The following is a selective list of books and articles that have been useful to us in thinking about research philosophies and methods, which we update periodically.
Let us know which other sources have been most useful to your research journey by writing to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Booth, Wayne C., Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams, Joseph Bizup, and William T. FitzGerald. The Craft of Research. 4th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.
The Craft of Research is popular for a reason: It offers a comprehensive treatment to the “process” of research from beginning to end. Over the decades, Craft has honed the skills of no doubt millions of researchers…and been honed itself by many hands to remain up to date in the digital age. Worth reading from cover to cover (beginning with its consideration of the purposes of research), or dipping into sections or sub-sections selectively when you need help with questions, sources, arguments, writing, citing, and ethics. An essential reference work, no matter your level of experience in research.
Caro, Robert A. Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing. New York: Knopf, 2019.
What is it like to read an entire library for your research project? Or to venture into unknown, sometimes hostile territory to learn from people who are reluctant to talk to you? Working shares stories and lessons from the career of the ultimate power researcher, Robert A. Caro, whose name has become synonymous with research meticulousness, persistence, integrity, productivity, and significance. Caro devoted years of his life to The Power Broker, a biography of the city planner who shaped New York in the twentieth century, and decades (still going!) to a multi-volume biography of the 36th president of the United States. Through Caro’s stories about his work, we learn how the cases of Robert Moses and Lyndon B. Johnson became one researcher’s vehicles for exploring the larger problem of the acquisition and exercise of political power, and its effects on other people. We learn about the “turn every page” ethic of thoroughness that Caro learned as a rookie journalist, and about how that ideal was put to the test when Caro faced the thirty-two million pages of the Lyndon Johnson Papers. We also learn how one researcher never let his ostensible topic (LBJ) confine him, and how research about a president led to revelations about the daily lives of women in rural Texas, including “hauling up the water after a perineal tear.”
Eco, Umberto. How to Write a Thesis. Translated by Caterina Mongiat Farina and Geoff Farina. Foreword by Francesco Erspamer. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015.
Eco proves that academic advice can be as entertaining as it is helpful. So you want to write a thesis? Let’s consider your options…and the folly of the many, many previous students who crashed, burned, and never graduated. The celebrated scholar-novelist offers time-tested advice on both research and writing, not least: write what you know (or can learn). Write it in short sentences. Do not necessarily start by writing the first chapter. This book is of particular interest to researchers in the humanities, from which Eco draws most of his examples. Idiosyncratic flourishes provide zing. (“Use the advisor as a guinea pig…. Do not play the solitary genius.”) You can ask your Italian friends whether or not his observations about Italian academic culture still hold true. But don’t skip the sections on using index cards—even if you don’t use them, Eco’s genius for systematic thinking will get you thinking seriously about how to develop your own effective note-taking strategies for keeping your sources and ideas straight.
Gerard, Philip. The Art of Creative Research: A Field Guide for Writers. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017.
This is a great book for the researcher who has ever struggled with “originality” or “creativity.” Gerard reminds us that research is an art, not just a craft. His fluid prose and conversational style are a deliberate departure from the brisk, step-by-step guides that make all research sound methodical and rather dull. The book interweaves ideas about research both practical and philosophical. Gerard is especially good on distinguishing between types of research sources, and their relation to the truth of the matter, what he calls “the actuality.” An experienced interviewer, he offers sound wisdom on doing oral histories and other research involving human subjects. Gerard’s manner of incorporating and crediting the ideas of other scholars is a model of generosity. And the writing makes the book itself a work of art. Rewards close reading and re-reading.
Getzels, J.W. “Problem Finding: A Theoretical Note,” Cognitive Science: A Multidisciplinary Journal No. 167 (April 1979), pp. 167-172.
Our thanks to Sam Wineburg for bringing to our attention this brilliant little essay—which should be on every research course syllabus and which you can download here. For us, Getzels is a Where Research Begins kindred spirit through and through. In his words: “the production of discovered or created problems is often a more significant accomplishment than the production of solutions to presented problems.” Don’t just solve puzzles placed in front of you; instead, find or build your own puzzle. It is this quality—and not how informed or methodologically proficient you are—that distinguishes “the imaginative scholar” from “the mere pedant” and “the innovative scientist” from the “technician.” Need a higher authority? Getzels quotes Einstein & Infeld (1938: 92): “The formulation of the problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill. To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old questions from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks a real advance in science.”
Graff, Gerald and Cathy Birkenstein. They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing. 4th ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 2018.
They Say/I Say shows writers (academic and otherwise) exactly how they can position their opinions and arguments in relation to those of other people. The guide is practically-minded, offering scores of fill-in-the-blank templates for summarizing, quoting, expressing total or partial agreement or rejection, anticipating counterarguments, and qualifying claims. Alongside the phrasing templates, Graff and Birkenstein include numerous illustrative real-world writing samples. The book is a model of concision and utility, covering a wide variety of common rhetorical scenarios, including (in Part 4) six specific academic contexts. The book, and its companion website, offer numerous further readings and learning aids. The book is not designed as a research guide, and it does not tell you how to gather the evidence necessary to inform your opinions, reasons, or arguments—much less help you figure out what to research in the first place. But They Say/I Say templates can prompt you to double-check the soundness of your evidence and sharpen your argumentation. A book best read after you have read Where Research Begins.