Many of us have experienced research writing projects as a way to “prove” what we already believe. An essay assignment may ask us to take a position on a matter, and then support that position with evidence found in research. You will likely encounter projects like this in several classes in college.
If you enter a research project with a thesis in hand (you already know what you believe!), it’s very tempting to look for and use only those sources that agree with you and to discard or overlook the others. If you’re lucky, you’ll find enough such sources to construct an essay. Ask yourself the following question, though: what have you found out or investigated during your research? Have you discovered new theories, opinions, or aspects of your subject? Did anything surprise you, intrigue you, or make you look further? If you answered “no” to these questions, you did not fulfill the purpose of true research, which is to explore, discover, and investigate.
The purpose of research is not to look for proofs that fit your pre-existing theories, but to learn about the subject of the investigation as much as possible and then form or add to those theories, opinions, and arguments on the basis of this newly found knowledge and understanding.
So, should you begin every research project as a disinterested individual without opinions, ideas, and beliefs? Of course not! There is nothing wrong about having opinions, ideas, and beliefs about your subject before beginning the research process. Good researchers and writers are passionate about their work and want to share their passion with the world. Moreover, pre-existing knowledge can be a powerful research-starter. But what separates a true researcher from someone who simply looks for “proofs” for a pre-fabricated thesis is that a true researcher is willing to question those pre-existing beliefs and to take his or her understanding of the research topic well beyond what was known at the outset. Speaking in terms of the writing process, a good researcher and writer is willing to create new meaning, a new understanding of the subject through research and writing, based on the ideas and beliefs that he or she had entering the research project.