Developing a research question surveying archives

Developing a research question surveying archives

This is an assignment that focuses on the surveying the archives and developing an research question. The paper also determines the research method and conduction.

Surveying the archives and developing an research question

Step 1: Survey the archives

In order to make it a little easier to find what professional writers have said about the research process, we’ll be starting with a couple of archives of essays by and interviews with published authors:

New York Times’ “Writers on Writing.” This is a series of essays written by professional writers about topics related to writing.
Interviews with writers from the Paris Review. The Paris Review is a literary journal that has a deep archive of interviews with famous writers.
New York times’ “Why I Write.” In 2011, the Times asked seven journalists similar questions about their background with and approach to writing.

You can find sources that aren’t in these archives, if you wish, but these should provide you with a good start.

Take a little while to browse through the archives.

Step 2: Develop a research question

After you have familiarized yourself with the archives, you should develop a specific research question for the assignment.

As you are thinking about your research question, look over your classmates’ responses to discussion question 1, are there any topics there that strike a chord with you? Think back, too, over the work you’ve done in step one. Did you notice any patterns as you were skimming the archives or did any particular response strike you as work exploring further?

The best questions are narrow without being simplistic and arise out of a genuine sense of curiosity. You want your search to be manageable, but you also want to make sure that your search results help your reader develop a more complex understanding of a topic related to the writing process.

Surveying the archives and developing an research question

Here are some ideas to get you started:
Did one of your classmates ask a question you’ve always wanted to know more about?
Is there some element of writing you’ve always struggled with?
Did you see any ideas in the archive that struck you as particularly odd or interesting?
Also, did you notice any trends or patterns in the archives (similar ideas that came up multiple times)?
Did you spot any tensions in the archives. (maybe writers seemed to have different opinions about something or maybe different kinds of writers thought differently about process)?
Did any ideas in the archives resonate with your own experience. (maybe you always listen to music when you write and you are interested in whether or not professional do, too)?
Did you notice any attitudes or approaches to writing that may have changed over time?
Step 3: Determine a research method and conduct research.

Once you have your research question, you need to figure out the best way to find the answer.

In some cases, for instance, you may find that you are interested in one particular author, so you may have to go to other sources to find out more about that person. Or you may want to survey as much data as possible, so searching for key words on multiple pages (using Ctrl-F) might be the way to go. Or you may want to find a couple of representative examples to compare and contrast.

Each approach requires different sources. You may only use one part of one archive, while in others you might use all the archives. Or you might find that you need to move beyond the archives to find information.

Once you’ve found the method that works best for you. Dive in. Make sure you take good notes and always keep track of what sources your information is coming from. A lot of instances of plagiarism come from poor notetaking in the research phase of an assignment.

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