This is a nerdy admission, but here goes. I often watch television with my iPad by my side. Now sometimes I play Words with Friends during commercials, but just as often I use it to look up things. I see a guest star on a television show I’m watching; I do a quick search to find out what movie he was in last year. If a late-night comedian makes a joke about something stupid a reality star said, I look that up. And an episode of Jeopardy can launch 30-40 mini-searches.
Perhaps one of the things that students do not realize is that research, while hard, can also be fun. In its purest form, research is simply moving from ignorance to knowledge. There is something we realize that we don’t know and would like to, so we conduct research. As Zora Neale Hurston said, “Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.”
Of course, beginning researchers have to deal with databases, professional style guides, and plagiarism, as well as turning in a paper that is grammatically correct, error-free, and stylistically sound. So they can forgiven if they have a hard time of thinking of research as anything other than onerous.
One way to put some fun back in research is to choose a topic carefully. Beginning researchers often look to what will be the easiest topic for a paper. Instead, the entire enterprise would be more fun and actually easier if they started with a topic they were curious about. And we’re all curious about something.
And students shouldn’t be afraid to talk over a topic with their instructor. As a former English professor myself, I know that I would have been thrilled if a student had chosen a topic that meant something personally, that had the curiosity juices flowing, and would lead to some real learning.
Right now, you just have to take my word for it, but I hope one day, you’ll find out for yourself that researching a topic can be fun as well as a learning experience.