Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Initial Research: Project 1

One of the most important parts of researching any topic is deciding what exactly you'll research.  For this, you'll want to start with an open-ended approach, and then use your initial research to narrow-down your topic and your genre.

Topic: Your topic is the general social issue you'll be writing about.  This consists of content research: finding information about events or situations that are relevant to the genre you'll be discussing.  When using CHAT, you need content research, particularly when addressing Activity, Ecology, and Socialization.  What are people doing while they write?  What physical limitations affect their writing?  How does the writing affect behavior?
Genre: Your genre is a type of writing used in the social situations of your topic.  Note that for ENG 101 and 145, your work is meant to be writing research - you will research your topic, but the focus of your paper is on the genre.  Your main goal is to describe how and why writing happens.  What are the conventions of that genre?  What differentiates your genre from other genres?  How do people use writing in your genre to change perceptions of your topic?

The first step is to simply find some sources related to your topic.  For example, as a creative writer, so I might write about novels for my project.  Now, the novel is a genre, but I'm particularly interested in science fiction.  So my topic would be science fiction, and the genre I'd study in particular would be the novel.

For my initial research, I'd want to pick out some works of science fiction that interest me, and then some works that describe what science fiction is.  Since I'm a Star Wars fan, I might select The Empire Strikes Back as an primary source from science fiction, even though it's not the same genre I'm researching.  Then I might look up some interviews with George Lucas talking about how he sees the movie, but a quick Google search didn't show any.  So I'll go with the definition of science fiction provided by the University of Kansas Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction as a secondary source describing science fiction.

But note that I don't yet have a primary source for the genre of the novel - the Star Wars movies might illustrate conventions of outer space and fantastic elements such as The Force, but it won't tell us much about how long a novel is or how to describe a setting through text.  And I don't know if I really want to study Star Wars novels, or if I'd rather study science fiction novels in general.  So for these sources, I might add a few Star Wars novels by Timothy Zahn, but I'd definitely add some of my favorite sci fi novels: Ursula K. Le Guin's Left Hand of Darkness, Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, and Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man.

This is hardly a complete list of sources related to science fiction.  It is, however, a good starting point to examine my personal interest in the genre.  Clearly, I gravitate toward anything Star Wars.  But Le Guin's work really challenges many gender stereotypes we have - the kinds of stereotypes that run rampant through most of the Star Wars movies.  Star Wars does also glamorize war, to a certain degree, whereas Kurt Vonnegut illustrates the truly horrible nature of war with devastating effect.  So right away, I'm noticing that my interest in science fiction often contrasts with my views on the world - I enjoy Star Wars, sure, but I do get rather annoyed by how the Star Wars movies oversimplify some aspects of reality as compared to other works of science fiction.

So, right away, I'm seeing that I have two major genres I'm interested in - movies and novels.  And although science fiction counts as a topic here, I'm more interested in the topic of how science fiction portrays contemporary social issues such as gender relations and warfare.  So for my Project 1 paper, I could write about both genres, and then talk about some differences in how they approach these social issues.  Or I might simply focus on a single genre - or narrow it down even to just the Star Wars movies - and then use the other genre examples to compare my expectations of science fiction to what we see on the silver screen.


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