Thursday, January 20, 2011

Reading Report: The Craft of Research, Part 3, Making a Claim and Supporting It

The word “craft” in the title reminds me of the distinction between scholars and craftsmen. Before the Renaissance, scholars and philosophers were supposed to master the arts other than the crafts. I remember Stephen Mason claimed in his work A History of the Sciences that the uniting of scholars and craftsmen gave birth to the modern science. So, learning arts as well as crafts has become scholars’ own business since then.

It is clear that the focus of the book The Craft of Research is some essentials in practicing scientific researches as techniques. The third part of the book deals with the most important part in scientific researches, making arguments. According to the authors, arguments are composed of claims, reasons, and evidence, and reinforced by acknowledgements and responses. Besides, the warrants linking claims and reasons are also discussed in this part.

Assume that there is an argument:

I claim that the communication technologies make the world a better place, because they make me happy, based on the example that I can call my parents at low cost.

The argument fits the basic formula; there is a claim, a reason, and evidence. However, it is not a good argument. If I was a skeptical reader, I would ask what are the definitions of “communication technologies” and “a better place” in the claim, because they are not clear; or being tougher, say that I don’t think this is an important issue worthy of study. Because the criteria for good claims are clarity and significance, but this claim fails to do so.

Moreover, the reason and the evidence seem weak. To support the claim, more than one reason will be needed. Skeptical readers would say there are plenty of better explanations than this one, or they do not think the reason and the claim are necessarily cause and effect. This is where the warrant lies. But in this argument, the warrant between the claim and reason is not so obvious. A more general circumstances and consequence should be stated in further explanation.

Last but not the least, the example in the argument may be the most apparent targets for critics. Readers would doubt that whether the example is representative enough or not? Further more, what if the evidence in the argument is some findings from a survey or an experiment, or some logical inferences drawn from theories? Are they accurate and precise enough?

As a conclusion, what impressed me most in this part is always keeping readers in mind and keeping questioning myself. The lists of questions that might arise from readers in the book are extremely valuable to young scholars who do not have so many readers yet.

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