Book Reviews

Thomas S. Mullaney and Christopher Rea. Where Research Begins: Choosing a Research Project That Matters to You (and the World). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2022. 216p. Paper, $17.43 (ISBN: 978-0226817446).

Book cover Where Research Begins: Choosing a Research Project That Matters to You (and the World

Self-centeredness is not a personality trait that we normally value in our society. However, when it comes to research, nothing will capture our focus and attention as much as researching a topic that has personal significance to us. This is one of the central themes of this book: our questions should drive the research process. Unlike many books that are targeted toward experienced researchers who benefit from a nuts-and-bolts approach to how to conduct research, this text primarily serves as a guide for the novice researcher. The book will also offer insights to experienced scholars seeking alternative approaches to the research process. Mullaney and Rea also address the often neglected but important suggestion that we conduct research with a purpose in mind, employing evocative language to demonstrate how researching from the self-centered perspective helps students figure out what to do before they begin the process of research in earnest.

What sets this book apart is its challenge to conventional wisdom about how the researcher should embark on the process of research. The authors make the subtle but important distinction between a research topic and a research question, arguing that understanding the difference is essential to designing a research project that is self-focused and intended to have a positive impact on society. Researchers who draw on their true passions and set their own research agendas can make more significant contributions to the betterment of society. This is the key to becoming a self-centered researcher.

Self-centered research is a practice of research that emphasizes the importance of setting out on our own research journey, recognizing the importance of ethics in the research process, while coming to grips with our own abilities and limitations as researchers. In other words, we need to know enough to know that we don’t know enough. Unlike other books that explain the research process, this book helps the researcher understand their questions and problems at the outset of a research project. How being vulnerable makes us better researchers. Why we should listen to our inner voice. The importance of writing things down and proper note taking, an exercise that I refer to as outlining with emotion, reflection, precision, and purpose. How to overcome challenges during the research process. Why establishing a Sounding Board to bounce ideas off is important. How having a trusted critic helps the researcher to be a reflective thinker who will develop a mindset and perspective to help them make better decisions. And how research that begins as an introverted process evolves into an extroverted project, with the intention of changing the world.

The book consists of two parts with six chapters. The first part of the book focuses on becoming a self-centered researcher, a researcher who writes for yourself and not about yourself. In this section, the authors address how to formulate questions that will drive the research process. The book goes on to address the importance of the preliminary research needed to Educate your questions, by finding and using primary sources to generate nuanced and better formulated questions in order to discover the Problem. The goal of this chapter is to demonstrate how to pose and enhance questions that will guide the research process. The final chapter of part I concludes with a step-by-step guide to designing a project that works for the researcher with the focus on project planning, that is rooted in the questioning and the use of sources.

In the second part of the book, Get Over Yourself, the authors posit how important it is to identify researchers who share your problem and how to find the problem collective, which the authors define as “envisioning the various problem-centric intellectual connections and affiliations we can discover and create during the research process.” The final two chapters address how to navigate your field of research by finding the most appropriate sources and how to begin your research project. The book ends with a section entitled “What’s Next in Your Research Journey.” This is a fitting ending from my perspective because it reinforces one of the central themes of the book: research is a process, without a predetermined beginning and end point.

The authors make a compelling argument, tested by their own teaching and research, as they pay special attention to the journey of research. One of the main takeaways is the need for researchers to eschew the dispassionate research process for an internally focused one. The research journey should enhance our capacity to be free and to help students live more fully and as better-informed citizens of the world. The overall goal of this book is to provide a guide to develop reflective researchers. The authors accomplish this by providing a practical and useful guide on how to conduct research as an inwardly focused project that is also meant to impact the world. The questions that we articulate should also guide us and challenge our assumptions; while fortifying our desire to know, it is important to keep in mind that our research is only as good as our questions.

This book is an updated and sanguine alternative to some of the better-known books on how to conduct research, namely because it is more than just another how-to book. It’s a “how to think and question” guide, focused on placing the researcher at the center of the research process. For this reason, and the fact that this book was informative and enjoyable to read, I would highly recommend it to academic librarians who are engaged in their own research, as well as those teaching students how to conduct research. It is the ideal life-long learning manual, one that will assist the reader in becoming a self-centered researcher whose research is self-directed and focused on making a change in the world.—Darren Sweeper, Montclair State University

Copyright Darren Sweeper

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