92 Introduction to Writing to Inquire

Liza Long

by Liza Long

Inquiry—asking a question—is the heart of academic research. From first-year research papers to doctoral dissertations, we start our research by asking a question. Academic research writing is the process of developing a research question and using high-quality evidence to answer the question. This skill is used in every area of academic life from general education courses to research projects within your major field of study. Inquiry is essential to the goals of scholars and writers because it helps us to better understand problems that affect us and our societies and to contribute to the body of knowledge in the world. This chapter will introduce you to using research for academic inquiry.

Key Characteristics

Writing for inquiry, also known as academic research writing, generally includes the following:

  • Research Question:  From projects written in first-year composition courses to doctoral dissertations, academic research projects seek to answer a research question. This question is focused. It’s a question that can be answered through research. And it has some kind of significance to both the author and the readers.
  • Evidence: Academic research projects rely almost exclusively on evidence in order to answer the research question.   “Evidence” may include both primary sources like interviews, field research, experiments, or primary texts and secondary sources such as scholarly journal articles or other high-quality sources.
  • Citation:  Academic research projects use a detailed citation process in order to demonstrate to their readers where the evidence came from.  Unlike most types of “non-academic” research writing, academic research writers provide their readers with a great deal of detail about where they found the evidence they are using. This processes is called citation, or “citing” of evidence.  It can sometimes seem intimidating and confusing to writers new to the process of academic research writing, but citation is really just explaining to your reader where your evidence came from. Citation styles are specific to academic disciplines. Common citation styles in college writing courses include MLA, APA, and Chicago.
  • Objective point of view
  • Awareness of and critique of bias that seeps in–for more information on this aspect, see the Addressing Bias and Stakeholder Concerns chapter for more information

Assignment Types within this Chapter

  • Annotated bibliography
  • Exploratory research essay
  • Literature Review

Academic Research Writing:  What IT’S NOT

Let’s start by consider the types of writing that are not  “academic research writing.” Not all useful and valuable writing automatically involves research or can be called “academic research writing.”
  • While poets, playwrights, and novelists frequently do research and base their writings on that research, what they produce doesn’t constitute academic research writing.  For example, the Broadway musical Hamilton incorporated facts about Alexander Hamilton’s life and work to tell a touching, entertaining, and inspiring story, but it was nonetheless a work of fiction since the writers, director, and actors clearly took liberties with the facts in order to tell their story.  If you were writing a research project for a history class that focuses on Alexander Hamilton, you would not want to use the musical Hamilton  as evidence about how the Founding Father created his economic plan.
  • Essay exams are usually not a form of research writing.  When an instructor gives an essay exam, she usually is asking students to write about what they learned from the class readings, discussions, and lecturers.  While writing essay exams demand an understanding of the material, this isn’t research writing because instructors aren’t expecting students to do additional research on the topic.
  • All sorts of other kinds of writing we read and write all the time—letters, emails, journal entries, instructions, etc.—are not research writing. Some writers include research in these and other forms of personal writing, and practicing some of these types of writing—particularly when you are trying to come up with an idea to write and research about in the first place—can be helpful in thinking through a research project.  But when we set about to write a research project, most of us don’t have these sorts of personal writing genres in mind.

So, what is “research writing”?

Research writing is writing that uses evidence (from journals, books, magazines, the Internet, experts, etc.) to  answer a research question.
In the real world, research writing exists in a variety of different forms.  For example, scholars or other researchers conduct primary research and publish the results in peer reviewed journals. Scholars, journalists, or other researchers may also publish inquiry-based articles in more popular places such as newspapers or magazines.
Academic research writing—the sort of writing project you will probably need to write in this class—is a form of research writing. Students use research writing in a variety of courses and contexts.
This chapter is adapted and remixed from from Steven D. Krause, “Why Write Research Projects?.”, licensed CC BY NC SA.



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