Reading other people’s research is essential to academic life. Writing a research paper or a book is always partly the result of extensive reading of what others have written. One’s own bit of work has to be situated in current research. This means that your work must build on what other people have done before you in your academic field and say clearly how it relates to existing research: are you following in the footsteps of someone else and taking their conclusions further? Are you providing a corrective to previous research on the topic? Are you introducing a novel way of looking at the topic? Are you squarely going against the mainline view in the academic community? The answers to these questions enable you to present the originality of your own research. But you can only do these things if you are quite clear about how other people working in the same research field situate their own work in that field. In other words, coming up with an original research project is bound up with your ability to assess the originality of other people’s work.
This is the reason why the seminar will lay of lot of emphasis on reading scholarly papers The aim is to try to get as clear a picture as possible from the paper on the following points:
- Does the author allude to existing research on his/her topic? How does he/she situate his own work vis-à-vis this research? (Does he/she refute someone else’s argument? Or does he/she support it and draw it further? Does he/she touch on entirely new questions? etc)
- What methodology or approach has been chosen by the author? Is it innovative compared to what others have done in the field?
- Are we told or can we deduce what motivated the author’s piece of research in the first place? What were the author’s goals when he/she started his/her piece of research?
- What points does the author make in the paper? What are his/her arguments? What are his/her conclusions?
Once you’ve answered questions 1 to 4, you should try to evaluate the paper’s interest and strengths as well as assess whether the paper raises questions that are not (well) addressed.