The Craft of Research – A Biased Review Part 1

In one of my last posts I boldly stated that for me writing is generally an important skill. Actually I have a very specific reason to tone my writing skills. Especially in English, which is a whole different story than writing in your mother tongue. I often fall back in German language habits. I sometimes can’t believe that anyone can understand my babble. If you find errors or stumble upon twisted grammar, feel free to leave me a comment, so that I can learn from my mistakes.

The reason: almost 5 years ago I enrolled in a graduate program to achieve my master of science degree. The program is mainly virtual, with short attendance phases to write tests. And it is specially targeted to part time students with a day job, like me. I’m doing quite good,and although I’m almost done, the biggest writing exercise, the thesis, is still to come. For over a year now, I struggle to find a decent topic. A long time even considering the interruption of my second sons birth and the accompanying arrangements. I abandoned a first topic because it felt so … irrelevant. At least I have some cornerstones:

  • It will be written in English (that’s one reason for writing this blog in English)
  • It will be broadly focused on Artificial Neural Networks and their applications.
  • As my university program is Business Informatics, the outcome has to be applicable in some business sense.
  • It should have some significance.

To better prepare myself I read some books on writing and research. For me and my current situation the best was “The Craft of Research” (3rd edition as e-book) from Booth, Colomb and Williams. So in preparation to revive my thesis-writing-project I actually read it again and present in the following paragraphs a kind of (strongly biased) review. In later posts I will not be able to withstand to bore you with the summarization and review of some sources (practicing and better memorization, you know). I wouldn’t mind if no one ever read those. I hope I find the time to intersperse some posts from other arguable more interesting topics. Like my DIY-robot-toy-project: “Raphbot Alpha” and some more software centric topics. I’m currently experimenting a lot with programming languages like Io, Lua, Google Go, CoffeeScript, Xtend and again Smalltalk and make some really awesome interoperability “apps” to bridge some legacy business systems. I’m not sure how far I’m allowed to tell you about the latter. But I guess I will be able to either get approval from my boss or write it in a more theoretical style.

Back to the book and at first its overall structure. It is divided into five parts. Where the first and the last part provide some general information and thoughts about research, researchers and readers as well as the inherent ethical aspects. The three parts in the middle reflect the main aspects of the research method. At first I was thinking about going through the book chapter by chapter and extract and present the essential message. But this doesn’t feel appropriate.

As soon as I reached the second chapter “Connecting With Your Reader” I realized that I’m not following the advice given in the book. I already violated it with my scribblings here. I know this post is far from being a research paper, but nevertheless I do write for an audience, even if it is a small none-academic one. Instead I decided to take you through the book by applying the rules, as far as appropriate, to this blogpost itself.

The motivational first chapter is not really applicable. I do realize the importance of research, why writing it down is a good idea, I understand what research basically is and that it requires some formalism (depending on the special research community). The second chapter “Connecting With Your Reader” gets the things going. Who are my readers? How can I describe an archetypical reader of this post? Lets try:

You are a student of computer science and face your first big assignment, questioning yourself if it is worth buying the book. I guess you are expecting some entertainment factor otherwise you wouldn’t open a blogpost. Moreover I think you know a few things about research already but are seeking for a structured plan to tackle your actual assignment.

That might be to narrow. But I guess you get the idea. A word of caution: your are not writing it for your teacher in his teacher role! Instead you dig up new and interesting information on a topic, discover new things or find answers to important questions and teach your unknowing teacher about it.

The next step: What can I offer you? What do I have learned or discovered what you might not know? Well at least I read the book, twice. So I can tell you about what I have read, hopefully in a way that sheds some light on the the art of research and still encourages you to buy the book. But it can go further: Do I have found a solution to a practical problem or even an answer to an important question? In the context of this post I have to say: No, I didn’t. But you might, in your real research project. By the way: good luck to you.

In my next post I will continue with the second part of the book.

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