The point is to take two good steps in that direction: i.e., formulating a good research question and creating a substantial annotated bibliography.
Annotated Bibliography (As An Intellectual Practice):
The culminating Annotated Bibliography will:
Have a List: Of sources you were able to find that seem relevant to your question;
Be Prioritized: Sources found will be organized in the order of importance/relevance to your question;
Be Annotated: A good annotation will:
Briefly summarize the content of the source; and
Highlight what makes the source important in relation to addressing your question.
Annotate at least two sources that seemed quite relevant to you initially, but then did not fit the bill. Tell us (i.e., your audience) why it appeared relevant initially and not worthwhile upon perusal.
A PARTING NOTE:
As practiced within the scholarly community of the academy, right from the beginning (i.e., from discovering the motivations, concerns and excitement that prompted the journey in the first place), till the finish line (i.e., a paper, thesis, capstone project etc.) the intellectual quest and journey has a ‘public face’; the ‘invisible hand of the intended audience’ (your professor, classmates, scholarly community, blog readers) continuously shapes how the re-search is thought through, and articulated. Research, therefore, is a three-way configured exercise that demands 1) awareness of one’s own intellectual interest and investment, 2) integrity, trust and limits of the (re-)sources available to the re-searcher, and finally, 3) an acute attentiveness to the audience to whom this research is intended and presented, and which often comes in layers. The dance among these three wings is perhaps what makes this craft simultaneously fascinating and frustrating. Juggling of the three dimensions, achieving a higher degree of confidence in your craft, and earning trust of your audience takes time to achieve. And since it is a craft like any other, it demands discipline, dedication, various skills, but most of all, some serious grind.