For the first time in history, the modern western world suffers not from a lack of information, but an utter abundance of it. Now, more than ever, it is critical that those who wish to find answers know how to sort through all the meaningless and incorrect information they will encounter when searching for the truth.
Research is the name for the pursuit of specific information, such as facts or principles, for use in a particular discipline. This could be scientific research used to try and solve an engineering problem, economic research, used to inform monetary policy, or any number of potential applications. Information gathering is the key.
What’s the most valuable skill that one gains from researching?
Researching is itself a soft skill, but I wouldn’t be surprised if many people (myself included) rarely stop and think about the different skills that comprise effective research. Whether done in the context of Stoa debate, academia, or intelligence gathering, research is an incredibly important soft skill, and it would behoove us to consider how best we might improve our research abilities. I would contend that a good place to start is by looking at the different aspects of researching in order to try and learn what makes a good researcher.
First, the researcher needs to have access to information. That’s not usually a problem, all you need is a browser and an internet connection and 120 billion terabytes of information is at your fingertips. Second, the researcher must be able to look through information quickly, analyze that information, and determine its importance. These three combined I like to call “scanning”. It is especially important in the context of debate research because sometimes it takes hours to find just the right piece of evidence that not only says what you want it to, but is also from a credible source and says it clearly and concisely. That makes debate research unique, in that there is a very high standard for what counts as good evidence, compared to some other applications of research.
I would bet that improving your scanning skills is not something that is often mentioned in debate club meetings and within private coaching in Stoa/NCFCA. Yet, scanning is arguably one of the, if not the most, critical skills to improve if you want to improve your brief writing and argumentative analysis. There are other benefits too; if your podium is disorganized in a round, scanning will allow you to find the correct piece of evidence faster so that you can look as poised and professional as you do when you are speaking off your flow.
So, how does one get better at scanning? First, you need to make sure you are able to read proficiently. It sounds trivial, and I know that the people reading this are likely highschoolers, but it is still true. I wrote an article a few months ago diving into this very issue.
Second, practice going quickly over a piece of written material and drawing out general concepts. A good way to do this is give yourself an absurdly short amount of time to look at an article, say, fifteen seconds or so, and then write down everything you can remember from it. Then, go back to the article again, but this time give yourself twenty seconds to write down additional info, and correct anything you got wrong the first time. Repeat until you think you’ve scanned the entire article and are able to essentially summarize it from your notes. This drill will teach you how to put the pieces of an article together with as little information as possible, which is critical for weeding out the unnecessary information within the article.
Third, learn about the credibility of sources. This is crucial for figuring out which articles are worth your time and which are not. Once you have been researching for long enough you’ll be able to tell with a good degree of accuracy when a source is useful and when it will not be of much use to you. A great researcher can do this just from the URL and the title, even if they have never heard of the source before. Learning about what sources are credible is something that you will naturally acquire over time, but it is nonetheless a very important aspect of acquiring superior scanning skills.
How else do you think scanning is important in research? Is it something that is taught in your debate club or talked about frequently among your debate community? Let me know down below!