by Sydni Hammar
Like most students, I have found myself faced with a writing assignment that I simply didn’t feel interested in doing. Oftentimes, this apathy stems from the fact that I don’t feel inspired to write because I’m not excited about the possibilities of my topic. However, I have discovered that I am inspired to dig into a topic when
- my research is guided by my own questions, and
- I feel that there is a real possibility that all of this questioning might lead to a new discovery or understanding.
Digging into new material or questions is inherently satisfying because I get to have fun in the process of uncovering a mystery. Annie Proulx shares this delight in the essay “Inspiration? Head Down the back Road, and Stop for the Yard Sales.”* Proulx explains how she sees the potential for discovery in virtually everything she encounters in life. She discusses a “need to know” which enables her to conduct research driven by curiosity. Simply put, she is in touch with her curious nature, and she has made a habit of indulging it. This “need to know” attitude exists because she asks questions, and she has to find answers.
As writers, we must approach our research with the same authentic curiosity and openness to discovery. One of my English professors once told me that the biggest mistake students make in research is to go into it already knowing what they are looking for. I have found this to be very true, since for me, this approach limits my research, and it’s boring! There is no room for discovery (which is what makes an exciting paper) if you already know what you are looking for.
Therefore, you can’t make a discovery without the desire to know or question. Below are a few strategies for developing a curiosity for your research.
- Ask yourself (and your resources) questions!
- If you find an article you like, see if other scholars have cited it. It can be very helpful to see what other scholars are saying about your topic! This strategy is called bibliography mining, and Google Scholar is a great tool for this.
- Look for buzzwords or patterns. Scholarly articles often have subject terms listed above or near the abstract, and you can use these to see connections between different ideas in various articles, which can create a roadmap of discovery.
With these tools, you are equipped to dive into meaningful and exciting research!
Sydni Hammar is a junior majoring in English, and works as an editor for Mistake House, a student-run literary magazine at Principia College.
*Proulx’s essay appeared in Writers on Writing: Collected Essays from the New York Times (2002).