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Research Workshop

NSA Hacks


As you read through your sources, sticky tab the dickens out of passages that might be important for your argument. After you’ve gone through your sources this way, review those particular passages and see if you want to include them in your paper. If so, type them into a separate document reserved entirely for notes, along with a little annotation like “Support for theory x” or “Background for introduction.” Then, all you have to do is organize your notes and--presto!--you already have something very close to a paper outline. Now your job will just be to fit everything together into an argument of your own!

That's right, footnotes are actually there to be read, so if you've left yourself the time, read them! Notice whom the author is using to prove his own argument. Pay special attention to names of scholars or sources that are mentioned more than once. If you get into this habit now, you’ll have grasped a research tool that many people don’t acquire until grad school.

As mentioned in Lesson 6, remember that the first three steps of this process--Ask, Listen, and Engage--are all interwoven. Don't assume that research necessarily moves in a linear fashion from Ask to Listen to Engage, or that each step is hermetically sealed from the others and cannot retroactively inform the steps you've already begun. For example, allow your results from listening to and engaging with sources to reform and refine your research question. Then allow that improved question to influence the kind of sources you are listening to and engaging with. Keep an open mind as you research.

We love digital resources. They make so many materials available so easily, and they are often cheaper than print. They are easy to store, easy to carry, and sync to almost anything with an internet connection. We certainly would not discourage anyone from taking full advantage of them. However, there are reasons for our focus on hardcopy, print resources at NSA and in our research guides. Although there are plenty of articles out there about the benefits of hardcopy studying as opposed to digital studying, our thinking mainly boils down to context and interaction (see subsequent boxes).

A printed resource provides physical and mental context of the material in ways that ebooks and digital resources do not. A student reading a physical book can see, feel, and understand how far he is in the material, which gives him an intuitive grasp of where he stands in the progress of the argument. A percentage progress count on an e-reader does not have that same instinctive effect. The mere presence of this kind of context affects a student's comprehension, recall, and ability to analyze the content of a book. Print books are designed for focused, deep reading and critical analysis. The presentation of an ebook is designed for quick consumption and provides too many distractions to allow for thorough reading.

Interaction with a text is foundational to scholarship. You might even be able to argue that it is the definition of scholarship. A student is presented with material; he is then expected to comprehend it, relate it to his other readings and subjects and lectures (and life), and respond to it in some way (by writing a paper, presenting about it, or just talking about it in class or recitation groups). A print book is presented to its reader in such a way that thoughtful interaction is easy. Readers can write in the margins, highlight passages, turn down pages, star the corners, and then find all those interactions again fairly quickly just by flipping through the pages or using bookmarks or sticky tabs. These are all ways for a student to have a conversation with the author. Print books are made for conversations.

An ebook does not allow this kind of thoughtful interaction, despite the tools it does provide. You can highlight and bookmark passages in an ereader, and you can even open a screen that allows you to see all your highlights or bookmarks at once; however, this can take several scrolls or clicks to get to a particular passage again, and you do not have the advantage of being able to see all these passages in physical relation to each other. You can search the text for all instances of a certain term; but this is like the "Amazon preview" search feature, and gives you little or no idea of the surroundings of the results. Ebooks, despite their many conveniences, are designed more for quick, fun, and low-stakes reading than they are for thorough, critical reading and interaction.

The Research Process

A visual aid for your researching pleasure