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ten rules for interesting research

8 February 2012

Tom Pepinsky is blogging. (Apparently, for a while — but I only found out today when someone linked to a post of his on Twitter.)

I came across this recent gem of his, and thought it might be of interest — at least to the grad students out there trying to understand what exactly our advice about researching something interesting really means:

While there are no rules or definitions, I think that there are some principles that researchers can follow. Looking back on all the work I’ve tried to do, and all the work that I’ve read, here are ten that come to mind. A couple of these actually come down to admonitions about what not to do in the quest to make your research interesting and important (see esp. number 9), but the message should still be clear.

1. Most things that you think are self-evidently interesting are probably not interesting to most people, even those who work in your own little corner of your discipline. Write as if no one cares unless you explain to them why they have to care.

2. Do not motivate your argument through an appeal to what the literature says.

3. Labeling something a “puzzle” does not make it so.

4. “Puzzling” and “consequential” are different. People are more likely to remember consequential than puzzling.

5. Problematizing something is not a goal. It’s a strategy that you only adopt because it has some sort of payoff that you can demonstrate.

See the rest of the ten here.

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