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The Purpose of Researching in College and Beyond

The Purpose of Researching in College and Beyond

Author: Gavin McCall
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This lesson discusses the value and purpose of research.

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Welcome to English Composition. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.

What are we going to learn today? Today, we're going to take a broad, all-inclusive look at research, why it's done and its purpose in an academic context. Then we'll look at examples of research, both in and out of college.

People conduct research for all kinds of reasons. They do it to find or gather information for personal reasons, for work, or for school. They use research to discover what the conversation is around a given topic, to find out what people are saying or have said, to discover the primary arguments, perspectives, and ideas related to a topic.

People also use research to help them make informed decisions or to plan out a course of action. In a composition classroom, the primary purpose of research is to participate in a conversation surrounding a topic and to find support for an essay's argument or point. It's also intended, at least in many composition classes, as a form of training for research students will have to do in future classes.

But even beyond the classroom, it's important to learn to research effectively, especially evaluating the quality of sources, because it will likely be useful throughout one's personal and professional life. And more importantly, this increases critical thinking skills and empowers people to effectively think and find information for themselves.

In the larger economic context, research is mean to result in the production of new knowledge. So conducting research allows researchers in every field to build on what has come before them in order to generate new information that can itself be built upon by later researchers.

In academia, the term along with the academy for colleges and universities as a whole, professors and graduate students are judged on the newness and relevance of the original research. In a composition class, the goals of research are much the same with the additional purpose of teaching skills and ways of thinking that are useful outside of the academy.

Academic writing is usually driven by argument, which means the writer is not only presenting his or her research but also making a case for how it should be interpreted, understood, or acted upon. And just be sure, remember that here argument doesn't mean a fight or a disagreement but making a case for a point that's debatable.

Research writing can also be analytical, which is a form of informative writing. In the case of analytical research, the writer poses a research question and explorers one or more answers to it but doesn't necessarily take a stance on the information gathered and presented.

As we already discussed, people use research for all kinds of purposes. And they use it in all kinds of contexts. One of the most commonly thought of research is scientific research.

If a graduate student in a geology department, for example, wants to study the effects of soil contamination on limestone caves, she would probably want to first conduct some research and see what's already been said about the topic and related subjects.

She'd want to know everything she can about caves, like the one she is studying, as well as ecological information about soil contamination, all kinds of conversations. And once her study has been done, whatever new information she uncovered, whatever new connections, they would be added to the broader conversations and likely influence later research or studies.

And in a subject, like literature, the process is much the same. If, for example, a freshman who's just been introduced to the feminist retellings of fairy tales of Angela Carter wants to find out more about the genre and possibly write a paper in her composition class about it.

She should probably start by researching what scholars and critics have said about Carter's stories. This would help the student better understand the context of which they were written, the effects they've had, as well as providing her information about other similar works.

Research isn't just for students and professors, though. Many careers and professions require, or at least benefit from, research in one way or another.

Let's say a man named Carl is a baker and he wants to open his own bakery in a new town. He's familiar with how to run a bakery, but he knows little about the town he'd like to settle into. So it would behoove him to do some research first. If he found out from the town records and a little internet searching that there are already two bakeries in town, he might want to reconsider his plans.

But if, upon doing some actual footwork, he learns that one of the bakeries does little else but weddings and special events and the other is a bagel shop, Carl might want to go for it, since he's interested in selling pastries anyway. And the thing is, this research, even though he's not necessarily publishing the results in an essay, would still contribute to the pool of information, the conversation, about the small town and its eateries, since the research impacted Carl's decision-making process.

Or for real world example, I once conducted research for purely personal reasons. Years ago, my mother was given a pair of fossilized mastodon teeth by her mother. And for her birthday, I decided to give her, among other things, some information about them.

I don't think she'd ever been particularly curious about their history, outside of the family at least. But when I compiled a little information about the mastodons and how these kinds of fossils are actually a lot less common than we'd ever thought, I think it helped make that a special birthday for her. And she still tells people on occasion some of the information my research first uncovered, contributing in a limited but very organic way to the broader conversation about the topic.

What have we learned today? We learned about the purposes behind research and looked at the role research plays in academia. Then we saw some examples of research and its effects. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.