Research always begins with the goal of answering a question. In your quest to answer basic research questions, you turn to a variety of different sources for evidence: reference resources, people, evaluative and opinionated articles, and other sources. All along the way, you continually evaluate and re-evaluate the credibility of your sources.
Applying Research Skills
How did you decide to come to the University of Mississippi? That decision was probably based on research. For example, you might have started with an internet search of “colleges in the south,” or maybe you visited the campus with friends or family. You probably talked to people and read about other schools. You may have spoken to admissions counselors or representatives from various schools. Whose advice did you trust more? On the one hand, the admissions counselors and representatives from a school have a lot of expertise, but they might also have some bias. On the other hand, your friends and family may have their own set of biases (e.g., maybe they want you to stay close to home). You had to navigate all of these claims and positions in order to decide on UM. You’ll do much the same thing as an academic researcher: you will gather sources, both primary and secondary; analyze and evaluate them in relation to each other; and determine how they contribute to your project.
The reasons academics and scholars conduct research are essentially the same as the reasons someone does research on which university to attend: to find information and answers to questions with a method that has a greater chance of being accurate than a guess or a “gut feeling.” College professors in a history department, physicians at a medical school, graduate students studying physics, college juniors in a literature class, students in an introductory research writing class—all of these people are members of the academic community, and they all use research to find answers to their questions that have a greater chance of being “right” than making guesses or betting on feelings.
Students in an introductory research writing course are “academics,” the same as college professors. You might not think of yourself as being a part of the same group as college professors or graduate students, but when you enter a college classroom, you are joining the academic community in the sense that you are expected to use your research to support your ideas and you are agreeing to the conventions of research within your discipline. Another way of looking at it: first-year college students and college professors more or less follow the same “rules” when it comes to making points supported by research and evidence.