Chapter 9: Towards the Well-Researched Paper
One especially useful type of secondary source is a type that provides you with a scholarly concept. Let’s spend a moment defining this term.
A scholarly concept is what you get when you take an author’s idea or theoretical approach and apply it to your own primary material. Again, this is not the same thing as adopting someone else’s argument and plugging your evidence into it. It is more like performing an experiment with the same tools used by another scientist, though in the process, you approach the tools themselves critically instead of taking them for granted.
An example may help clarify this definition:
Imagine Author H has written an article on the 2017 Women’s March as a viral phenomenon. Using her knowledge of feminist theory in combination with her knowledge of the Internet as a communal space, she has examined the protest as both a physical and a virtual phenomenon, then unpacked the significance of her observations. Her article is not taking the same approach as yours, and the broad issues it examines are a bit different, but the combination of feminist theory and the exploration of the Internet as a community has provided us, potentially, with a scholarly concept: a theoretical approach we can extract from Author H’s article and apply to our paper. We ask ourselves the question: “If I take this idea that Author H has had and look at my evidence in light of it, what will happen?” The results will probably not mimic Author H’s exactly, and we don’t want them to do so. We are using the scholarly concept to cast a certain type of light on our subject matter; we are not writing Author H’s paper for her or allowing her to write ours.
Author H’s paper is still an argument, and we are still going to interpret it as we go. We are not going to take it at face value; in fact, even as we are adopting Author H’s scholarly concept, we may find that we disagree with some or all of her argument. Again, we are using Author H’s material, not simply reproducing it.
The idea of the scholarly concept will come up again in later chapters. For now, practice thinking of research not as a source of facts or arguments you can borrow but as a source of ideas you can apply.