Is this a researchable topic?

----------From: Student Researcher Sent: Thursday, April 12, 2001 10:14 AM To: Sanders, Arnie Subject: Research topic

Arnie--  I was thinking of maybe doing something on urban art or the effects of children's art programs in the inner-city/ urban areas. I guess just get back to me on whether this seems like a researchable topic or not.  I'll have to develop my actual problem/ idea more over the weekend.  Thanks, Student Researcher

--------Arnie's Reply--------

        You don't indicate that you have scanned the Art or Education journals and discovered that scholars are writing about urban art of children's art programs in urban school systems.  What drives your curiosity about those topics?  That matters quite a bit.  It is possible to begin this project from personal experience if your intuition is "hot."  Did you have a successful (or not?) experience with art education when you were in K-12?  Or have you read someone else's work that suggests urban kids interact well with art programs?  If that writer cites sources, you may be on your way.  To make sure you can wring the maximum from even one source, even a popular news article reporting on expert research, you might want to review last week's "difficult topic research" page.

        Remember this project has a less ambitious written product in mind.  The goal of this paper is not to produce a document like either the film analysis or the Hawthorne analysis, but more like the Product Purchase Recommendation, where you're mainly combining expert sources' opinions to create a small but independent insight about the situation they're debating. Everything depends on whether the topic you're thinking about is being debated by scholars in your field.  If not, it's not "researchable" at this point in your career.  Don't worry if that happens.  The intuition which sparked it may well lead to something nobody has yet discovered.  When you have had the art and education training at the 200- and 300-level, you can do some work in urban schools to gather primary source data to demonstrate that it needs research, and that be part of an independent study for a semester, or a senior thesis.  But don't try to do that in such a short period of time.

        For now, go to the bibliographic databases and the journals, and "eavesdrop" on what scholars are discussing until you find something interesting. If they are debating urban art or the effects of children's art programs, you can start gathering sources that allow you to report the range of opinion experts have about the topic.  That's one of the basic ways you will have to use other scholars' research in setting up the introduction to your independent theses.  If not, look for a topic that they do consider debatable, in need of research.  The clue could be in any published scholarly article, since they all will start by describing the current state of the discipline's knowledge and go on to explain what researchers need know and why.  That usually will expose the names of the scholars with which the author is allied, and the scholars whose views the author opposes.  Look up those sources and you have discovered your debate.

        Then, combine those sources evidence and opinions to find things that may be true, and which later research might confirm or deny. Or, look at the things they are examining and think creatively about aspects of the issue they are not examining that could be important to the issue. There are other ways to do this, but I want to make sure that people realize this last paper should be relatively short.  It's like a forward peek into a possible major you might declare (or have declared) to see what the experts are talking about.  I'm most interested in seeing how you all focus your topic based on the available scholarly sources, and how you combine them to arrive at an independent thesis. It might not be terribly long, and and it might take up only two or three issues, but its value to the readers would be in its synthesis (creative combination) of the articles' evidence and reasoning to tell us something about where the discipline might be headed in the coming years. After that, it's up to you to decide where you want to take your curiosity on this topic in the next three years and more.