Plenty of books tell you how to do research. This book helps you figure out WHAT to research in the first place, and why it matters.
The hardest part of research isn't answering a question. It's knowing what to do before you know what your question is. Where Research Begins tackles the two challenges every researcher faces with every new project: How do I find a compelling problem to investigate—one that truly matters to me, deeply and personally? How do I then design my research project so that the results will matter to anyone else?
This book will help you start your new research project the right way for you with a series of simple yet ingenious exercises. Written in a conversational style and packed with real-world examples, this easy-to-follow workbook offers an engaging guide to finding research inspiration within yourself, and in the broader world of ideas.
Read this book if you (or your students):
have difficulty choosing a research topic
know your topic, but are unsure how to turn it into a research project
feel intimidated by or unqualified to do research
worry that you’re asking the wrong questions about your research topic
have plenty of good ideas, but aren’t sure which one to commit to
feel like your research topic was imposed by someone else
want to learn new ways to think about how to do research.
Under the expert guidance of award-winning researchers Thomas S. Mullaney and Christopher Rea, you will find yourself on the path to a compelling and meaningful research project, one that matters to you—and the world.
For more information, online classes, webinars, and other materials related to the book, see the Where Research Begins website.
About the Author
Thomas S. Mullaney is professor of history at Stanford University and a Guggenheim fellow. His books include The Chinese Typewriter: A History and Your Computer is on Fire.
Christopher Rea is professor of Asian studies at the University of British Columbia. His books include Chinese Film Classics, 1922–1949 and The Age of Irreverence: A New History of Laughter in China.
“Mullaney and Rea’s engaging volume can serve as an innovative and insightful primer for anyone about to embark on a research project. While this book’s immediate target is undergraduate and inexperienced researchers, it is written in such a compelling way that seasoned scholars beginning a new project can benefit from and return to the book again and again. Its premise is exceedingly astute but often overlooked: that the research process at its inception needs to be self-centered; that the problem must fundamentally matter to you as a researcher; that the power of research begins with a personal connection to what you have determined to write about. Through exercises, writing prompts and questions, this book productively requires your active participation. It is a book that anyone teaching research methods or introduction to research or running an undergraduate research program needs to make use of and assign to their students.” — Harry J. Elam, Jr. President, Occidental College
"Mullaney and Rea have given us a little gem of a book, packed with smart, readable, compassionate guidance on the biggest question: how to start and what to do next. Read it, use it, read it again." — William Germano, author of On Revision, Getting It Published, From Dissertation to Book, and (with Kit Nicholls) Syllabus
“A revelation. How can students—and professors like me—learn the art and craft of topic design? Fortunately, an excellent new book, Thomas S. Mullaney and Christopher Rea’s Where Research Begins, has come to the rescue. Unlike previous books in the field (such as the valuable and many-times revised The Craft of Research, published in 1995), Mullaney and Rea focus on how to release and develop your own analytical creativity, and then how to shape it into what they call “a research project that matters to you (and the world).” Where Research Begins is a gratifyingly student-centered book but it will help experienced researchers as well as beginners, teachers as well as students. For faculty members who advise graduate students, it particularly helps expose the assumptions baked into our own methods of thinking. I’ll be a better teacher for that, and my students will arrive at better research topics.” — Leonard Cassuto, The Chronicle of Higher Education
“An updated and sanguine alternative to some of the better-known books on how to conduct research. More than just another how-to book, it’s a “how to think and question” guide focused on placing the researcher at the center of the research process. Informative and enjoyable to read, I would highly recommend it to academic librarians who are engaged in their own research, as well as those teaching students how to conduct research.” — Darren Sweeper, College and Research Libraries
"This easy-to-follow, innovative, and empowering book may help to make the next search for research questions easier than expected." — Jingying Wang, LSE Review of Books
"This is a book we have all needed for a long time: a practical, helpful and reassuring guide for those facing the scary task of defining a research topic. With clarity, humor, and compassion, Mullaney and Rea provide a step by step guide to figuring out what interests you, why, and how to tackle the problem you have defined. Where Research Begins will prove an invaluable addition to research-centered courses as well as a guide for individual readers seeking to define their intellectual agenda."
— Sarah Maza, Northwestern University
"High-achieving students—those who undertake mentored or independent research, write undergraduate theses, apply for prestigious fellowships and awards, and complete graduate degrees—are often high achievers because they are good at following directions and pleasing others. But when does simply following the instructions result in transformative research? To be effective scholars, students need genuine curiosity and relevant research skills coupled with commitment to a problem. Compelling research becomes possible only once the problem in all its glorious complexities, implications, and associations has been identified.
In this engaging workbook, Mullaney and Rea guide their readers through a sequence of reflective exercises with the goal of defining a compelling and meaningful research problem. Equally valuable to students and to those who teach, advise, and mentor them, Where Research Begins isn’t a book you read and then return to the shelf. Instead, it’s a workbook that requires you to reflect and to document what you discover along the way. Engage with this book, and you will learn to assess your interests critically, differentiate between topics and questions wisely, understand sources dynamically, tap into networks productively, relate to your field astutely, and—ultimately—share your understandings of the process generously. We need more books of this sort: those that pull back the curtain on the intensely cerebral and iterative practice behind all research worth pursuing."
— Steven E. Gump, Associate Director of Fellowship Advising, Princeton University