Sunday, March 25, 2007

Opening Up Research: Start Before the Beginning

The new technologies, the electronic medium and the world wide web, are making it possible to open up access to the peer-reviewed literature, to everyone with an internet connection.

These same technologies enable us to do much more. Peer review is an important element of ensuring quality in the scholarly literature, and will continue to be so for some time into the future.

However, there is a very great deal more that we can do by working together collaboratively, as peers, than critiquing an article that is basically a finished work.

We can work together throughout the process of research, beginning before the beginning of the formal research phase.

One of the most important things I learned about research in library school is the importance of focusing on the research question. For a beginning (and terrified) researcher, there is a temptation to start with the methods that seem the most doable, like citation analysis or surveys, then decide what can be done with them. Fortunately for me, my research methods professor, Dr. Alvin Schrader of the University of Alberta, taught us in some depth, both theoretically and one-on-one as we worked through our first research projects, how to focus on the research question. That is, start your research by figuring out: What is it that we need to know?.

The time to begin to consult your peers is not after the research project is complete, and the article handed in for consideration for publication. The most important time to talk with your peers may be before you even begin the research. The most important answers (research results), may be the answers to the most important questions.

With thanks to a friend for asking interesting questions that got me thinking.

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