Set the Stage

Although you may have researched a sufficient number of academic sources to understand the current conversation surrounding your topic, you still need to demonstrate that you have completed this task in order to maintain your ethos. If you attempt to make a contribution without being fully aware of the conversation, you may repeat ideas others have already explored or state something out of context or unrelated; this lack of knowledge on your topic would drastically affect your ethos with readers in your academic field.

For this reason, it is important to demonstrate not only that you have located a sufficient number of academic sources on the topic but also that you have read and understood them. To do this, you must review the general ideas in these sources, explaining how they relate or differ. In other words, you need to provide a brief overview of the current academic conversation on this topic for your audience.

Providing this overview will give your audience the context needed to understand your contribution to the conversation as well as demonstrate that you have done the proper legwork to understand the academic research surrounding the topic by reading and understanding the applicable sources.

Here are some tips to consider as you set the stage to join the academic conversation on your topic:

  • Carefully read each source, making notes to help you understand key points and ideas.
  • Note where your sources overlap or agree and where they differ or disagree (a synthesis matrix can help you with this process).
  • Review the main ideas of each source for your audience and demonstrate how sources overlap or differ; this will enable the audience to see the current conversation on the topic as well as maintain your ethos as a fellow researcher in the field.
  • Manage the sources properly according the documentation standards you are following. Failure to properly manage your sources will affect your ethos as a researcher in the field.
  • Clearly state what idea or theory you hope to contribute to this conversation. Where does your own contribution fit in? How will it advance the current academic conversation surrounding your topic?

Applying Research Skills

A good way to understand how to set the stage is to reverse the roles in the example outlined on the previous page. Imagine that, after Blanche explains the conflict to you, your friend Stan arrives and joins the conversation while you are providing your assessment of the situation and Dorothy’s behavior. Instead of you being the individual who is uninformed about Dorothy’s handling of her conflict with her roommates, Rose and Sophia, it is your friend Stan who lacks this context. Therefore, it is your turn to explain the recent incident to Stan in order to help him understand it better.

When telling this story to Stan, you will certainly not repeat the entire conversation surrounding the incident word for word, but rather provide a brief synopsis or summary for him, helping to quickly provide them the context needed for him to both understand and contribute to the conversation about Dorothy’s behavior. ┬áThis strategy will enable Stan to understand better your own contribution to the current conversation as well.

Basically, setting the stage provides your audience with the information they need to understand how your research impacts the current conversation around the topic, as well as why that research matters.