Information, ideas and opinions surround us, most of which we never question. In fact, we have to ignore most of them or suffer from brain burnout. However, when we do pay attention we usually accept it as it comes in from whatever source. For example, do you ever wonder if you're getting the whole story from TV news shows or newspapers? Do you wonder what's been left out, if anything? Or why? However, if we wish to understand something, not just accept someone else's word for it but actually understand it, and in turn pass on our understanding to someone else, we must question opinion and assumption and theory and speculation. The purpose of the questions is to gather evidence.
Research is finding out what you don't already know. No one knows everything, but everybody knows something. However, to complicate matters, often what you know, or think you know, is incorrect or incomplete.
There are two basic purposes for research: to learn something, or to gather evidence. The first, to learn something, is for your own benefit. It is almost impossible for a human to stop learning. It may be the theory of relativity or the RBIs of your favorite ball player, but you continue to learn. Research is organized learning, looking for specific things to addto your store of knowledge. You may read SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN for the latest research in quantum mechanics, or the sports section for last night's game results. Either is research.
What you've learned is the source of the background information you use to communicate with others. In any conversation you talk about the things you know, the things you've learned. If you know nothing about the subject under discussion, you can neither contribute nor understand it. (This fact does not, however, stop many people from joining in on conversations, anyway.) When you write or speak formally, you share what you've learned with others, backed with evidence to show that what you've learned is correct. If, however, you haven't learned more than your audience already knows, there is nothing for you to share. Thus you do research.
There are three types of research, pure, original, and secondary. Each type has the goal of finding information and/or understanding something. The difference comes in the strategy employed in achieving the objective.
Pure research is research done simply to find out something by examining anything. For instance, in some pure scientific researchscientists discover what properties various materials possess. It is not for the sake of applying those properties to anything in particular, but simply to find out what properties there are. Pure mathematics is for the sake of seeing what happens, not to solve a problem.
The fun of pure research is that you are not looking for anything in particular. Instead, anything and everything you find may be joined with anything else just to see where that combination would lead, if anywhere.
Let's take an example. I was reading a variety of books and magazines once. There were a some science fiction novels, Jean Auel's THE CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR, Carl Sagan's BROCA'S BRAIN, several Isaac Asimov collections of science essays and two of his history books, ADVERTISING AGE and AD WEEK magazines, some programs on PBS, a couple of advertising textbooks I was examining for adoption in my class, and several other things I can't even remember now. This was pure research; I was reading and watching television for the sake of reading and watching about things I didn't know.
Relating all of the disparate facts and opinions in all of these sources led me to my opinions on stereotyping and pigeonholing as vital components of human thought (see Interlude II, THE BLACK BOX). When I started I had no idea this pure research would lead where it did. I was just having fun.
Original, or primary research is looking for information that nobody else has found. Observing people's response to advertising, how prison sentences influence crime rates, doing tests, observations, experiments, etc., are to discover something new.
Orginal research requires two things: 1) knowing what has already been discovered, having a background on the subject; and 2) formulating a method to find out what you want to know. To accomplish the first you indulge in secondary research (see below).
For the second, you decide how best to find the information you need to arrive at a conclusion. This method may be using focus groups, interviews, observations, expeditions, experiments, surveys, etc.
For example, you can decide to find out what the governmental system of the Hittite Empire was like on the basis of their communication system to determine how closely the empire could be governed by a central bureaucracy. The method to do this orginal research would probably require that you travel to the Middle East and examine such things as roads, systems of writing, courier systems without horses, archeological evidence, actual extent of Hittite influence (commercial, military, laws, language, religion, etc.) and anything else you can think of and find any evidence for.
Secondary research is finding out what others have discovered through original research and trying to reconcile conflicting viewpoints or conclusions, find new relationships between normally non-related research, and arrive at your own conclusion based on others' work. This is, of course, the usual course for college students.
An example from recent years was the relating
of tectonic, geologic, biologic, paleontologic, and
astronomic research to each other. Relating facts from these researches led to
the conclusion that the mass extinctions of 65 million years ago,including the dinosaurs, was
the result of an asteroid or comet striking the earth in the North Atlantic at
the site of
Secondary research should not be belittled simply because it is not original research. Fresh insights and viewpoints, based on a wide variety of facts gleaned from original research in many areas, has often been a source of new ideas. Even more, it has provided a clearer understanding of what the evidence means without the influence of the original researcher's prejudices and preconceptions.
Research can be directed or non-directed.
Non-directed research is finding out things for the sheer fun of finding them
Directed research, on the other hand, is done with a specific purpose in mind. The purpose could be to make a point, write a paper or speech, or simply know more about a specific thing. It is directed since it deals with something specific, and someone decides what to try next. It simply doesn't have a specific outcome in mind. For example, directed research in microelectronics is not trying to achieve a specific goal. It does, however, deal specifically with microelectronics, be it the conducting properties of alloys and compounds, electron etching, or dual bonding. It does not concern itself with anthropology. There is also a researcher or project director who decides what is worth pursuing and what is not.
Directed research is what you want to do when you are preparing a report. You have a specific goal in mind, to communicate what you want your audience to know about your topic. Thus you direct your research toward finding what you can about your topic, not to find out what there is to know about whatever you come across.
Research, pure, original or secondary, carries with it an inherent danger to those who are close-minded or comfortable in their preconceptions and prejudices. In case you're wondering, that includes everybody. However, there are people who, having arrived at a conclusion by whatever means, reject anything that contradicts, or at least doesn't support, their preconceptions and prejudices. Research has at its essence the shakeup of what you already know (if you already know it, it isn't research, it's self-congratulation for perspicacity). Let's take a look at how this works.
Research may show that what you already know
isn't correct. This is a hard thing for many people to accept. You will, on
occasion, come across a piece of evidence that contradicts your a priori
assumptions, and that is at best disconcerting and at worst traumatic. For
example, you may hold an a priori assumption "all men are created
equal". You may then find an article that states "it is a basic fact
of life that all men are inherently unequal" (people raised in the caste
. . .
If you've actually thought about it, you should have come to the conclusion that both statements, "all men are created equal," and "all men are unequal," are correct. They are also both incorrect. They are also both meaningless noises as evidence. They are, by nature, unprovable and thus not evidence.
What is evidence in this case? Your first step must lie in defining your terms.
What are "men"? Do you mean the male sex of the human species? Do you mean human beings in general: male, female, regardless of age, race, economic or social position, all socio-economic systems and governments?
What do you mean by "all"? All "men" (whatever that means) that are like you? That are not like you? That are like anything at all? The word "all" connotes "without limit". You put no limits on what are "men"? Are women "men"? Are children, whatever sex, "men"? Are you discussing sociology, biology, politics, historicity, economics? In what context? Are you discussing war, voting, pay rates, restrooms?
What do you mean by "created"? Born through biological processes? Through technological procedures (test tube babies, cloning, genetic engineering)? By some supernatural intervention with universal entropy? By government decree?
What do you mean by "equal"? Under the law? Under the sun? Under the divinity of your choice? Equal to what? You? Others?
If you find these questions confusing, good. You're thinking about them.
If you find these questions irritating and/or ridiculous ("everyone know what "All men are created equal" means!"), then you're being close-minded and will limit your research to only what agrees with your own prejudices and will discount or totally ignore anything that contradicts your own narrow ideas. (If you find the above sentence insulting, you either have an over-developed sense of empathy or you prove my point.)
Let us assume that you define "All men are created equal" as "Every human being, without exception, is born exactly the same as every other human being" ("all" as in totality, "men" as human beings, "created" as born, "equal" as in 2 + 2 = 4). Is that what you mean by "All men are created equal"? All humans are born physically, biologically, socially, economically, politically, geographically, intellectually, etc., the same? One needs only enter a maternity ward to realize that such a case is ridiculous.
Let us change the definition slightly. "Every human being, without exception, is spontaneously invented by God exactly the same as every other human being". The question becomes, "Which God?" Yahveh, the Christian God, Allah, Zeus, Wodin, Osiris, etc.? This definition also leaves the above questions intact.
Perhaps the word that needs defining is "equal". "Every human being, without exception, is born evenly balanced with every other human being." Does this mean that for every poor human there's a wealthy? For every fat human there's a thin? For every tall human there's a short? Is any of those what you mean by the phrase?
What has happened to the phrase "All men are created equal" as evidence to prove a point you wish to make? The answer to this question is, "It's disappeared." The sentiment is just that, a sentiment. Semantically, it's meaningless. Emotionally, it's extremely effective. As evidence, it doesn't exist.
The research you do is designed to give you the ammunition you need to back up what you have to say even with those that disagree with you and question what you say. That ammunition is evidence that your opponent can, or has no choice except to agree with.
You will, of course, have those that disagree with what you say; nobody agrees with anybody on everything. Thus if you make a point, you must back it up with evidence that even those that disagree must accept. Such evidence must be what is termed objective; that is, evidence that even those that disagree can discover for themselves. For example, Galileo said that objects, regardless of their weight, fell at the same speed. Aristotle said that heavy objects fell faster than light objects. Galileo did experiments that demonstrated his ideas. Those that disagreed with him finally stopped arguing "common sense" and ran the same experiments -- and demonstrated Galileo's ideas. Such objective evidence could not be argued away and thus the evidence was accepted.
One thing that many people leave out of their discussions of just about anything is evidence. They often rely more on volume or force of personality rather thanproof to back up their ideas. They shout down their less forceful opponents so opposing ideas or evidence is either not heard or disregarded. Imagine one of these people in a court of law: they say "that man is guilty". "Why?" "Because I say (or think or affirm) so." How about someone who says "The Holocaust never happened, because I don't believe it happened." Or "Blacks (women, Chicanos, whites, Jews, Catholics, et cetera ad nauseam) are inferior because they are." Would you be willing to accept their statements, simply on the basis that they said them? I doubt it.
Nonetheless, people accept such statements all the time because getting evidence to support them is not typical. For example, if your friend (father, mother, teacher, etc.) tells you something, do you ask for evidence, or do you accept what they say? After all, why would or should they lie to you? When you consider that most of the extrasomatic information you get comes from friends (family, teachers), then the habit of demanding evidence or proof for statements is not formed. Nonetheless, the habit of demanding evidence is necessary to avoid making mistakes, being misled or duped, or passing errors on to others.
Ideas, opinions, beliefs, and theories abound. You merely need to stand around at a party to hear how everyone has an opinion about anything under discussion: politics, religion, the new TV season, Star Wars (movie or defense system), the skill (or lack of skill) of any team in any sport. Sometimes these discussions can reach a volume level only found in overpopulated animal shelters or auto wrecking yards.
However, how many of them are worthy of respect? How many should you agree with? For example, someone may say, "Women are inferior." Do you agree? Disagree? Why? Inferior how? Inferior to what? Define inferior. Define women. All women? Some women? Your mother? Your sister? Who says? What is their motive for saying that? What makes them think so? Why should you agree with them? Did they answer any of these questions? Finally, when you hear the sentence, "Women are inferior," do you ask yourself these questions? Do you ask any of these questions? Why? More, if you didn't, why not?
If you did ask the questions, congratulations: you're using your head for something besides keeping your ears apart. If you didn't, don't feel bad--you're like the majority who don't think about what they don't think about (why not? They don't think about it).
Evidence is also the key to understanding your subject. A way to understand something is to break it down into its component parts, examine each one, and put it back together.
For example, your subject is state income tax. First you break the subject down into the component parts: state budget, current tax base, current tax methods -- sales, property, excise, cigarette and alcohol, B&O, etc., and anything else you can think of.
Second, you find evidence, actual information about each component part. It might be the percentages of the total tax income provided by each method, how the tax base fluctuates according to economic conditions, and/or what budget elements are provided by which tax method.
Third, you put the subject back together again, only now with a full understanding of each component and how it relates to each other component. Thus you have a more complete understanding of your topic.
Finally, evidence is the key to having others accept your ideas. To communicate your understanding of a topic you give your audience the same evidence that you found to understand it yourself. Remember that if you don't give your audience any reasons why what you have to say should be believed, then there is no reason why they should believe you.
Evidence is a piece of information that supports a conclusion. The classic example is from the law court: means, motive and opportunity. If the defendant had the means to commit the crime (say, owned a weapon to commit the murder), a motive or reason why he or she would want to commit the crime (would inherit $50,000,000 with the victim dead), and the opportunity to commit the crime (was alone with the victim when he died with the expectation of getting away undetected), and the evidence (there's that word again) proved the above, then it would be a reasonable conclusion that the defendant committed the crime. Of course, the court requires more evidence: for example, that the crime was committed with the weapon (which requires forensic and ballistic evidence), and that the defendant was the one that used the weapon beyond reasonable doubt. Nonetheless, the point is clear. For a conclusion to be acceptable as true, there must be evidence to support it.
It's too bad the above is so idealistic. In point of fact, most of what people believe is unsupported by evidence, as I showed in Chapter 2. Nevertheless, ideas are stronger when backed by information that your audience accepts. The section on research below will go into greater depth on this.
What can you use as evidence? As stated above, for some people it is sheer volume or force of personality: "if I say it (whatever "it" is) louder than anybody else, or with greater confidence or charisma, I must be correct." One needs only see the effect of the oratory of Hitler to see how well this approach can work. However, for those who do not aspire to demagoguery, evidence based on objectivity, evidence that even those who disagree with you must, if they are not bigots, agree with, must be found.
Examples and Illustrations
A strong type of evidence is examples. In an example you show precedents for what you say, that you are not making things up as you go along, but that what you are using as support for a conclusion is not a fantasy. If you can show how your conclusion is the result of, results in, or derives from certain facts or events that anyone, even those who disagree with your conclusions, can see or experience for themselves, then you have strong evidence that your conclusion is correct. For example, look through much of this book: you will find it liberally sprinkled with actual occurrences in which I have applied the ideas I am presenting to you, and the results of those applications. Those anecdotes are examples, and I use them in support of the efficacy of the methods I am urging you to try. They are evidence that the methods are viable.
However, not all examples are true-life. Some are hypothetical, i.e., not anecdotes about actual occurrences, but fictional accounts of what might happen if the ideas presented were applied. Such examples are illustrations, showing what might or might not occur if theideas are used or not used. They are more used to clarify a position or point, and are left to the reader or listener to carry out to verify their truthfulness or effectiveness. Nonetheless, illustrations are useful since, when supported by other evidence, they often do not need verification as to their effectiveness as evidence. They can simply stand as is.
Another form of evidence is statistics.
Statistics are a favorite evidence of many writers and speakers. They provide
actual numbers in support of ideas and conclusions. If you can show that 75% of
high schools seniors cannot find
Statistics are a prime source of proof that what you say is true. Statistics are based on studies: a search for possible connections between disparate facts that nonetheless have a connection. If you remember your math classes, you will recall the concept of sets and subsets. Statistics are, in large measure, concerned with that concept. They are basically telling you the proportion a subset represents in a set. To clarify this idea, look at political polls. Candidate A receives 46% approval, Candidate B receives 43% approval. Thus, the subset "responses favoring Candidate A" is 46% of the whole set, "People asked about Candidates A and B."
Another example, from real
life. William Chadwick, with his
assistant William Farr, during the great cholera plague in
Statistics also use samples to obtain
results, rather than doing actual "head counts". Neilson ratings on
how many of what kind of people watch a particular TV program is not determined
by the Neilson company asking all 240 million people in the United States what
they are watching every few minutes. What they use is a sample of the
population (called the Neilson families) that, demographically, represent the 240 million people. Neilson selects these
families very carefully since each one represents the viewing habits and
desires of some 60,000 people. Nonetheless the statistics generated by the
Neilson measurements are used to make programming decisions and set advertising
rates and budgets, things that represent billions of dollars. Thus the selection of the sample, whether Neilson's or incidence of
AIDS in the
The above is, of course, a simplistic view of an extremely complicated discipline. It is, nonetheless, the essence of statistics.
Statistics are invaluable as evidence in support of conclusions. If you can either find or generate statistics that show the truth of your conclusions, there are few that would refute your ideas.
There are, of course, problems with using statistics as evidence. Let me remind you of a famous saying: "There are three ways to not tell the truth: lies, damned lies, and statistics." What you must do is ask yourself some questions: who did the study that came up with the statistics, what exactly are the statistics measuring, who was asked, how were they asked, and compared with what? If one believes in the truth of statistics (and there are many such), then how does one explain that the same Presidential candidate can be 20 points ahead and 5 points behind his opponent in the polls at the same time? After all, both polls are "statistics". What you must be examine, if you wish to use statistics as evidence, are the above questions.
Who Did the Study
Let us examine first "who did the study." We live in a world of statistics: you can find numbers in support of just about any idea. The problem arises when you find statistics that support every way of viewing an idea. You can find statistics that show cigarettes are killers and that they have no effect on anyone's health. You can find statistics that say you should cut down on the consumption of dairy products and that dairy products are good for you. You can find statistics that prove that soft drinks will give you cancer and that they have no effect on anything but your thirst. Every one of these sets of statistics is absolutely true.
The phrase "numbers don't lie" is true; what you need to examine is who is publishing the numbers, and what are they trying to prove with them. Are the statistics provided by the American Cancer Society or the American Tobacco Institute? Are they provided by the American Medical Association or the American Dairy Association? Are they provided by the Cancer Institute or the United States Food and Drug Administration? (Did the latter give you pause? It should. Both are reputable. Yet both have differing opinions based on statistics.)
Every point of view uses statistics to support their ideas. It's your job to examine all statistics supporting all points of view, to arrive at your own conclusions based on all of them. If you can't arrive at a conclusion, do your own study. An easier course, naturally, is to find out what all possible sides have to say and what other evidence they have in support of their statistics.
Once you have determined whether or not there is prejudice involved in the statistics (please recall from Section I that subjectivity is unavoidable), then it is time to move on to the next question: what are the statistics measuring?
What are the Statistics Measuring
When asking yourself, "what are the statistics measuring," bear in mind the old saw about measuring apples and oranges. Most people will say that you can't compare apples and oranges. This is both true and false. It depends on WHAT YOU ARE MEASURING. Color? No. Texture? No. Overall appearance? No. Acidity? Yes. Sugar content? Yes. Vitamin, mineral, carbohydrate, or fat content? Yes.
As you can see, it is possible to compare apples and oranges, if you know what you are measuring. Your job, in using statistics as evidence, is to determine what exactly is being measured, and not simply spout numbers that seem to apply to your topic. If your topic is "Nutritional Value of Oranges," statistics proving that apples are nothing like oranges may be measuring the wrong things.
Who was Asked?
Once you've determined what the statistics are measuring, you next need to find out how the research was done. Many studies, the results of which are disseminated using statistics, are done by asking people their opinions or what they do or think or feel or . . .. Such studies include political, sociological, consumer behavior, media audience, and other areas which are based on individual people's ideas, opinions and/or attitudes.
Such areas are often referred to as "soft sciences", as opposed to "hard sciences" that do research designed to minimize as much as possible the human factor in the evidence and conclusions. The "human factor" is, naturally, impossible to eliminate totally as long as humans are involved, but the studies, to be "scientific" must be repeatable and predictive in nature. That is, once a study has been done, equivalent results must appear when the study is done again by other researchers who have no connection with the original researchers, and the results should allow researchers to say what will happen next.
Let us say that scientific statistics show meteors fall during a specific period (say, August) at an average rate (say, 60 per hour). This study is repeated several years during August and the rate stays the same. Thus the study is repeatable. From those statistics it is possible to predict that in future years theaverage rate of shooting stars in August will continue to be 60 per hour. In this case, "who is being asked" are the impersonal forces of nature.
It is the soft sciences that most often, intentionally or unintentionally, misuse or misapply statistics. The studies are often not repeatable and usually not predictive. The reason for this is that people and what they say or do are the bases of the statistics. It seems axiomatic that people will perversely refuse to say or do the same thing twice running, or let anyone predict what they will do. In fact, many people consider themselves insulted when called predictable, and anything from the weather to the time of day to who's asking the question can change what they will say or do about something.
What does this mean to you as you examine the statistics you plan on using as evidence? First, try to determine whether the statistics are hard or soft science based. The simplest way to do this is simply find out if people or nature is being studied. If nature it's hard science, if people it's soft.
Second, if the statistics are hard science, check to see what results other researchers who have repeated the study obtained. If the second study has results that vary widely from the first, find a third and/or fourth and use the results that are consistent overall.
Of course, hard science statistics often
require that you examine who was asked. Check the sample: if the statistics say
that 30% of the
Soft science statistics are even more slippery than hard science statistics. First, there are few hard, repeatable, non-subjective facts on which to base the statistics. If you wish to show how people react to violence, how do you define violence? And how do the people in your study define violence (a victim of a mugging may define violence as getting within five feet of him, while a mugger may define it as anything that happens that causes him physical damage (what he does to others is simply high spirits)).
Also bear in mind that any study that uses human subjects is almost impossible to conduct under laboratory conditions, in which all factors that could effect the outcome of the experiment are controlled, including the variable under study. For a truly statistically valid study showing the effects of television violence on children, the children would have to isolated from all other factors that could have an influence. These other factors would include contact with other human beings, with other expressions of violence (people, reading, radio, movies, newspapers, etc.). This would obviously work to the social and developmental detriment of the children.
As a matter of fact, a recent controversy arouse over using medical data collected by the Nazis in the concentration camps. These data were collected with absolutely noregard for the fact that the test subjects were human beings; they were treated much worse than any laboratory animal in the world today. Ethical and moral considerations aside, the data are viewed as valuable. However, there are people who believe that the ethical and moral considerations are paramount, and that the data, no matter how valuable, should be destroyed because of the way they were gathered.
In addition to the fact that any study involving humans must take into account human and humane considerations, you should never underestimate the perversity of a human being. In studying comedy one of the first things I learned was never tell the audience I was going to be funny. The moment a comedian says to an audience, "You're really going to find this funny," the same audience that moments before was falling out of their chairs laughing will turn cold and silent, with an "Oh, yeah? Show me" attitude.
In the same vein, a truism in advertising is that fifty percent of advertising works; the problem is no one can figure out which fifty percent. The reason is that no one can really figure out what will influence people to buy products.
To try to understand "soft" statistics, let's take a look at advertising research and consumer behavior, both of which are subsets of socio- and psychological research. In particular, we'll look at some basic axioms of consumer research that apply to any soft statistics.
First is the realization that all people are different. No two people, not even identical twins, are exactly the same background and upbringing, have had the same conversations in the same words, have read the same books or magazines or newspapers at exactly the same time, or done anything the same as anyone else. This fact is precisely the opposite of what is necessary to statistics -- that there are similarities that give significance to the variables.
There are, of course, some factors that many people have in common with other people, and upon them statistics depend. These factors can include the society in which they live, their social class, whether they are urban, suburban or rural; their relationships -- most people have had a mother and father, perhaps siblings, friends of the same or opposite sex; and their interests: sports, television, reading science fiction or mysteries or romances. Of course, not everybody fits into all categories. Again, all people are different, but they do have some things in common.
What the above means is that no statistic has any application to an individual, but can have an application to the group. However, the statistics are determined on the basis of studying individuals in the group, not studying the group. Now recall the problems with individuals. First, individuals change, not only from year to year but from moment to moment.
Second, individuals are inconsistent. What they like today they may hate the next. You may love spaghetti, but eat it five days in a row, and you may find the thought of eating it again nauseating.
Third, individuals often don't know what they want, and even if they do, they don't know or can't tell you why.
Then there are a few problems involved in surveying individuals togather the information to formulate the statistics. First, people often can't remember information about themselves and thus the background can be incomplete. If you don't believe this, recall exactly when you got your last tetanus booster shot, or the grade you got in freshman English in high school.
Second, there is a prestige bias. Answers a person gives involve the person personally -- his or her pride, self-esteem and self-image are involved. Thus, people will often give an answer that will heighten their image. According to TV viewing diaries, nobody watches professional women's wrestling, but Masterpiece Theatre has a 50 rating. In some classes a few years ago I ran a survey that, as a part of the background, asked "How many hours do you watch television during an average week." The average answer was seven hours per week (please recall that the national average is seven hours per day). Granted that college students do not usually have a great deal of time to devote to watching TV, the classes in which I gave this survey were advertising and mass media criticism, both of which require watching television. What's more, for people who avowed little interest in television, these same students had a near encyclopedic knowledge of details about programs and/or commercials that were discussed, in many cases rivaling my own (I watch television an average of eight hours per day). It was clear that the responses on the survey bore little relationship to reality. Nonetheless, I was not surprised at the responses. Television watching traditionally has a prestige problem, and prestige bias clearly influenced how people answered the question.
Third, people lie. That may seem a bit blunt, but there is no reason to sugarcoat. People notonly stretch the truth, fib or misspeak themselves. They lie. Ask them a question and, just for the hell of it they may lie. They may lie because they find the truth uncomfortable or embarrassing, or because they simply want to screw up your results. With lying a virtual social necessity (do you really tell your best friend that his or her breath could knock a buzzard off a honey wagon?), the fact the people lie when responding to studies should come as no surprise.
Finally, many studies not only try to find out what people do, but why they do it. Here the problem lies in respondents inability to articulate or explain their true feelings and motivations. Many people do things because it "feels" like the thing to do, but they cannot explain what that feeling is or how it arose. They will do the best they can, but since so many such feelings are subconscious and/or based on a priori assumptions, they have never been examined and put into words.
How Were They Asked?
It is not only the respondents but the questioners that contribute their own prejudice to the gathering of facts. Two things that are used in surveys and statistical studies are questions and answers. First, let's examine the questions.
Researchers generally have an idea what their research is looking for. They thus formulate questions that will illuminate their research, either pro or con. Prejudice can creep in when a researcher unconsciously words questions in such a way that the answers support his or her contention or opinion. Various questions of this type are leadingquestions, loaded questions, and double-barrelled questions.
Leading questions are those that tell the respondant how to answer. Attorneys sometimes use them. For example, "Is it not true that on the night of the 27th you were drunk?" Such a question leads the respondent to say yes. Asking instead, "Were you drunk on the night of the 27th?" does not tell the witness how to respond.
Loaded questions are those that, no matter ow they are answered, the respondent loses. "Are you still beating your wife?" and "Are you still cheating on your income tax?" are examples. A loaded question appears to ask for a yes or no answer, yet the actual answer may be neither yes nor no.
Double-barrelled questions are those that ask for more than one piece of information in the same question. For example, "Do you go up or downtown in the afternoon?" is double-barrelled.
It is the answers that sometimes cause difficulty for a researcher. The problems lie not only in how the respondents answer, but in how the researcher responds to the answer. Sometimes the response is not what the researcher wants or needs and/or contradicts expectations. He or she must then account for the anomaly. He or she may revamp the original concept or theory, revamp the study, or even ignore the data. The researcher may fall prey to selective perception or cognitive dissonance (see Chapter 6 for a full explanation).
Thus "How were they asked?" requires an examination of the original study in order to see if the researcher may have made an error in questioning and in understanding the answers.
Compared with What?
Finally, you need to examine statistics to
determine what are the comparisons being drawn and are they relevant and valid.
For example, say your topic is gun control. You could find statistics on murder
rates with handguns per capita in
What about the culture? The
From the above it is clear that any statistics on murder rates says nothing about the efficacy of gun control laws, but rather about the cultural and/or societal factors that make such laws ineffective. If you wish statistics to serve as evidence for a gun control law, find something else.
For the above reasons you must search for other evidence to support whatever statistics you use as support, if only to show that the statistics actually apply.
Do not, however, take all the problems outlined above as a condemnation of statistics as evidence. Statistics are excellent evidence, and often the easiest and most concise way to express evidence. I merely wish you to be aware you must examine them for relevance, validity and authority or they can do you more harm than good in proving your point.
Testimony is simply citing or quoting what someone else has said about your topic. There is really only one thing to bear in mind when using testimony as evidence: who said it. Testimony must be authoritative or it isn't worth listening to.
Let's say your topic is nuclear physics. Quoting George Spelvin, head janitor at Daggy Hall would probably leave your audience wondering, "Why should I listen to him? What does he know about nuclear physics?" On the other hand, if George Spelvin is a PH.D. nuclear physicist from MIT, such authority makes his statements believable and worthy of attention.
Thus, when you use testimony as evidence, be certain to cite your source. State who said it, and who he/she/it is that makes him/her/it worthy of respect.
Analogy and Comparison
An analogy is drawing comparisons between different factors in two dissimilar things to help illustrate or clarify one of the two. One of the two is usually chosen because it is basically understood by the audience, and thus the one that is not understood can be made clear.
For example, you can draw an analogy between football and war. Both deal with offense and defense, ground gaining to win the battle, have platoon systems, generals (coaches), officers (quarterbacks and defensive callers), soldiers (linemen), etc. Thus the audience can get a clear, if perhaps simplistic idea of war through the analogy.
There are, of course, problems with using analogies. First, when deciding on the analogy you must choose one in which the similarities far outweigh the differences. For example, an analogy between producing a theatrical play and football would be ridiculous, since there are virtually no similarities (the director might be considered the coach, but there is no offense or defense, linemen or backs, there is a set script while a football game never goes according to plan).
Second, be certain your audience knows the
elements of your analogy. You could, of course, draw an analogy between
football and war for Australians, but all you would do is confuse the hell out
of them. They do indeed have football, but it is a game that bears very little
resemblance to the game played in North America or
Third, analogies cannot stand alone. They are a wonderful way of clarifying points, but they do not actually prove anything. If you use an analogy, you must back it up with other types of evidence that support the analogy as being valid.
Comparisons are much like analogies without the complexity. When making a comparison, show how one thing is like or not like something else. Comparisons are particularly useful when explaining to your audience a concept out of the ordinary or not clear by "common sense". The difference between waste generated by coal-fired versus nuclear plants is more clearly made by making a comparison between amounts of waste created in, say, a year. A 1000 megawatt nuclear plant creates one cubic yard (two wheelbarrow loads) of waste per year; a 1000 megawatt coal-fired power plant creates 5,256,000 tons (105,000 truckloads) of waste per year. (Note the two comparisons made: one between quantity (cubic yards vs. tons) and the other between wheelbarrow loads and truckloads.) This use of comparisons to make a piece of evidence clearer is extremely useful when dealing with unfamiliar or uncommon ideas.
The same caveats you must observe when doing analogies apply when doing comparisons: likenesses far outweigh differences, audience familiarity with one of the elements of the comparison, and they cannot stand alone.
There are many types of evidence: illustrations, statistics, testimony, analogies, comparisons. However, if you don't know where to find it, you can't use it.
The first place to look, and one of the best, is your personal experience. After all, who knows better how to do something than someone who has done it successfully? If you can say and show, " This is how I did whatever," most would agree that is a way to do "whatever". For example, if you wish to tell your audience how to rig a model ship, you could begin by telling them what materials you use, such as the thread and tweezers, glue and pins. Then show them how to tie and stretch and attach the thread to the ship, explaining the techniques as you go. Once the audience sees what happens when you do it your way, they will agree you know what you're doing (assuming that you do) and they can do it that way, too.
The second place to look for evidence, if you haven't done it yourself, is to watch someone else do it. In other words, observation: "I didn't do it myself, but I saw it done, and this is what he/she/it did." This approach is useful when you need to support a complex technique that you have not had to opportunity to do yourself. Operating a nuclear plant control room is something that few people have done, but you can observe it and then describe what you saw.
If, of course, you can't watch something happen, you can talk tosomeone who has. The interview is a major source of information to support any contention you may wish to make. There is always someone, somewhere, who knows something that would help you, and is willing to talk to you.
An interview places an onus on you, as the interviewer, that you must not overlook. Many people are willing to talk to you, but not to teach you how to understand what they are saying. In other words, do your homework. If you wish information on nuclear power, know what questions to ask and have the vocabulary to understand the answers. If you have to ask what an atom is, or how to generate nuclear power, then you don't have the necessary background. You will also quite probably try the patience of your interviewee. Remember the purpose of an interview is to get fresh information, insight and proof unavailable from other sources, not background.
Of course, background is absolutely vital not only to understand but to communicate that understanding to others. Personal experience and observation are excellent sources of background, but no one can experience everything. Thus it is always a good idea to look in other places for background.
What many people seem to think is the only place to look for information is in books. Don't get me wrong: books are excellent. If I didn't think so, I wouldn't write them myself. However, what you must always keep in mind is that any book, the moment it hits the shelf, is out of date. It takes anywhere from six months to five or more years to write a book. After it'swritten it takes up to two years to get it published and on the shelf. Thus, particularly in some areas such as electronics, cybernetics, math, physics, and other aspects of science and engineering, even the most current research appearing in a book can be at best incomplete and at worst totally wrong.
If the book is old, the problem is even worse. After all, if you based your ideas on a book written at the turn of the century, you could end up telling your audience that the sun is a huge ball of burning coal that would burn out in a few thousand years. The nuclear process of mass into energy, which powers the sun, was unknown much less understood before 1905 and Albert Einstein.
A second problem is that many people find one book and base all their evidence on it. However, authors write books to express their ideas and interpretation of whatever, if any, evidence the author has found to support them. A problem is that authors can be misled, misapprehend, not do enough research, or even deliberately set out to mislead their readers. If you don't believe the latter is possible, remember Hitler and Mao and. . .. This, considering that the information in books can become outdated, requires the careful researcher to look in more than one, or two, or three to check each one against the other.
Let me give you an example from my own research. I was to determine whether or not there was a raised stage in the 5th and 4th century B.C. Attic Greek theatre. I was certain there was indeed a stage, and set out to prove it. However, believing that no one source can tell me all nor be trusted as the only way to view any subject, I not only read those books that agreed with me but those that didn't. Then I checked the sources the authorshad used, then checked those as far back and as well as I could. From this cross checking, and other research, I found that I was wrong. I decided there was not a raised stage in the Attic Greek theatre. At least that is my opinion based on my research: there are many who, from their research, disagree with me. Fine: there is more than one way to view just about anything. However, if you were writing or speaking on the topic and only read what they wrote about it, you would be wrong. You would be as wrong if you read only what I wrote. You must read both and form your own opinion. Compare the evidence presented on all sides and weigh them without prejudice against everything else you find. No one is the final word on anything. Only you can be the final word for yourself.
If books are not the final word, where else can you look? Another fine source of information is journals. People often ignore journals because they are magazines written for specialists in a particular field. This is both their strength and their weakness.
Almost any field you can think of has one or more journals. Medicine has THE NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE or THE LANCET. Theatre has THE SHAKESPEARE QUARTERLY and THE TULANE DRAMA REVIEW. Biology has the QUARTERLY REVIEW OF BIOLOGY. Veterinarians have the VETERINARY RECORD.
The strength of journals is that leading specialists in the fields write the articles in them, sharing their latest research and insights. Thus you get the thinking of the leading people to support your ideas. The weakness of journals is that leading specialists in the field write the articles in them(sound familiar?). The specialists do not write the articles for the average person to understand but for other specialists to understand. Thus the language, syntax, vocabulary, etc. may approach opaque for a nonspecialist. Here are some examples of how confusing it can be:
One of the remarkable and characteristic properties currently under intensive laboratory study is that when a metallic receptacle is subjected to a careful and continuous scrutiny of a deliberate nature, the mixture which it is the nature and purpose of the said receptacle to contain will not, in point of fact, undergo a phase change and permit entry into a gaseous form at any point in time within the duration of the aforementioned scrutiny.
Meaning: A watched pot never boils
We have found that the individual under study should find the most feasible means that will enable him or her, as the case may be, to enter into a rapid repose, facilitating, as soon as possible, an actual somnolent condition along an interface as well as a precocious cessation of the condition and re-entry into a scheduled plan of activities that will maximize salubrious and/or salutary conditions, in addition to factors which favor a rise in profits or, as the circumstances may dictate, greater growth in the level of mental performance and achievement.
Meaning: Early to bed and early to rise . . .
Here is an example from the QUARTERLY REVIEW OF BIOLOGY.
A change elicited by an affect or effect or by an effectant in theaffectee is a passive or active response affect or response effect. If it counters the affect or effect of the affectant which elicits it, is an active counter-affect or counter-effect. If it is an active counter affect or effect, it is a counter active affect or effect, i.e., a reaction in the strictest sense of the term as used by pathologists.
I wish you luck with this one. I haven't provided a translation because I can't figure out what it says. Nevertheless, don't let the above extreme examples frighten you away from using journals. They are still an excellent source of information.
Journals have one other problem. Publishers issue them at long intervals, varying from three months to a year. The articles are therefore four or five months to two years removed from the end of the research the author has done. Thus, although not as out-of-date as books must be, they are still not the latest word.
Where else can you go, then? The answer is magazines. Publishers issue magazines every month or even every week. The information in the articles is therefore quite fresh, perhaps only one or two months old.
There is, of course, a problem with magazine articles as a source of information. Unlike books or journals, reporters, not specialists in the field, write the articles. They are not actually doing the research to generate the article, but are reporting what the specialists are doing. Many magazines employ reporters with qualifications in the area they are reporting. Ascience reporter for TIME magazine may write about anything having to do with science. However, he/she cannot be an expert in rocketry, biology, astronomy, and all the other areas of science he or she might cover.
Nonetheless, as a source of current background information, magazines are invaluable.
To get the latest information available, the place to look is in newspapers. Their information is from yesterday. However, the problem of reporters writing the articles as explained above is exacerbated by three things. First, the reporter is even less likely to be an expert on the subject. Editors often assign a story to a reporter because he/she is available, not because of any particular qualifications in the area. It is true that newspapers reporters are expert at gathering information through observation, interviews and background research. However, they are not always experts in the fields they are covering.
Second, newspapers reporters are always under the gun of a deadline. They often must write the article within a very short time. They thus may have to take shortcuts or forgo more in-depth analysis or research to finish on time. Thus the article may not be as informative or reliable as other forms of research.
Third, the writing style of newspapers is different from that of books, journals or magazines. The inverted pyramid style works well to help you decide if you want to read the article. Its opening paragraph contains the basics of the entire story and following paragraphs go into greater and greater detail. However, you can lose some of theorganization necessary to see the relative importance of various points. In addition, the editor, due to space restrictions, may cut paragraphs off the end of the article. These paragraphs may contain just the details you need.
Feature stories, those written less to report the news than to provide the newspaper's readers with information on a topic, don't have all of the above drawbacks. The reporter who writes the story is often given the assignment due to some expertise in the area; since there is no great rush to put the story before the public, the onus of the deadline is reduced; and finally, the feature story does not have to use the inverted pyramid style but can be written in expository style.
Nevertheless, don't disparage what you can find in newspapers. They are an excellent source of background information and leads to other places to look for support.
Now that you know where to find evidence, you need to know how to use it. This is the most difficult step for most people. They spend days and even weeks finding information to use in their papers or speeches. With a little thought and planning it is possible to cut that time down to hours. This is true whether you are an undergraduate having to do an English paper or public speaking assignment, a graduate student needing a review of literature, or a professional needing to do a report or speech for work.
The first step is determining your specific topic. There are many subjects, but each subject has many topics. For example, the subject may be geology, but your topic may be granite, igneous formations, or vulcanism. You can narrow down each of these topics even more specifically. You can narrow vulcanism to cone formation, ash versus lava volcanoes, dome formation, relationship of earthquakes to vulcanism, etc. Here you will concentrate your research. Don't try to study geology--that would take years. Don't try to research vulcanism--that would take months. Research cone formation.
The process of selecting a topic is called brainstorming. Brainstorming makes it sound like you're doing something extremely powerful with your mind. Well, in a way, you are doing something extremely powerful with your mind: you are allowing your mind to do what it is most capable of doing--synthesizing. It is allowing the mind to work at random, to find relationships between ideas and concepts by utilizing the subconscious rather than the conscious mind. The easiest way to illustrate this is to give an example.
Brainstorming can start anywhere. Simply look around the room, pick an object, say it or write it down, write down the next word that occurs to you without trying to think of one, then write down the next word that occurs to you, then the next, then the next, then the next. Do this until nothing occurs to you, or until your hand falls off from writer's cramp, which ever comes first. Since I am "writing" this while driving my car (using a tape recorder, actually), I will simply start anywhere, say with "car". Then, without attempting to think about it, start making a list of words or ideas that occur to mein a stream of consciousness. (The following list was generated in this way; it just looks neater because I had to type it up for this book.)
Declaration of Independence
the light bulb
Here we have a list of 59 words that can all be topics for speeches, for papers, for conversation. None of these were thought of consciously. They simply followed one after the other, although occasionally the relationship between one word and the next can be obscure. But, for example starting at the top, we have "car", which made me think of a truck, cars and trucks are made by Ford, which was also the name of the president, Gerald R. Ford, who pardoned Nixon, who ran against Kennedy, who stressed the moon shot, which required astronomy. Astrology is another way of studying stars. Other -ologies are anthropology, archeology, hemeotology (the study of blood), and oesteology (the study of bones). The last two -ologies must be understood to be able to do stage or movie make-up, which you wear when acting, which you do while someone else is directing, which someone does when making a movie or TV show. A popular form of TV show is the situation comedy, a couple of which are M*A*S*H and THREE'S COMPANY, both of which are comedies, although the latter is often considered a tragedy, a form of play invented by the Greeks who were taken over by the Romans who watched gladiatorial games, even during the times of Claudius, Nero, and Caligula, a tyrant much like Hitler who had the concentration camps in which he put followers of Judaism, the precursor to Christianity, another religion, which is playing a large part in today's politics, even though it's against the Constitution, one of America's great documents, like the Declaration of Independence which was written by Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, both great inventors like Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb which is absolutely vital when lighting a set or the audience can't see the actors after all the trouble directors like Hitchcock and Spielburg have gone to. Spielburg directed movies about ETs and UFOs and other science fiction themes, some but not all based on accurate cosmology and physics as enunciated by Einstein or Newton or Aristotle, the author of ARS POETICA and a compatriot of Pythagoras, one of the great theoreticians of mathematics.
As one can see, these ideas flow naturally and require little or no thought; as a matter of fact, the less thought that you apply the more likely you are to be able to come up with a long list.
Another great advantage to this ideation or brainstorming is the fact that if you did not already know something about the topic it would never occur to you to write it down; it simply would not come into your mind. Thus, you can avoid a great deal of time and effort spent learning enough about a topic to decide whether or not you want to do it: you already know enough about the topic to be able to start your outline.
This latter point, that prior knowledge about a topic must be in your mind for the topic to occur to you, is the greatest reason and the greatest power of brainstorming. When you start to outline you will find that you already know enough about the topic to be able to do at least two levels of your outline. This is a great saving in time, effort, and research.
The next step in brainstorming is simply elimination. You want to remove from your list of topics anything that 1) you're not interested in; 2) is too much trouble; 3) you feel you don't know enough about; 4) your audience wouldn't be interested in; or 5) you just don't care. Don't take this last too lightly: if you don't care about your topic, neither will your audience.
The easiest way to eliminate possible topics is to go to the top of your list and brainstorm about each individual topic. Do it quickly: if nothing occurs to you when you look at it, strike it out. If something does occur to you to narrow down your topic or specify it, apply to it the same rules as above. If it's too complicated for your audience, does not fulfill the assignment, or you just aren't interested in discussing that topic, then strike it out.
For example, the topic CAR. This topic could be the history of the car, beginning
with 1600 and the first self-propelled vehicle and working to the present. Or
TRUCK: the uses, design, load limits, diesel vs. gasoline, numbers, taxation,
etc. FORD: Gerald, Henry, Edsel, the Edsel car, advertising, planned obsolescence, etc. NIXON:
early career as a lawyer, entry into politics, vs. Kennedy, the debates,
Vietnam War, etc. KENNEDY: in politics,
Well, you get the idea. The list after each word was generated in exactly the same way as the original list of topics. Any of them could be the topic for a paper. If one of the topics strikes your fancy (and/or fulfills the assignment) then stop and begin to develop the idea by a combination of brainstorming and outlining.
Beginning the Research
The second step also uses brainstorming. Make a list of every major thing you know about your topic. Then for each item on the list put whatever support you can brainstorm for them. In this way you find out how much you already know about your topic. You may discover one of three things. First, you already know a lot more than you thought and thus will have an easy time of finding evidence. Second, you don't know as much as you thought and therefore will have to learn more before trying to report it. Third, what you know is contradictory and you will have to do research to understand your topic. In any case, you're not wasting time in libraries or labs finding out what you already know.
Once you've reached this point it is time to plan your research. Examine your list for holes. Are there some main ideas that have only one or no pieces of support? You'll either have to eliminate or research that main idea. Are there some subpoints that have little or no evidence? You'll have to find some: a subpoint cannot stand alone. Is a subpoint or piece of evidence your opinion only? You must find some other evidence to back it up.
It should be clear by now what is happening. You are narrowing down your search for information to specifics rather than generalities.Don't research nuclear plants, research power plant disasters, pollution factors, numbers, percentage of power provided, etc. Don't research Nixon, research Nixon's career as a lawyer, career as a politician, as Vice President, as President, in foreign affairs, in domestic affairs, etc.
THE PROCESS OF RESEARCH
Now that you know what you're looking for, how do you go about finding it? You will once again rely on your old friend, brainstorming.
You know what you want to accomplish. Sit
down and take a moment or two to brainstorm every facet you could possibly look
for to accomplish it. For example, if your topic is "drug use in
US armed forces
US Olympics Committee
"Clean and Sober"
(this should give you an idea)
Once you have created your list of possible topics, think of everything you might have read or seen or heard that have any bearing on any of the topics. For example, I was once thinking about dreams (no particular reason, It was just something that popped into my head). As I thought about dreams, it occurred to me that I had read something about dreams. A few moments later I was scanning my shelves for something that would jog my memory. It happened as I came across the name Carl Sagan, author of the book THE DRAGONS OF EDEN, which does indeed contain a chapter about dreaming. That chapter led me to look into other aspects of dreams and further research. (If you think that sort of thing is worthless and a waste of time, three days later at a party the conversation turned to dreams (it came as quite a surprise), and all of my research fit right in and contributed to the conversation. It's nice being able to join in on conversations; it's even nicer to have something to say in those conversations.)
Of course, it is beyond reason to expect you to have, in your own head, all the source material you need for any project. However, human beings have a great advantage -- an extrasomatic (a fancy way of saying "outside the body", or in this case "outside the brain") source of information.
The most common extrasomatic source of information is the library. All of your brainstormed topics are subjects to look under in indices to find evidence. Most libraries, and certainly all college and university libraries, maintain indices for magazines, journals and newspapers. These can include theREADER'S GUIDE TO PERIODICAL LITERATURE, THE NEW YORK TIMES INDEX, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES INDEX, TOPICATOR, etc.. Naturally, don't forget the card file or computer data base for books, which will often list the chapters or subjects under which the book will be listed, as well as the title. Armed with your brainstormed list of possible subjects to look for, check every index that might contain something on your topic to find articles or books. Under each heading write down any title and/or author (and, of course, where to find it in the library) of everything that, in your opinion, might contain anything you might be able to use. Do not look just for titles that contain words on your list, or are specifically about your topic. If the title seems only peripherally related to your topic, write it down. If a title triggers a new idea or a brainstorming session, go with it.
DO NOT SELF-CENSOR. The moment you limit what you will actually look at for information is the moment you will undoubtedly miss just the piece of information you need (remember that if it can go wrong, it already has and you just weren't paying attention, and that Murphy was an optimist). Do not rely on serendipity, but take advantage of it when opperknockity tunes.
You have now compiled a list of books, magazines, journals and newspapers at which to look. Do you now check them all out, take them home, and read them? Of course not: you're looking for evidence, not a lifetime career. You may have ten, fifty, five hundred possibilities, many, if not most, of which are of no use to you whatever. Don't let this discourage, or worse shorten your list -- diamonds only appear after sifting through tons of rock.
The sifting through the dross is the step that takes most people the most time. They don't look for what they need, they simply read. Reading an entire book is not research, it's a course of study. Reading an entire book, article in a magazine or journal may be interesting, fascinating or enthralling, but that's personal gratification (absolutely nothing wrong with that!) but it's not research. Research is getting what you need now (there is, after all, something you need to accomplish now), and save reading those fascinating articles for later. (Do go back and read them: you cannot lose and have much to gain, if only in self-gratification or conversational material (remember the dreams)).
Sifting means being left only with those things of importance. That is why anthropologists and archaeologists sift every spoonful of dirt to be left with the tiny clues of bone and stone and pottery that tell them so much. It is this process through which you want to go, and with some guidelines it's easy.
First, let's look at books. Books have two things of great value that are often ignored (it makes one wonder why anyone bothers to go to the trouble to create them). They are the table of contents and the index.
First, look at the table of contents. There may be a chapter or a subchapter (often included in the table of contents) that is just what you're looking for. If not, don't start reading yet. Flip to the end of the book. If there is a chapter that fits, turn to it.
DON'T READ THE CHAPTER. First, many chapters are subdivided into sections. Look at the section titles, which are called subheads. This will often narrow your searchto what you're looking for. If there are no section titles, look at the end of the chapter for a summary. Many chapters have a summary of what is contained in the chapter (it may not be labeled as a summary, but the last few paragraphs of a chapter usually sum up what is in the chapter).
Barring that, start at the beginning and look for topic sentences in the paragraphs. DO NOT READ THE PARAGRAPHS; find out what is in the paragraphs. Scan, don't read. An advantage of the human eye and mind is that it can identify out of a mass of letters that particular combination that the mind is looking for. (Try it: scroll back a bit and scan (not read) the pages for the word "enthralling". The word appears only once. The exercise should take no more than 30 seconds.
. . .
(Find it? See what I mean?) If the book does contain something of value, mark the page and put it on one stack: don't read it yet, that comes later. If the table of contents fails you, do not despair. (In my research on dreams, I looked in THE DRAGONS OF EDEN and found nothing in the chapter titles that gave me the slightest clue that this was the book I actually wanted.) After all, it should take you no more than 15 to 30 seconds to read the Table of Contents, and thus you haven't wasted any time worth mentioning. You can turn to the end of the book.
At the end of the book will be the index. Use your brainstormed list of topics and see if the book has anything equal or related to them. If not, the odds are there's nothing in the book you need to bother looking at. Set the book aside. DON'T READ IT. You've got enough other sources on your list tolook at. You may go back to this book, but for now, FORGET IT. (In Sagan's book I checked the index, and there it was: Dreams, followed by the pages I needed. It was just the information I needed.)
Go through all your books this way. If there is nothing in the Table of Contents nor the Index, you will eliminate many of them that you needn't bother with, at least for now.
Now is the time to sift through the books you have on your pile that you have not rejected. Turn to those pages in the chapters or from the index that do fit your requirements and help prove your points. Start by scanning for key words and reading where you see those words, and taking notes now.
Using the above method should allow you to reduce a pile of forty or fifty books to those that are of value to you in less than an hour (ignoring, of course, the time it take you to locate the books on the shelf, look at the table of contents and/or index while standing at the shelf or carry them to a desk, and work up a desire to get started (do not ignore this last--it is arguably the hardest part of your research)).
There are, naturally, disadvantages to this method. First, it is quite possible that what you are looking for is not in the index; no index contains every possible topic, or it would take up half the book. Second, you may miss, by scanning, the word or phrase that you need to find what you're looking for. Nonetheless, since you have the opportunity of examining far more books in far less time by this method, and with practice your ability to examine the index and to scan will increase, you will miss far less and find far more than by any other way.
Magazines, journals and newspapers can be done even more quickly than books, barring the time it takes pick up a new one and to turn the pages. You have already narrowed the field by selecting which ones to use by the title of the article. Now you can use the above described methods of looking for subheads and scanning to find what you need (journals in particular use subheads; they are less common in magazines and newspapers (except for such as TIME, the WALL STREET JOURNAL and THE NEW YORK TIMES)).
Again, if the articles fit what you need, keep them -- if they don't, set them aside (read them later; you can't lose). Now you can take your notes and gather your evidence. Also again, the same drawbacks that apply to books applies to using this method on periodicals. However, also again, the same advantages accrue.
It is possible that you are saying to yourself, "What does Taflinger know about this -- has he ever had to do it?" The answer is yes -- the above is from my own experience. I only wish someone had taught these methods to me before I had to invent them for myself under the gun. When doing my doctoral comprehensive examinations I had to write the equivalent of nine term papers in two weeks. This required researching many books and articles (I often had stacks of books four or more feet tall next to my desk). To get through this stack, representing several million words of research, I had to find a way. The above method is the way that worked for me, and has worked for several thousand of my students in English composition, public speaking, oral interpretation, advertising, and media criticism classes.
(I told you that most books will have a chapter summary.)
The third, and arguably most important of human senses are the vicarious senses -- reading, listening, viewing. Since they do not necessarily involve the personal, mechanical or associative senses they are less likely to be subjective in nature. They allow for a multiplicity of views and viewpoints, resolutions of subjective conflicts, and ideas that wouldn't ordinarily arise. They also allow for gathering evidence that is acceptable to others who wouldn't ordinarily agree with the expressed viewpoint.
Of course, it is necessary to know what evidence is. It is proofs that supports a contention, an opinion, a hypothesis or theory. Not everything can be evidence -- opinions, assumptions, untested ideas merely maintain preconceptions, not prove them. Evidence provides proof in such a way that even people who disagree will, if they are not completely closed-minded, accept it.
It is also necessary to know where to find evidence. It can come from books, magazines, journals, newspapers, interviews, TV programs, radio shows, movies and documentaries, and any number of other sources. By brainstorming it is possible to determine what is already known and what must be found. The search is thus narrowed down to save time, energy, and resources. Most of the above sources come with indices, tables of contents, and other ways of locating specific items of interest quickly and easily.
Once information is gathered it is possible to go on to the next step -- thinking.
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2011 Richard F. Taflinger.
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