Looking back on the research project, I feel like it is the first genuine research that I have ever done. I learned a lot of patience this semester through my research. I believe I slightly changed my topic nearly every day for a couple weeks, but this was due to the fact that I was discovering new things nearly every day. My opinion on my own research topic has shifted drastically, and I hope I can effect the same change in others through my presentation of my work.
I have realized that research is not just having a topic and finding out information about it, it's a much more beautiful and ugly process. It is ugly because sometimes you are just plain wrong about something. Sometimes a project needs to change direction entirely. Yet it is beautiful because if you start it with an open mind, hoping not to support your point, but to portray the truth, you have the potential to learn things you never would learn from a lecture or in a classroom.
(Student in Eng. 100, "Introduction to English Studies," fall 2012)
To research is to make knowledge. As a researcher, you will: gather knowledge produced by others in the past, produce new knowledge for yourself, and present your new knowledge to your readers. Often novice researchers leave out the second step, which I consider the most important. You as the researcher should be contributing something new to the conversation on your topic: an insight, a connection, a question, a complexity that has not been offered before.
In my experience as a reader and producer of research, the best research arises
from a strongly felt need by the researcher either to answer a question or to solve a
problem. Reflect on what you know and want to learn about English Studies. When you come
across an interesting question or a significant problem, make a note of it. That question
or problem might make a good basis for one of your research projects. See Chapter 1,
"Research and Writing" in the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers
for more suggestions and guidelines for successful research in English Studies. Also see
below under "A good research process" for suggestions on how to choose, develop,
and refine a topic and question for research.
Since you are conducting research in English Studies, make sure your topic and angle of research emphasizes English Studies. One way of determining this is to ask whether your topic falls within one or more of the three core elements of English Studies as defined by Illinois State University's Department of English: rhetoric and composition, linguistics, and literature. Another way to think about what defines English Studies is to recognize that it involves the exploration of what Robert Scholes (1998) and others have called textuality. Textuality concerns how texts are written and read and all the implications of reading and writing for individuals and groups. It is okay for your research to include elements of history, biography, politics, sociology, psychology, pedagogy, biology, and other academic disciplines as long as the central emphasis of your research is some aspect of English Studies, or textuality.
To choose, develop, and refine your topic and question(s) for research, start by answering these questions: What do you care about in English Studies? What do you know about/in English Studies? What do you want or need to know about/in English Studies?
Choose the topic about which you feel most passionate. In case that topic doesn't work out, hold in reserve at least a couple of back-up topics. Do a substantial amount of exploratory writing to figure out what you know and think about the topic you've selected. Share your explorations with others (peers, professors) to develop and refine your topic. Start reading articles from journals and chapters from books on the topic to educate yourself.
Scholes, Robert. The Rise and Fall of English. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1998.