Inquiry is investigation. We engage in inquiry pretty much all of the time–unless we’re watching television. (I’m kidding about the television part. . . sort of. We are probably most inactive when watching TV.) Inquiry fixes us on questions, on figuring things out. Since we live in a rapidly changing world, the skills we can develop when paying attention to how we inquire are important.
Each of your essays is an inquiry. They take different forms. Your thesis tells us the answer you wish to arrive at. Because you also hope that readers agree with your opinion, you are inviting them to share your inquiry. The organization and development of your “answer,” then, is social.
You can look at anything through the eyes of inquiry. Take, for instance, The National Inquirer.What is its motto? That’s right: “Inquiring minds want to know.” How mysterious. Still, it sounds an awful lot like “Everything’s an argument.” Just like those pesky reporters, inquiry is everywhere. You engage in it. To be taken seriously, though, is another matter.
Q, T, Tw/F, Th: What Are These?
Look at the graphic below. (The graphic is used with permission from Larry Weinstein, author of Writing at the Threshold.) It models, very roughly, how we tend to think.
The Q stands for question
The H stands for hunch or hypothesis. This is an educated guess, an idea of what we think we’ll find, what might happen.
T w/F represents testing with facts. Don’t we do this all the time, when we’re driving or walking? Why wouldn’t the same thing happen when we journal, then?
Th represents thesis. Remember, the thesis is the arguable opinion we present when arguing or inquiring. It could be wrong, but we think it’s so. We think so because of ________ and ________ and ______. We got those supporting details/reasons because we tested with facts.
Are you starting to see the benefits of this model? It’s elegant, it’s something we already do, and it gives names to our ways of thinking. Now, we don’t always follow this. The arrows represent those fits and starts, those dead ends. They curl back in many directions, even back upon themselves.
The thesis in our papers gets put in the introduction, right? Here, the thesis is arrived at. The whole model is what we call recursive, which means “curling back upon itself.” It’s not linear. You won’t getfar as a writer if you go from start to finish, editing as you go.(Some people work like that, but they must not be too sane!)
Why is the model above so valuable?
I’ll refer to this model often throughout the course.
When you write your journals, you are engaging in a different form of inquiry than you do when writing an essay. Journals may get you the ideas for excellent essays, but their purpose and audience differ from essays. Essays are “dressed up,” while journals are causal and informal. This makes a lot of difference. For one thing, people will judge you differently based on how well you meet their expectations, and the expectations of the situation. If you showed up to a softball game wearing a pink tuxedo, you are unlikely to receive a positive reaction. The same thing applies in this course.When figuring out what it takes to get an “A” on a given assignment,you engage in inquiry, right?
So, the journals you do in here will each represent an inquiry. Let’s see how you can develop your skills as a questioner and as a question answerer.
There’s a Method to His Madness. . .
If you’re doing this right, then expect confusion
Now, why would I say that?
Isn’t writing supposed to be all neat? If I am a messy thinker, I can’t be a good writer, right? The truth is that writing is inherently chaotic. Enjoy that! Writing is full of stops and starts, diversions and confusion. The trick is to attend to the process for long enough to get a workable result. Journals offer a great starting point for this sort of messy inquiry.
Be practical. Practice. Find out the methods that work for you. They will change, and you will change as well (hopefully). By the time you do your research paper, you will be operating differently than you did when you started the course. If you don’t, then something is going wrong here.
I hope you have a better idea of what inquiry is all about. The next trick will be for you to place yourself in situations where you can think–and to think about how you think.