Curiosity is not a step-by-step process

This week I had a chance to teach some high schoolers how to research a new topic.

“I want a winning argument” must be replaced by curiosity when entering a new field. Curiosity follows breadcrumbs, connects dots, finds dots, makes new connections, then finds some more dots, then… epiphanies and lightbulbs turning on.

One must repeat the steps of research many times over, in varying orders, to produce the dance of curiosity.

— end of normal programming —

Here’s what I told the debaters. Circle these steps that most apply to your topic and slowly build context:

  1. Find a pillar article from ssrn.com or google scholar. The perfect article can sometimes establish 50% or more of your mindmap because journals often recite a complete history of a topic.
  2. Find an image, diagram, or powerpoint by someone in this field (google search limiter :.ppt or :.gov or :.pdf). I got great results with EU Migration and google images, with maps and statistics.
  3. Look up conferences on your topic (some are more prone to this than others)
  4. Lists. Find/build lists of the comprehensive things in your topic (lists of economic growth policies, lists of military commitments, etc).
  5. Etymology. Find the FIRST author to use that phrase (last year we found the first use of the phrase “culture,” by Cicero, the first person to say “multiculturalism” and so on), if it is conceptual. Find the FIRST policies on the subject if it’s practical (e.g. first laws protecting political candidates privacy <–exact search I used to find this gem: https://www.wiley.law/newsletter-Mar_2019_PIF_The_First_Amendment_Right_to_Political_Privacy_Chapter_6_Campaign_Finance_and_Other_Very_Public_Exceptions_to_Privacy )
  6. As you circle through these things and build context, you’ll be prepared for today where we begin to ask ourselves to evaluate some of what we’ve learned:
    1. what THEMES are we seeing?
    2. what PROBLEMS do people disagree about?
    3. what SOLUTIONS do people compete?

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