Backwards Research

I don't mean to be arrogant, but this is something Eric and I have been having problems with for a while now. This problem deals with how the education system often times force us to do what I call backwards researching. Often times, we are given subjects that needs a certain amount of research, cited sources and other such references but we are not in need of such resources to properly write a paper related to the subject.

I'm really quite happy to do references where references are needed, but I'm often times stuck on the fact that I essentially need to do my research project backwards: I write the paper first, then go over it to write in references. I'll re-read, add a footnote, add a "according to this research" or "this author". This is a tedious and annoying process, because I can never see to fully enjoy writing about the subject, I'm always stuck with the feeling that I'm writing half a real research and half a documented, boring and uninteresting paraphrase of something else.

This sort of problem is usually derived from the underestimation of student's capabilities and turns simple projects into serious problems. It seems as if programs aren't as up-to-date with students as they're suppose to be. Less research oriented projects and more straight-forward theory should be the base of education. Research projects are interesting, and fun, but aren't properly integrated and the incredible limitations and guidelines takes the fun out of personal research. I believe that if one was to give report projects instead, it would make the whole process a lot more interesting. Instead of giving an extreme amount of limitation, one ought to give the simple request of a report on a subject. A student then would simply have to do the research, or write up the latest conclusions of that subject. This is a better way of doing things, and a lot simpler. It doesn't require a minium or maximum amount of references, since the results are essentially the same. Whether it take someone several references, or very few to explain the up-to-date findings is left to the individual rather then by the teacher.

The problem with current curriculums is the fact that when several different subject are treated by the same standards, it makes it quite complicated for the students who research such subjects. Sometimes a certain amount of references isn't required, and somethings the high amount set up is actually more of a hassle to get and becomes the focus of the student's work as opposed to the research paper.

This reminds me of what I wrote concerning research methods courses in CEGEP. They called it original research when they would only allow you to base your research on existing research. What they really meant to say was "replicate results already obtained". Which takes the whole word 'original' out of the equation.


At 13/2/07 9:21 PM, Blogger Portelance said...

Yes! I often do "research" on topics that I am already well versed in, and find that I will be forced to reference things with articles in peer-reviewed journals even though I already know these facts. I find myself playing around with the rules a bit, using citation formats which do not require page numbers, and generally throwing around some of the sources I used for my research.

Sources are good for specific bits of specific information, but general stuff should not be cited (most professors in university realize this and don't really give a shit, however).

I do understand the necessity of having these sorts of references, however, but it doesn't make the system infallible. Most professors will have a look to see if your sources look credible, but why would they bother to read through dozens of pages of sources? I have no doubt that they do like I do when I read a book with a gazillion footnotes: place a certain trust in the author's claim that the information is available elsewhere. Of course, if the source is CNN or Time Magazine, this will likely cause a problem and make you question it, but if the sources seem legitimate, we generally make a leap of faith.

At 14/2/07 11:12 PM, Anonymous ben said...

I can see this as a problem with social sciences, but I doubt you could have the same opinion about other fields of study.

The problem, I think, is the initial impression that any social science topic can initially explored in your immediate environment (ie. yourself). For me, an opinionated text without references is just that; a personal view of a certain subject. Acknowledging previous research doesn't mean you have to agree with everything or necessarily quote some of it, it simply shows that you are aware of what's been said and done before.

That being said, I share your general annoyance with research assignments done "backwards" ;)

At 16/2/07 5:08 PM, Blogger Chartier said...

You're absolutely right. Other fields don't deal with this sort of problem. If a research that requires specifics about electricity or concepts about atoms, it's really hard to debate that this knowledge was done with simple reasoning but with true research that needs to be documented.

Part of social studies, mostly ethics, do require a good deal of ressourcing because ethical theories aren't actually thought up on ones own. I think one can logically come up with similar theories, but it comes at the cost of time when several theories have already been laid out and established by great minds.


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