This chapter focuses on three core components of the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy:
- Research as Inquiry
- Searching as Strategic Exploration
- Scholarship as Conversation
The first of these, Research as Inquiry, sets the stage for the following two by establishing the importance of asking good questions throughout the research process and using questions as a means toward entering the scholarly conversation.
Students often plunge into their research without taking the time to reflect about the requirements of the assignment, the scope of the project, and what they want to gain from their research. Our assertion is that inquiry is a reflective and critical process that is essential for any successful research project. The ability to ask good questions is a crucial skill, even an art form, that researchers should cultivate in an intentional manner throughout the lifecycle of their project.
Note that we discuss refining and evaluating a research question in chapter ten. The types of questions discussed here will be more of a prelude to those later sections. This chapter focuses on the role of asking questions early in the research process to guide strategic exploration and to enter into the scholarly conversation around your topic.
How do we begin our research exploration? How do we join the scholarly conversation?
In Searching as Strategic Exploration, the ACRL emphasizes that, “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.” In other words, research is a complex, recursive process that involves inquiry, discovery, audience awareness, and serendipity.
Likewise, regarding Scholarship as Conversation, they note that, “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.” Good research questions typically don’t have a single uncontested answer. Rather, they are designed to engage scholars in an ongoing conversation that adds to the discourse in their field.
This conversation often begins within your paper as you engage with the work of other scholars. Some research projects provide a literature review, which is a section that presents your overview of the existing research in relation to a topic or problem. If the assignment does not call for a literature review to be included with the project, you should still conduct one. Doing so will help you understand the work of other scholars and gather background information for your research.
These concepts can be difficult for beginning researchers who may feel uncomfortable conversing with more experienced scholars. However, the goal with these two pages is
- to learn how to ask good questions as part of a research program
- to explain how to enter a scholarly conversation
- overcome the anxiety of influence (the fear that your work will be derivative)
You accomplish these goals by identifying gaps in research and establishing relevance. You’re not an outsider merely stringing together other people’s ideas, but part of an ongoing discussion. You’re engaged with the research and you have something to contribute to the conversation, and you’ve chosen a topic that you are truly interested in (if you were allowed a choice).