Sean Weigold Eureka! 1
There are many changes associated with growing older. Smooth, unblemished skin
becomes coarse and stained with scars. Childlike wonder at every new sensation dulls as the
river of time washes it smooth. Yet, some things seem to persist untarnished by time's flow.
While the aging process has shaped me in many ways, a part of me remains the same as the day I
was born: my passion for learning. The prospect of personal growth compels me to rise every
morning. Numerous often-jumbled thoughts accompany me to bed each night. Ideas percolate
while I sleep, simmering, mixing, breaking apart, and recombining in haphazard ways. Growing
my mind, body, and that intangible element sometimes referred to as a “soul,” is the driving
force behind my every action.
If passion begets love, then research is my muse. Is love too strong a word to describe
my feelings for something as dry as the process of scientific inquiry? Some would say so. Am I
just a romantic? I attest that I simply know her better than they. From the scientific method
springs new knowledge, the life blood of our existence, making all other things possible. Science
and art are not as dichotomous as is the common perception. Rather, each draws upon the
imaginative powers of curious individuals with a desire to generate novelty. The distinction, if
there is one, is that the work of the artist reaches audiences emotionally, whereas that of the
researcher connects along the intellectual path.
To be more specific in my exultation, I love research because it is the ultimate
actualization of the learning experience. Producing quality research is only possible after
becoming an expert on a topic. It is the fruit of a long, often arduous journey. The fruit is sweet,
succulent, and always novel. The reward of a successful research study is a never-before-seen
contribution to the world, a creation that outlives its mortal creator, and capable of withstanding
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While it is eventually highly rewarding, research is a lengthy process with many trials.
However, each step is uniquely enjoyable. From choosing a topic, to sharing results, the desire to
know drives me to seek answers. Completing stages provides intellectual sustenance, helping me
maintain strength when confronted with obstacles.
1. Deciding on a Topic
The research process begins with the selection of a topic. A topic can be very broad, but it
encompasses a question, and is the soil from which a thesis statement grows. As a student of
many, often eclectic interests, this step can present a roadblock. I seem to always come across
innovative and valuable ideas, and quickly become excited at their prospects. At this very
moment, off the top of my head, I could probably name a dozen such projects that I have yet to
fully capitalize on. Thus, in this stage it is important to be able to quickly sort the wheat from the
chaff. One way of accomplishing this is by identifying the union of my level of interest in the
topic, the seriousness of the problems that require addressing, and the resources necessary to
explore it. The relationship between these conditions can be understood using the project
decision diagram below.
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For example, I am interested in social media. Several months ago, after much
observation, I began to wonder how well trends on Twitter could predict the outcomes of
socially-driven events. Based on my observations, I saw the opportunity to measure the volume
of tweets by moviegoers around the releases of new films. I hypothesized that a variable
composed of the number of tweets containing certain key phrases about each movie would
accurately predict box office revenue for that film. My level of interest in the project was
moderate in comparison to others at the time. Aside from my labor, resource requirements were
small. The value presented by the project was low in the short-term, but had the opportunity to
increase over time. I invested some hours of work in the study, but eventually abandoned it in
favor of more important ventures.
As it turns out, my hypothesis was correct. HP Labs conducted a similar study and found
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Twitter to be a highly accurate predictor of box office revenue. Rather than feeling disappointed,
I was excited that my intuition had been right. I know now that my idea is valuable enough to
merit investigation. I believe that my slightly different methodology would have made their
research even more meaningful. Should I decide to revisit this topic, I now have a useful paper
from which to gain insight. Essentially, the hardest work has already been completed. Far from
deterring me, their study has increased my interest, reduced the necessary resources, and
increased the value of my own exploration.
2. Developing an Overview of the Topic
Gathering background information on a topic is one of the most important steps in
research. In this stage, a final topic is defined and the skeleton of a bibliography emerges. This is
probably my favorite step of the research process. I am an avid reader of many topics including
psychology, marketing, public relations, personal development, health and fitness, technology,
and humor. The aforementioned are very broad, and I consider myself an expert, or at least
competent, in many niches that fall within them such as leadership, web development, online
advertising, and search engine optimization (SEO). I spend several hours every day reading
articles written by the major influencers in these fields. After so much reading, I sometimes feel
like a “knowledge sponge,” constantly absorbing information from all directions. Every so often,
I become saturated and need to wring out the pulp of what I have learned. To do this, I begin
writing. From within my writing emerges the seed of an idea that has grown over time. Like a
magnet, it has attracted relevant particles of information until it finally reached a critical mass.
The words on my laptop screen quickly began to take meaning. My mind races too fast
for my fingers, as I desperately try to recall the source of the facts suddenly emerging. Despite
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my fervent clicking (or perhaps because of it?), Google seems to take minutes to finish loading.
My fingers race across the suddenly-too-small keyboard entering keywords before they fade
from my iconic memory. Enter. Is that the article? Click, no, backspace. Result number two; aha!
My eyes scan the page, and I am suddenly filled with a sense of familiarity. My mouse flies to
the navigation bar hovering over the URL. Click, Control+A, control+C. I swing the cursor to
the bottom of the screen. Click, swing, control+V. Success! That's one. Now, what was I doing
While I really enjoy the “light bulb” moment of the second step, this unorganized method
of outlining a research project draws only a very rough picture of what the end result will look
like. However, it provides direction, shows the strengths and weaknesses of the idea, and creates
the foundation of the third step: determining the project's information requirements.
3. Determining the Information Requirements
This stage in developing a research study is often the lengthiest. Trying to contain the
scope of the project is not easy. Topics exist on a continuum of categories, subcategories, and
niches, connected together in a clumsily hierarchical web of complexity. I have found that
categories are not a particularly useful method of clarifying topics. A better way to understand
them is to look at each topic as an object with non-directional relationships to other objects as
can be seen objects in the ebusiness diagram below.
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Partitioning subjects means losing potentially important information. This is especially
difficult for me because I always seem to find the peripheral subjects infinitely interesting and
thus somehow relevant. In this stage, I can no longer read haphazardly, my personal preference; I
must must be purposeful and directed. Choosing to limit the scope of a study can feel like taking
apart a complex piece of machinery. Sure, it can be split up and the insides analyzed, but how
useful is a stereo without speakers, or an airplane without wings? For that matter, will I even be
able to put it back together again?
4. Organizing the Information
While organizing collected information, automated systems and tools save hours of
frustration. Without a rigid structure for this stage, things can quickly become chaotic. When I
first went through the full research process as a Freshman in my Statistics and Research Methods
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class, “fun” is not a word I would have associated with this organizing information. Sifting
through printed articles, and the cyclical monotony of closing and reopening PDFs doubled the
time required to generate a list of resources. Fortunately, I have since come across a tool: Zotero,
that makes organizing information effortless, and even pleasurable.
Being “organized” has never been my greatest skill. I enjoy designing organizational
systems, but keeping things tidy has always been a challenge. Zotero fills in the gaps. For
example, I recently came across an article by Google describing their audience measurement
methodology. The article is an essential source for a research study on which I am currently
working. With a single click, the article now resides on my computer. It is properly referenced
with the author, date, and links included. With another click, it will appear perfectly formatted in
my bibliography. Is it magic? Perhaps not, but it sure feels like it.
5. Analyzing and Evaluating the Information
While step three may take the most time, step five could be the most difficult. However,
there are wonderful moments within the stage that make it well worth the trouble. The most
difficult thing to do during this stage is to be meticulous without losing sight of the big picture.
While tools like Zotero still provide utility in stage five, tying together ideas means transferring
them from my hard drive to my head, and actively manipulating them in consciousness. Once
again, excess material must be eliminated (but what if I need it later?!), after it becomes clear
that it isn't relevant (but it seems like it is!).
I have found this step challenging in my current research project on online audience
measurement. I have a sizable list of sources safely stored in Zotero, but some of the most
important ones are only tangentially related to my research. I cannot eliminate them because they
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contain vital information about the topic, but nor can I use them in their entirety. Integrating
work from more than a dozen different fields is no walk in the park. Yet, occasional moments of
bliss make it well worth doing. They come without warning when I suddenly see a link, a
connection, or a relationship between two concepts that before seemed so independent. In those
moments, my mind enters a state of thrilled curiosity. My paradigms of the structure of and
barriers between concepts disappear. It must be like the first time a child sees that three straight
lines set at different angles can be used to create the letter “A.” The lines are no longer just
streams of ink; they are greater than the sum of their parts; they have meaning.
6. Synthesizing the Information
If stage five is discovering that seemingly trivial slanted and curved lines can form
letters, stage six is using them to write a sentence. It is in this stage that one actually conducts
experiments, analyzes data, and reports results. Using the framework developed in stages one
through five, the product of months of work finally emerges. I learned an important lesson about
fully completing each stage while working on my current study on audience measurement. After
coming upon a highly valuable, incredibly interesting, and easily accessible idea for a project, I
tried to rush through steps two through five to immediately collect and analyze data. The result?
A lot of backtracking. It turned out that while I had selected the right topic, and gathered and
evaluated the right data, I had asked the wrong question! If I had proceeded on to step seven and
shared my work, experts in the field would have at best ignored me, and at worst destroyed my
credibility. Upon realizing my folly, I returned to stage two and now have a completely different
understanding of audience measurement. There are no shortcuts in research.
As my finger taps the keyboard, placing the final period at the end of a research paper, I
Sean Weigold Eureka! 9
feel a wave of satisfaction pass through me. My body seems weightless. My eyebrows and the
corners of my mouth float upward as if drawn by some invisible force. I am the only one in the
world that has seen what I have just discovered; what a rush!
7. Presenting the Information
Some see the synthesis of information in stage six as the end of the journey, but in some
ways, it is merely the beginning. Research in a vacuum is meaningless. It has no utility.
Knowledge is important because it allows us to make better decisions. Waiting to conduct a full
research study before making a decision is ineffective at best; one would be better off simply
making the decision with available knowledge. In essence, we conduct research so that other
people do not have to; so that each time someone must make a similar decision, our study can be
referenced. We share our findings through teaching; the culmination of the learning experience.
Teaching others is a joy. Nothing compares to gazing back at hungry eyes, craving
knowledge. I can almost see the little light bulbs switch on around me. Empathetic nerves
activate, sending pleasurable sensations through my mind. As I have seen, so are they seeing. I
reflect fondly on the little moments along the way when my own mind lit up with understanding.
I wonder what that... A sudden bright light. Eureka!
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Mildred F. Sawyer Library. (n.d.). A research process: Steps in the research process. Retrieved
February 25, 2010 from Suffolk University website: