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Essay and report writing skills
Essay and report writing skills

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5.3 Researching

‘Research’ may sound rather a grand word for what you feel you do at this point of preparation for your assignment. Don't worry: essentially all it involves is finding out more about the topic in hand.

Let's use a dictionary as an example. In looking up a word, you are effectively ‘researching’ it. We tried looking up the word ‘research’ in a couple of standard dictionaries, not so much to find out what the word means, but to see if a definition might provide a useful slant for this section of the course. Indeed it did, for three phrases not only confirmed our understanding of the word but also gave us a way forward that might be helpful to you. These three phrases tell us that research is:

  • a systematic investigation

  • a critical investigation

  • a careful search.

'Systematic’ and ‘careful’ suggest a thorough-going search of the material available to you, making sure that you don't leave anything important out. ‘Critical’ suggests something else: deciding what is relevant to the subject, whether something you have found out should be included or not. If you look again at Figure 1 you will see that there is an arrow linking the researching stage with the question. This is to make sure that your answer will be focused and really address what the question is looking for. (You might also like to look back at Activity 9, which dissects a question). Note, too, the reference to ‘search’: it is very unlikely that the question is going to be answered just by looking at a single section of your course.

In short, researching something can clarify or explain, but also may spark off further thoughts which can lead you deeper into your topic.