Lara's Research Process
Lara is taking a speech class. She's been assigned a ten-minute informative speech on any topic she chooses. She's allowed to use newspaper articles, magazine or journal articles, books, or web sites. The speech is due in three weeks.
Lara puts the speech out of her mind. Three weeks is oodles of time. She'll get to it.
Lara remembers the speech when going through her date book. But she's so busy with friends... Well, she forgets about it again.
Starts thinking that maybe she needs to begin work. But she's got something due in other classes every day this week.
Maybe she shouldn't've gone out with her friends every night last week. Oh well. She'll pull this off, she always does.
Week 3: Night before speech is due
After dinner: Lara begins to work.
She logs onto her computer at home and looks around news Web sites for a topic. Nothing stands out.
In desperation she types "speech topics" into a search engine. A class page from another university turns up. It lists topics like:
- animal rights,
- capital punishment, and
- gun control
Lara thinks, "Why not animal rights?"
She doesn't know anything or care about the topic. But it is controversial and there should be lots of information on it.
Decision made: She's speaking on Animal Rights.
Time spent so far: 45 minutes
She types "animal rights" into a search engine and gets back the web site:
"People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals" (PETA)
Great! The site has lots of information that she can cut and paste into a Word document.
She clicks around through the other search results, finding bits and pieces of information here and there, and pastes them into her notes. It feels like she's finding lots of good information.
Time spent surfing: 3 hours
That took a lot longer than expected! Many of those web sites didn't really have much information after all. Most of them repeated what the others said. She ended up going to lots of different sites but so little of it was useful.
Then Lara remembers that the professor said something about formulating a thesis for her speech.
After looking at the pictures on the PETA site, she decides the thesis will be:
"People should be vegetarians, animals shouldn't be used in experiments, and animals should have rights."
That's nice and broad.
She organizes her notes and adds an opening quote from the PETA web site. The speech seems uneven, with gaps in the information. Maybe she can fill up the required 10 minutes. Then again, maybe she can't.
Time spent writing: 2 hours
Lara re-reads the assignment. The first thing she notices is:
Aack! She hadn't kept track of the web sites. She tries to replicate her searches, but the results are different.
Lara checks the clock. She has to give the speech in eight hours!
Lara in total panic mode
She looks back at the assignment again and sees:
"This is an informative speech, not a persuasive speech. Do not use biased sources and avoid inserting your own opinions. Make sure to give a good overview of the topic using reputable background sources."
What's a "reputable source"? None of those sites had any background information, anyway. And since the whole speech is written to persuade someone that animals should have rights, she didn't get any information about the other side of the issue.
Lara logs onto the library's web site, vaguely remembering that her professor recommended something called GALILEO for finding articles.
But GALILEO requires a password to get in. She calls the library. They're closed!
Time spent panicking: 45 minutes
No, she can't panic. Lara decides to call a friend from class.
Unfortunately, the call woke her friend up. Then her friend was really irritated. But she gives Lara the GALILEO password.
Lara asks her, "What do I do once I get into it?" The 'friend' hangs up on her.
Lara pokes around GALILEO blindly.
Eventually she finds a few good articles on animal experimentation. She decides to limit her speech to that topic, and ends up rewriting the whole thing.
She still doesn't have background information, and can't seem to find out how many animals are used in experiments each year. Plus, the best article she found listed in GALILEO wasn't even available online. Bummer! She'll have to get to the library when it opens at 7:30 a.m. to read it.
Time spent in GALILEO: 3 hours
If she's going to be in any shape to give the speech tomorrow morning, she'd better give up and go to bed. What she has isn't much. But what can she do? She gave it her best, didn't she?
Lara sleeps through the alarm, never gets the good article, but manages to get to class and fumble through the speech.
And the result?
Account of Lara's Research Process
Total time spent: 9.5 hours
Amount of sleep: 4 hours
Obviously, this was not a successful research project.
What went wrong?
What went wrong?
- Didn't know what the assignment required
- Didn't have a focused research question
- Didn't give herself enough time
- Wasn't using the appropriate tools
It's almost impossible to get an overview of a topic from a web search. As shown in this example, the PETA site showed only one side of the issue. Also, she didn't have enough time to really read the material.
For a research project you need time not only for the work, but to reflect as well. Lara didn't allow for that.