Chapter 9: Towards the Well-Researched Paper
In terms of the three-storey thesis and outline we’ve been working with in this chapter, we can try answering these questions. The answers will give us at least a broad idea of the kinds of sources we might consider looking for when we research this paper. We can refine our answers as we progress through the writing of the paper. Just for instance, at the beginning of the research and development process, the terms that need to be defined will probably be fairly general ones. Later, as we become more knowledgeable about our subject matter, more specific terms can come into play.
1. What concepts am I discussing that may need to be defined? What might be some good (complex, specific) sources in which to find these definitions?
So far, terms of interest to us might be: “social media,” “protest movement,” “community,” “insularity.” Note that all these terms have dictionary definitions. We are, however, interested in using the terms more specifically. To define them in more detail, we can look for scholarly articles on related subjects: community and the Internet, the social aspects of social media, protest as a social force, community as inwardly focused. As we search, we may find better, more specific terms to replace or refine these general ones.
2. What aspects of my thesis might be strengthened via the use of data and statistics?
We are examining the content of the comments section, but we’re also paying some attention to how it is structured, how many comments derive from each sub-community, etc. Perhaps finding comparable studies of other protest movements and/or other forms of social media will help us. We could also search for articles on social media that do not relate to protest or political change. A comparison between the behaviour of social activists online and, say, the behaviour of fans of the television series Game of Thrones might prove instructive. What would it mean if we found similar patterns? What would it mean if the patterns we found differed radically? Wider statistical studies can also be helpful, as they allow you to contextualize your own small study, examining how (and if) if fits into the wider pattern. Therefore, look for articles that takes statistics-based approaches both to comparable studies on specific documents and wider studies on larger patterns.
3. What aspects of my thesis might be strengthened via a focus on historical or factual information about the broader categories into which my primary example fits?
We are studying one Facebook post on the Occupy Wall St. Page. The post itself gives us a body of evidence with which to work, but it doesn’t tell us much about Occupy Wall St. as a movement. We might do some reading on the movement. Examining the Occupy Wall St. web presence will help, but so will finding scholarly articles on the movement’s development. While we may not use all the information we uncover, it will provide us with some context for our discussion.
We don’t, however, need to stop there. We could read up on the Internet and protest movements, the way Facebook (as opposed to other forms of social media) tends to be used by protest movements (or, in comparison, by other groups), or the different ways in which official groups (such as governments) and counter-cultural groups (such as protest-based organizations) use social media. Again, we won’t use all this information, and we’ll have to resist the urge to repeat it rather than apply it, but understanding of context can be a great help in this kind of research paper.
4. What aspects of my thesis might benefit from the introduction of alternative perspectives (arguments that seem to contradict mine, arguments regarding related but distinct subject matter, etc.)?
Is it possible to see the insularity we have found in this comments section as less of a weakness than we think it is? We might search specifically for sources that treat community insularity as a strength. Perhaps we’ll eventually refute these sources, or perhaps we’ll be able to incorporate their perspectives into our thesis, producing something more complex and subtle than “insularity is here, and it’s a problem.”
5. Where in my thesis would use of a scholarly concept be beneficial?
We need to look for aspects of our approach that currently seem vague or lacking in focus. What elements of our thesis would benefit from the application of a specific theoretical concept? In this case, we might consider looking for articles on communities and how they work. The study of communities and communication between and within communities is a major scholarly area. Because our paper—when we drill down to its essence—is really about communities and communication, a specific article dealing with this subject may offer us a theoretical perspective that will allow us to apply relevant concepts to our body of evidence and see what happens.