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Academic Inquiry

Learn the basics of academic inquiry and expectations for research at the academic level.

Research, Writing, and Academic Inquiry

In the context of this guide, “research” refers broadly to the process of finding and reading scholarly literature. While much of this guide also applies to conducting original research, be aware that the methods and processes of conducting original research (planning, designing, and disseminating) varies by discipline. For more information about research methods, please see our Research Methods & Design guide:

Research as Inquiry

 “Research is iterative and depends upon asking increasingly complex or new questions whose answers in turn develop additional questions or lines of inquiry in any field.”  

- ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education 

In your past classes, you may have been asked to complete a certain type of paper, such as an argumentative or persuasive essay. When writing these types of papers, it can be tempting to pick a topic or position first, then conduct your research as a means to prove or disprove that stance. However, research should not be approached in this way. Instead, academic research should be an open-ended process, facilitated by a desire to learn.  

Choosing a topic for a paper or project IS research. Students should use research (a.k.a. reading and writing) to craft a research question. Understand that your question may change over time. If you are appropriately conducting research with an emphasis on inquiry, your research question/topic/focus will shift as you familiarize yourself with the literature. It is very rare that a paper topic will remain static throughout the research process. 

Treating research this way can help to orient us in a particular field of study, and it can help us to enter the “scholarly conversation.” 

Scholarship as Conversation

“Instead of seeking discrete answers to complex problems, experts understand that a given issue may be characterized by several competing perspectives as part of an ongoing conversation in which information users and creators come together and negotiate meaning.” 

- ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education 

In any field of study, you are entering into a rich field of existing discourse that is full of differing perspectives. It is our job as scholars to orient ourselves within that existing discourse and, eventually, to join the conversation.  

When we research, it is important not only to orient ourselves with that prior discourse but also to engage with existing information in meaningful ways. We can do this through close reading and annotation. When we incorporate existing research and information into our own writing, we should both synthesize that research and add our own analysis. Good conversation should have a balance between listening and responding. 

Scholarship is collaborative and you, as a learner and emerging scholar, are entering the scholarly conversation through your participation in the academic writing process.  

Search as Strategic Exploration

“Searching for information is often nonlinear and iterative, requiring the evaluation of a range of information sources and the mental flexibility to pursue alternate avenues as new understanding develops.” 

- ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education 

The term “exploration” is an apt metaphor for academic inquiry, research, and learning. As discussed previously, research and writing are part of the learning process. Education is not limited to the classroom. If we want to approach our research process from a place of inquiry, we have to do so with an open mind that is intent on learning. What new and exciting information can you find through the research process? As you gain new knowledge, you may need to change course--and that is okay. That is part of the journey. 

Be aware that new ideas and research may come from unexpected places. Be open to new perspectives, ideas, and voices. 

Recap and Takeaway Tips

  • Choosing a topic IS research. Refrain from using research as a means to “prove” or “disprove” an existing point or conclusion. Let your research guide your line of questioning and use it to further explore topics that interest you. 

  • Be purposeful in your resource selection and evaluate information based on your audience, context, and writing goals.   

  • Enter the scholarly conversation by engaging with the ideas, patterns, and thoughts you encounter in your research. Your sources should “talk.” This is achieved through your own synthesis and thoughtful analysis of the literature. 

  • Avoid mining articles for quotes that support an existing position. Try interacting with the information you gather instead of parroting it.  

  • Use your critical thinking skills to reflect upon questions and viewpoints.  

  • Be aware that authority comes from a wide variety of places. Be open to new perspectives or voices. 

  • Use writing as a way to further your understanding of the topic. Writing should be incorporated in every part of the research and learning process.  

For more strategies, please see our page on Practical Strategies for Inquiry-Based Learning. If you have any further questions about this topic, please ask a librarian. 

References

Association of College & Research Libraries. (2016, January 11). Framework for information literacy for higher education. http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/ilframework