Thinking Critically about the Research Process

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  • Chapter 7 presents an overview of critical thinking in designing a legitimate inquiry: asking
    the right questions, focusing on essential sources, and evaluating and interpreting
    findings. Additionally, the chapter discusses secondary and primary sources and offers
    guidelines for finding and using them. This chapter (along with Chapters 8 and 9) can
    serve as the basis for the semester’s major writing assignment, either the formal analytical
    report discussed in Chapter 22 or the proposal discussed in Chapter 23.
    “The Purpose of Research” on Master Sheets 50 and 51 is especially important to lowerlevel
    students, who too often equate research with high-school papers about life on Mars
    or the Bermuda Triangle. Students need to understand that research is not just an aca -
    demic exercise, but that it is done for a purpose and the information uncovered will be
    put to practical use. Examples are provided in Master Sheets 52 and 53.
    For any research project, students should follow a well-defined schedule for completing
    the various tasks—as outlined in the exercise on page 150 of the textbook. If students
    work collaboratively to write a document, direct them to create a timeline that includes
    both individual and team deadlines. Planning helps avoid the last-minute all-nighter, and
    the poor writing that inevitably results.
    An early orientation to the electronic information services offered in your library will also
    help students avoid costly mistakes, both in the quality of their work and the time they
    must spend searching for information. Librarians are experts in how information is created,
    vetted, and made available online and in print; they can teach your students not only
    about how to find and evaluate information, but also how scholarly publication and the
    peer process review work. Arrange for a library session to teach your students how to use
    search tools such as the library catalog, article databases and indexes, and online and print
    reference resources to find books and journal articles. If your campus library is equipped
    with software such as Elluminate, a library session can be offered to your online class.
    Librarians are also available to meet with students for one-on-one or small group consultations.
    Software programs will never replace these information professionals, and forging
    a strong relationship with one of the librarians in your campus library will prove beneficial
    for both your students and you.
    Your students will already be familiar with the advantages of electronic searches. Ten or
    fifteen years of an index can be reviewed in minutes. Searches can be customized: for
    example, narrowed to specific dates or topics. They can also be broadened: a keyword
    search (textbook page 135) can uncover material that a hard copy search might overlook;
    Web pages can link to all sorts of material—much of which exists in no hard copy form.
    Take a few minutes of class time to ask students about the drawbacks of electronic
    sources, a topic they may not have considered before. These include the fact that databases
    rarely contain entries published before the mid-1960s and that material, especially
    on the Internet, can change or disappear overnight or be highly unreliable. Also, given the
    researcher’s potential for getting lost in cyberspace, a thorough electronic search calls for
    a preliminary conference with a trained librarian.
    To create a context for and to supplement the sample topics offered in the Collaborative
    Projects (or for those you assign or students themselves propose), you might ask students
    to assume that they have been hired by an organization to search for data that others will
    use to make a decision. (Perhaps an executive in a small chemical company wants to know
    how innovative companies are solving the problem of toxic-waste disposal.)
    You might mention that even the best trial lawyers (or their assistants) spend a good deal
    of time in the library or on the Internet doing homework before presenting data to the
    jury. Emphasize the importance of knowing where and how to find the information one
    needs when one needs it.
    Finally, students should be encouraged (or required) to compose questionnaires or plan
    interviews as part of their data bank for long reports. Your advice about the rough drafts
    of interview questions or sample questionnaires will be helpful. This is a good occasion to
    hold individual conferences.
  • Answers
    1. Searching for information, recording your findings, documenting your sources, and writing the document.
    2. Asking the right questions, exploring a balance of views, achieving adequate depth in your search, evaluating your findings, and interpreting your findings.
    3. Surface level (publications from the popular media, designed for general readers), moderate level (trade, business, and technical publications, designed for moderately informed to specialized readers), deepest level (specialized literature, designed for practicing professionals).
    4. Evaluating is deciding which sources are good to use in your research; interpreting is figuring out what the sources you choose mean.
    5. Primary research means getting information directly from the source by conducting interviews and surveys and by observing people, events, or processes in action. Secondary research is information obtained second hand by reading what other researchers have compiled in books and articles in print or online.
  • Answers (continued)
    6. Subject directories and search engines.
    7. When using Google, make sure you narrow your search sufficiently; when using Wikipedia, use it only as a jumping-off point.
    8. Any of the following: general, commercial, and academic Web sites; government Web sites; online news outlets and magazines; blogs; wikis; internet forums and electronic mailing lists; e-libraries; and periodical databases.
    9. Your library’s online public access catalog (OPAC).
    10. Unsolicited inquiries, informational interviews, surveys, and observations and experiments.
  • Thinking Critically about the Research Process

    1. 1. Chapter 7 Thinking Critically about the Research Process Technical Communication, 13th Edition John M. Lannon Laura J. Gurak Copyright © 2014, 2011, 2008 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    2. 2. Learning Objectives  Think critically about the research process  Differentiate between procedural stages and inquiry stages of research  Differentiate between primary and secondary research  Explore online secondary sources using various search technologies  Explore traditional secondary sources (books, periodicals, reference works) Copyright © 2014, 2011, 2008 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    3. 3. Learning Objectives (continued)  Explore primary sources (inquiries, interviews, surveys)  Understand copyright in relation to research practices Copyright © 2014, 2011, 2008 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    4. 4. The Research Process Major decisions in the workplace are based on careful research, with the findings recorded in a written report. These decisions require you to think critically about each step of the process and about the information you gather for your research. Copyright © 2014, 2011, 2008 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    5. 5. The Research Process (continued) Following are the procedural stages in the research process: Copyright © 2014, 2011, 2008 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    6. 6. The Research Process (continued) Following are the critical thinking stages in the research process: Copyright © 2014, 2011, 2008 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    7. 7. Asking the Right Questions The answers you uncover will only be as good as the questions you ask: Copyright © 2014, 2011, 2008 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    8. 8. Exploring a Balance of Views Instead of settling for the most comforting or convenient answer, pursue the best answer. Consider a balance of perspectives from up-to-date and reputable sources: Copyright © 2014, 2011, 2008 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    9. 9. Achieving Adequate Depth in Your Search Balanced research examines a broad range of evidence; thorough research, however, examines that evidence in sufficient depth. There are three levels of information: At the surface level are publications from the popular media, designed for general readers. At the moderate level are trade, business, and technical publications, designed for moderately informed to specialized readers. At the deepest level is specialized literature, designed for practicing professionals. Copyright © 2014, 2011, 2008 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    10. 10. Achieving Adequate Depth in Your Search (continued) Do research at all three levels to achieve adequate depth: Copyright © 2014, 2011, 2008 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    11. 11. Evaluating Your Findings Not all findings have equal value. Some information might be distorted, incomplete, misleading, or biased. Ask yourself these questions as you evaluate your sources: Is this information accurate, reliable, and relatively unbiased? Do the facts verify the claim? How much of the information is useful? Is this the whole or the real story? Do I need more information? Copyright © 2014, 2011, 2008 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    12. 12. Interpreting Your Findings Once you have decided which of your findings seem legitimate, you need to decide what they all mean by asking these questions: What are my conclusions and do they address my original research question? Do any findings conflict? Are other interpretations possible? Should I reconsider the evidence? What, if anything, should be done? Copyright © 2014, 2011, 2008 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    13. 13. Primary versus Secondary Sources  Primary research means getting information directly from the source by conducting interviews and surveys and by observing people, events, or processes in action.  Secondary research is information obtained second hand by reading what other researchers have compiled in books and articles in print or online.  Combine primary and secondary research. Start with secondary research, but expand on what others have already learned and add credibility to your research by conducting primary research. Copyright © 2014, 2011, 2008 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    14. 14. Exploring Secondary Sources Secondary sources include: Web sites online news outlets and magazines blogs and wikis books in the library journal, magazine, and newspaper articles government publications other public records Copyright © 2014, 2011, 2008 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    15. 15. Web-based Secondary Sources To find various sites on the Web, use two basic tools: subject directories and search engines . Subject directories are indexes compiled by editors and others who sift through Web sites and compile the most useful links. Search engines, such as Yahoo and Google, scan for Web sites containing key words. When using search engines, be sure to adequately refine your search to avoid too many results. Copyright © 2014, 2011, 2008 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    16. 16. Web-based Secondary Sources (continued)  Wikipedia is a popular Web-based source, but use it only as a starting point, as Wikipedia is not peer-reviewed and contains many errors.  Other Web-based secondary sources include: general, commercial, and academic Web sites; government Web sites; online news outlets and magazines; blogs; wikis; internet forums and electronic mailing lists; e-libraries; and periodical databases. Copyright © 2014, 2011, 2008 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    17. 17. Guidelines for Online Research When conducting online research, keep the following guidelines in mind: Expect limited results from any one search engine or subject directory. When using a search engine, select keywords or search phrases that are varied and technical rather than general. When using Wikipedia or other online encyclopedias, check out the footnotes and other citations. Consider the domain type (where the site originates). Copyright © 2014, 2011, 2008 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    18. 18. Guidelines for Online Research (continued)  Identify the site’s purpose and sponsor.  Use bookmarks and hotlists for quick access to favorite Web sites.  Save or print what you need before it changes or disappears.  Download only what you need; use it ethically; obtain permission; and credit your sources. Copyright © 2014, 2011, 2008 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    19. 19. Traditional Secondary Sources  Traditional secondary research tools are still of great value. Most hard-copy secondary sources are carefully reviewed and edited before they are published.  Locate hard-copy sources by using your library’s online public access catalog (OPAC).  Traditional secondary sources include: books and periodicals; reference works; government publications; and gray literature (pamphlets, brochures, and other documents not found at the library, but which may be useful). Copyright © 2014, 2011, 2008 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    20. 20. Exploring Primary Sources Primary sources include unsolicited inquiries, informational interviews, surveys, and observations or experiments: Unsolicited inquiries include letters, phone calls, or email inquiries to experts or others who can clarify or supplement information you already have. Informational interviews allow you to talk with an expert on your subject and uncover more in-depth information than unsolicited inquiries can. When conducting interviews, plan and prepare ahead, be courteous, avoid loaded questions, listen actively, and take good notes. Copyright © 2014, 2011, 2008 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    21. 21. Exploring Primary Sources (continued)  Surveys allow you to achieve a wider range of viewpoints by sending survey questionnaires to a sample group of people within a target population. When conducting a survey, keep the questionnaire short, ask questions that can be tabulated, and keep your questions unbiased and unambiguous.  Observations and experiments allow you to uncover information my making site visits or conducting controlled tests. When conducting observations and experiments, follow a careful plan, try to avoid bias, and record results accurately and completely. Copyright © 2014, 2011, 2008 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    22. 22. Review Questions 1. What are the four procedural stages of the research process? 2. What are the five critical thinking stages in the research process? 3. What are the three levels of depth in the research process? 4. What is the difference between evaluating findings and interpreting findings? 5. What are primary and secondary research? Copyright © 2014, 2011, 2008 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    23. 23. Review Questions (continued) 6. What are the two ways of locating Webbased secondary sources? 7. What cautions should you observe when using Google and Wikipedia? 8. What are five other Web-based secondary sources? 9. What tool should you use to locate traditional secondary sources at the library? 10. What are the four types of primary sources? Copyright © 2014, 2011, 2008 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.

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