Launch Global Education
Sparks blog: I Have Been Told to Research It

But what does that mean?

by  Dr. Ann Wagner

Research it.  We hear that a great deal in our lives, but has anyone really explained to you what that means?  Too often, young adults are tasked with something that adults assume they should know, but no one has taught them.  So, let’s talk a little bit about what it means to research.

Google it

Maybe your first thought is “just Google it.”  And for many things, like finding the best donut shop in your city or town, that might be a good way to start.  But even in looking for a donut shop, you have many ways to do research.  You can read an article on a local news website, and you can also read the reader comments below it.  You could ask your friends or family members for their opinions.  You could look at advertising.

But you could also do your own research.  You could taste and compare donuts from different shops.  Or you could collect donuts from different shops and do a taste test/challenge with your friends.

Another way to research donuts is to read about how donuts are made and what makes the “perfect” donut.  You can study the chemistry involved in making donuts.  You could even experiment with making donuts yourself to learn what makes a good one.  This would give you additional knowledge in your assessment of the donuts at your local shops.  In fact, this new knowledge may enable you to judge the donuts quite differently than you would have otherwise.

But let’s go even further.  Let’s judge the economics of donuts.  Which donut shop provides the best value?  Are some of the donuts made by a major corporation and others made by a small business?  Which business would you prefer to support?  And what about the health benefits?  Are some donuts made with better quality ingredients?  Should you be eating donuts at all?  Do donut shops contribute to obesity and other health issues in your city?

As you can see, though I started with a simple idea, there is a multitude of ways in which you can research any topic, even donuts.

mixing bowl with eggs and flour

Why research?

As my donut example shows, research can take you down many paths. But why research?  In a nutshell, research gives you power.  Once you embrace that you can and should do your own learning, you have mastered the first step to becoming a life-long learner.  Here are a few ways you can develop that power.

Collecting your own information

When you rely on someone to provide information to you, like a teacher, you will only learn what they share.  The same is true for a textbook; you are only learning what the author is presenting to you.  While this can be an excellent start, you have many ways to dig more deeply into the topic on your own.

Looking at an issue from many angles

It is tempting to go to one source and feel you have the information you need.  However, one source only gives you one side or one piece of information.  You need to look at many sources to be better informed.  Consider these questions:

1.     What is the source?  Is it reliable? How do I know?

2.     Is this information based on facts or opinions?  Either can have value, but you need to know the difference.

3.     How current is the information?

4.     Have I looked for different opinions or have I been looking only for information that supports my idea?  This is called confirmation bias.

5.     Where else can I look, or in what other ways can I collect data?

student at laptop

Becoming an expert

The good news is that the more you research a topic, the closer you come to becoming an expert.  There is no quick way around this, you need to do the work, but the good news is that you can become an expert on anything you want, including the best donuts in town.

Sharing your knowledge with others

Once you have an information base, it becomes easier to share what you know with others.  This has an endless number of applications, from writing a review or paper, to sharing your knowledge with classmates, to developing a compelling story for your college applications, to starting a campaign.

Becoming a difference-maker

Perhaps one of the most powerful ways to capitalize on your knowledge is finding a way to use that knowledge for good.  Let’s go back to our donut example.  You may have started your journey by looking for the best donut in town.  However, through your research, you may have learned that there is an abundance of donut shops in poorer communities.  From here you learn that there are fewer high-quality healthy food choices in certain areas of your town.  This compels you to contact your city’s leaders to share your knowledge and discuss ways that the community can promote healthier eating, including community gardening and a healthy eating curriculum in the elementary schools.  Your message becomes everyone can enjoy a good donut, as long as it is part of a healthier diet.

community garden

Developing a life-long learner mindset

So I have taken you from looking for a tasty breakfast to bettering lives in your community.  While that may not be the learning journey you had in mind, the point is you have the power, right now, to take charge of your learning.  You have the freedom of choice in what you want to learn, you have the skills in hand to become an expert, and you can share what you know and make a difference in the world.  And you just have to do the research.  How powerful is that?

Dr. Ann Wagner

Ann Wagner, EdD is a founder and the Vision Engineer for Launch Education.  Dr. Wagner has led international schools around the world and currently teaches at the university level, working with educators earning their masters' degrees.