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Techniques to Foster Research Skills in 2019

Techniques to Foster Research Skills in 2019

Why is it necessary to foster research skills today? What benefits can students reap from knowing what constitutes critical inquiry? The Fourth Industrial Revolution may have changed the contours of education, but research skills and critical thinking remain highly relevant today. What’s more, they are likely to remain relevant regardless of any technology-driven advance in education. 

This article aims to show that the capacity for critical inquiry is not only an invaluable academic skill but also an essential life skill. In addition, the article also argues that research skills, being inextricably linked to critical thinking, remain as important as ever, even in the age of online learning. To this end, I shed light on some methods I’ve tried and tested with some success. Ultimately, I aim to show how we can enable students to improve their research and critical thinking skills by making the most of common online resources such as JSTOR and Bartleby. Introducing students to resources professional researchers us (JSTOR), even at a young age, demystifies the research process. Typically, students are introduced to research methodologies late into high school (if at all) or at the undergrad level. It is necessary, therefore, to prepare students for the eventuality of research-intense courses and professions. These resources are especially useful in this context, and here’s why.

Using JSTOR to Identify Primary and Secondary Sources

JSTOR is particularly good since it mainly features well-cited and well-substantiated research papers. Good, relevant citations and well-substantiated arguments are hallmarks of well-presented research. What’s more, using JSTOR will enable students to realize that exemplary research also involves good presentation: that is, good, concise writing; clean formatting; and, above all, clarity of thought.

Simply using the website to identify potential primary and secondary sources is in itself a highly educative process. Students may be required to sift through several papers before finding articles that suit their interests, topic at hand, and intellectual and cognitive abilities. In fact, the capacity to identify potential sources is an essential research skill. To focus exclusively on this aspect, teachers can ask students to identify external resources on JSTOR for a given topic.

An easy way to evaluate students’ performance is to create a Google Sheet and have them list the title of every article they’ve looked through. Add a “Comments” row in the sheet where students can state why they found a particular paper relevant or irrelevant. This may seem like a fairly straightforward task, and, to some extent, it is. This task will enable students to state why they did or didn’t do a particular thing. In short, this is a reliable way to improve students’ articulation skills. In addition, the Google Sheet also doubles up as a log of all articles visited, which makes it easier for students to revisit any of the articles at any time. Sometimes students may find the perfect primary source with little effort. This, however, should not be a problem as long as students can mention why the resource they’ve shortlisted is a good fit. To add variety, teachers can even ask students to classify shortlisted materials as primary or secondary sources.

Bartleby, Summarizing, and Careful Reading

The ability to summarize a text and identify its main idea may be elementary, but it is an essential research skill. It also is a skill that is emphasized in many states’ standards. At the same time, writing a good summary is a challenging task. That is, we cannot be good researchers without this skill, which is foundational, essential, and challenging to master.

A reliable way to improve summarizing skills is to have students read summaries and explanatory remarks, and here’s where Bartleby will come in handy. A good summary is, in essence, shorn of embellishment; it typically does not even include parenthetical information. When done right, a summary presents nothing other than the essence of a given text or topic, and Bartleby features a large number of summaries in the form of explanatory textbook solutions. Before students are asked to summarize, they should be shown what a good summary looks like.

Good summaries are characterized by a distinct mode of writing. They require accurate, concise language, which can only result from solid, careful reading and comprehension skills. Literature reviews, the bedrock of research, are based on these skills. Too often, research proposals at the Masters and Doctoral levels are turned down because candidates submit poor literature reviews. A good review is not only a product of astute, careful reading. It involves elimination, too. Knowing what texts and sources to eliminate or overlook and stating why they’ve been overlooked is indispensable. This is an important skill not only for those seeking a career in research or academia. Neither is it the point of this task to urge students to consider a career in these fields. Rather, the point is to improve their critical thinking skills by honing their summarizing skills. In fact, it would be fair to say that to possess exemplary research skills is to be able to adopt a critical outlook toward life in general.

Another way to shed light on the essential characteristics of a good summary is to ask students to frame questions to summaries that they read. Inevitably, this task will require a high degree of careful reading. More importantly, the task will in effect be an attempt to summarize a summary. Additionally, it will also show students what it is to ask a good, concise question, or what it is to probe critically. By beginning with summarization, we can lay the foundation for other complex yet necessary and in-demand cognitive tasks. That is, once students can clearly understand what a text says, they will be able to see what a text implies, its merits, drawbacks, and loopholes (if any). Spotting these attributes is what separates good research from great research, and good readers from great readers. Great research is truly actionable because it has the potential to facilitate public dialogue and affect change.

Why the Focus on Critical Thinking 

Observers predict that nearly 47 percent of jobs across sectors will be automated in the foreseeable future. This might result in the disappearance of a number of skills—both vocational skills and general, more far reaching skills. Admittedly, we cannot know exactly how automation will affect the nature of work, or our lives for that matter. Critics have also pointed out that public schools—the pulse of our country—are overburdened with ensuring good outcomes in standardized tests to actively focus on developing students’ critical thinking skills.

Critical thinking, therefore, is not only endangered but is also likely to be neglected further. In addition, schools—both public and private—currently prioritize STEM skills over other relevant skills, which means critical thinking is overlooked as it is. This is not to say that STEM education cannot foster critical thinking. Active efforts to foster critical thinking skills are likely to equip students with the know-how to deal with the demands of an increasingly complex world. Research is one of the most effective and approachable mediums through which to encourage students to hone their critical thinking skills.

Written by Dennis Wesley

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