Why We Make Citations

The Process of Research: Joining the Conversation

Why do University Scholars Research?

University scholars not only make knowledge accessible to each new generation entering higher education, but they also work at developing new lines of inquiry and producing new knowledge in their various fields of study.  This activity is known as scholarly research, and the ways of thinking, speaking, and writing that emerge from the act of research are often referred to as academic discourse (emphasis added).  In The Philosophy of Literary Form, Kenneth Burke uses the metaphor of conversation to describe academic discourse:

Imagine you enter a parlor.  You come late.  When you arrive, others
have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion,
too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about.  In
fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got
there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you the steps that
had gone before.  You listen for a while, until you decide that you have
caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar.  Someone
answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns
himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of
your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance.
However, the discussion is interminable.  The hour grows late, you
must depart.  And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously
in progress. (110-11)

Because these academic conversations have been going on, as Burke says, “intermin-ably,” a scholar cannot expect to join them until she has done some research.  Once the scholar has situated herself in the ongoing conversation through research and reading, she will be ready to become an active “speaker” in that conversation.  In order to produce new knowledge, she considers what has been left out of the academic conversation.  She asks, “What questions need to be raised?  What arguments need to be made?  What issues have been left unexamined?”  Once she has found such a site for further argument, the scholar continues her research.  Most scholars pursue a particular line of inquiry throughout their lives.  Over the years, they develop theories about the phenomena they have researched, resulting in the production of new knowledge.  This knowledge is often developed in opposition to previously held theories.

Because the scholar conducts research in this way, her work follows certain conventions.  For example, she will cite authoritative sources to give her own work academic ethos, or credibility, in the eyes of scholarly readers.  Second, she conducts research in order to sustain the conversation within her own work so that the other voices who have spoken on her issue can be heard speaking within her own work.  Because sustaining this conversation is so important to scholars, they also value proper citation format for quotations and paraphrasing and always include an accurate record of sources – a bibliography or works cited.  By including citations and a bibliography, the scholar makes it possible for the next person who picks up the conversation to become well informed on the issue by going back and studying the works cited. 




Last Updated: August 1, 2016