Scholarship – The Scholars – Textual Research Methods

Scholarship is not just about memorizing facts or regurgitating information. It's about developing a deep understanding of a subject, making connections across disciplines, and contributing to the ongoing conversation about that topic. This article reviews the ethics, methods and dispositions of modern-day scholars.

What is Scholarship?

The core of scholarship is the belief that knowledge is created through reading, writing, and debating interpretations of texts. Scholars focus on texts and dialectic—the process of reasoning correctly—to generate, test, and defend the knowledge they produce. Unlike scientists, engineers, or social scientists who look outward for evidence, scholars look inward, relying on critical interpretation, logic, and rational thinking.

Scholars may be called Critics, Historians, Philosophers, Theorists. For contemporary scholars, anything that can be read or analyzed is a text, including movies, stock tickers, maps, etc. Scholars address topics that emerge from their everyday experiences as members of a culture. It’s also commonplace for scholars to read texts from particular theoretical perspectives, such as Capitalism, Marxism, Psychoanalysis, Behaviorism, Deconstruction, Modernism, and Postmodernism.

Scholars use textual research methods—hermeneutics—to develop truth claims and assess the veracity of those claims. They believe that knowledge is created through sustained debate and dialogue—the never-ending, ongoing conversation of humankind. Scholars accomplish this by:

  1. Defining and interpreting canonical texts, ideas, and theories within their field: Scholars identify key texts and theories that form the foundation of their discipline, examining how these works have shaped and continue to influence the field.
  2. Closely reading and critically analyzing these texts: Through rhetorical reasoning and rhetorical analysis, scholars uncover deeper meanings, question assumptions, and explore the nuances of foundational texts.
  3. Debating different interpretations and perspectives on the meaning and significance of the texts: Scholarly discourse involves lively debates and discussions where scholars present and defend their interpretations, often challenging and refining each other’s views.
  4. Contributing new writings, research, and insights that build upon, challenge, or reframe existing scholarly work: Scholars create meaning by writing texts and looking inward to the power of logic and rational thinking. They depend on dialectic—the process of reasoning correctly—to generate, test, and defend the knowledge they produce. By producing original research and theoretical insights, they push the boundaries of current understanding.

Scholarship recognizes that there is no ultimate, fixed “truth” that can be proven once and for all. Rather, scholarly knowledge is inherently provisional and subject to further debate and reinterpretation. The goal of scholarship is not to uncover absolute facts, but to participate in the hermeneutical process of collectively defining, questioning, and refining our understanding through ongoing scholarly dialogue. Scholars see their work as part of a broader, evolving intellectual tradition and community.

Scholarly methods form the foundation of most research studies. Typically, as a first step, researchers—whether they are scientists, social scientists, humanists, or artists—begin any research project by engaging in systematic searches to ascertain what is known about a topic or problem. The difference between scholarly communities and those using empirical or mixed methods (quantitative or qualitative) is that scholars endeavor to create meaning by reading, writing, and critiquing texts.

Related Concepts: Information Literacy; Knowledge, Research; Research Methodology; The CRAAP Test


How are the Works of Scholars Distinct from the Works of Scientists?

Unlike the methodologies informed by positivism, scholars lack a way to prove or disprove their positions. Ultimately, scholars are more concerned with participating in the great debate, the scholarly exchange of ideas, as opposed to presuming that truth will one day be found so the debate will need to come to an end. Scholars make meaning by discussing texts and by applying theories to create new readings of texts.

What Methods Do Scholars Use to Generate Knowledge?

Just like a treasure hunt, scholarship requires patience, curiosity, and determination. It’s a challenging and rewarding endeavor that requires a growth mindset, intellectual openness, professionalism & work ethic, resilience, and self-regulation.

  1. Dialectic. Since the dialectic process — the process of reasoning correctly — derives its authority from the deliberate confrontation of opposing views, scholars are engaged in an endless, on-going “great debate,” a cycle of interpretation, critique, and reinterpretation. In this dialectic system, no idea is unassailable and nothing is ever settled once and for all. Whatever texts they are focused on discussing, scholars seek knowledge via the deliberate confrontation of opposing viewpoints. Scholars are engaged in establishing the authenticity or significance of a set of texts and in devising theories of interpretation that can be applied to those texts.
  2. Research: In practice, scholars do not create knowledge from intellectual thin air. Rather, scholarly inquiry is essentially text-based. Scholars conduct strategic research to explore new areas of study, uncover new information, or verify existing knowledge. Research may involve anecdotal observation or analysis of existing literature.
  3. Analysis: Scholars analyze existing data or information to draw new insights or conclusions.
  4. Synthesis: Scholars synthesize information from multiple sources to create new ideas or frameworks. This may involve comparing and contrasting different theories or ideas, identifying patterns, or developing new conceptual models. Scholars can also make meaning by applying critical, political, or social theories—such as Feminism, Marxism, Psychoanalysis, Behaviorism—to interpret events or ideas.
  5. Collaboration: Scholars often collaborate with other scholars to create new knowledge. Collaboration may involve sharing data, ideas, or resources, or working together on research projects.
  6. Critical thinking: Scholars engage in critical thinking to evaluate existing knowledge and identify areas for further exploration. This may involve questioning assumptions, challenging established theories, or identifying gaps in the literature. When engaged in textual research, scholars are careful to critique sources for Currency, Relevance, Authority, AccuracyPurpose.
  7. Citation: Scholars are careful to attribute sources using the citation style their audience expects them to use–such as MLA or APA.

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