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ENGLISH 33089/5089: The Bard's Beasts (Dr. Perry Guevara, Spring 2017): Research Process

The Research Process: How Do I Begin?

Things to keep in mind when beginning a research project:

  1. Understand the difference between facts (or raw data), information, and knowledge.  The best definition I've found to distinguish these three concepts comes from Neil Postman's book, Building a Bridge to the 18th Century.  There he states,

What is information and how much of it do people need?  Obviously, information is not the same thing as knowledge, and it is certainly not anything close to what one might mean by wisdom.  Information consists of statements about the facts of the world.  There are, of course, an uncountable number of facts in the world.  Facts are transformed into information only when we take note of them and speak of them or ... write about them.  By this definition, facts cannot be wrong.  They are what they are.  Statements about facts -- that is, information -- can be wrong, and often are.  .... What do I mean by 'knowledge'? I define knowledge as organized information -- information that is embedded in some context; information that has a purpose (italics mine), that leads one to seek further information in order to understand something about the world.  Without organized information, we may know something of the world, but very little about it.  When one has knowledge, one knows how to make sense of information, knows how to relate information to one's life, and, especially, knows when information is irrelevant.  (1999, pp. 91, 93)

    2.   Consult with your instructor to identify a useful research topic.  Research is about asking probing questions of the relevant information available in the scholarly literature.  In writing your research paper, try to avoid simply parroting information you glean from secondary sources.  Your instructor can read these sources himself if he wishes; that's why you add a list of references at the end of your paper!  Your instructor wants to read your thoughts on the subject, supported by evidence from the sources you examine.  To achieve this goal, consider how you might make the research topic your own by providing a personal "twist" to the research project.  For example, you might explore Shakespeare's use of bird imagery in King Lear, analyze various interpretive arguments in the secondary literature, and then offer your own appraisal.  Although it may be challenging to say anything "new" about many of the topics covered in ENGL 3089/5089, it is always possible to adopt a point of view and argue it forcefully. 

   3.    It's difficult to formulate a probing question if you don't first have an overview of the topic you're interested in researching.  Such an overview is provided primarily by the monographic (book) literature, so start by reading a few well-chosen books that will give you an overview of your topic. [See some representative books in our collection under the tab, Recommended Books, in this research guide.]  Such books may include biographies, overviews of educational theories, or surveys of relevant historical periods.  Since nothing occurs in a vacuum, such introductions will give you the critical context necessary to understand the novel within the context of liberal education.  Use Dominican's online catalog to compile a working bibliography of books.  Titles the Library doesn't own can be acquired through Camino, MARINet, or our traditional Interlibrary Loan service.  Remember to strategize your research needs so items arrive in time for you to make full use of them. 

   4.    After you've consulted the book literature and have a better grasp of your topic, then explore the secondary periodical literature on some aspect of the relationship between the concept of tragedy and Shakespeare's Macbeth in many of Alemany Library's subscription databases [see the databases listed under the tab, Relevant Databases].  Depending upon the specific topic, this secondary literature can be vast.  Peer-reviewed journal articles can offer very up-to-date information about what's going on in the field covered by this course, but these discussions tend to be very sophisticated and assume prior knowledge of the basic issues involved.  That's why you don't want to begin with the journal literature. 

   5.    In compiling a working bibliography of books, journal articles, and related references, acquaint yourself with the valuable reference sources highlighted under the tab, Recommended Books, in this research guide.  One of the special merits of reference works is the collection of important citations at the end of each entry that point the reader to further reading.  Also, be sure to consult the chapter bibliographies and general bibliography in Sister Aaron's course texts or other recommended readings.

  6.    Finally, to format your bibliographic citations perfectly in the citation style required by Professor Guevara, try RefWorks or the "Cite It" links in our online catalog and many of our subscription journal databases.  It couldn't be an easier and more efficient use of time.  

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