What Is The Value Of A Research Question?


Thursday, 8.31pm

Sheffield, U.K.

From journalism I learned to write under pressure, to work with deadlines, to have limited space and time, to conduct and interview, to find information, to research, and above all, to use language as efficiently as possible and to remember always that there is a reader out there. – Isabel Allende

It is impossible for someone to read all the scientific literature – millions of papers are published every year and trying to take a top down approach sounds like failure waiting to happen.

In time, perhaps, natural language processing (NLP) tools will help us read more effectively – parsing every paper and pulling out the ideas that matter.

We’re surrounded by knowledge but too much information is as bad as too little. If we can’t discriminate between good and less good, insightful or obvious, original or copied – then how can we make sense of research and draw our own conclusions?

One approach is to throw away any attempt at being systematic and top down. Instead you focus on what matters to you.

This starts with having a question – a burning one – one that matters to you in some way.

You may not be able to articulate the question clearly, but you need to have some kind of question in mind that you can use to test what comes in front of you and ask “Is this useful to me or not?”

Anything that’s not useful needs to be ignored – you don’t have time to waste reading everything. You just need to look at the stuff that looks like it’s going to help you out.

For example, one of my research questions is how can drawing be a thinking tool. That leads in many directions, including asking what is drawing anyway, and is drawing like a child different from drawing like a trained artist.

Research questions help you traverse the huge labyrinths of knowledge that we now have. They are your candle in the darkness.


Karthik Suresh

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