Publish or Perish
The cornerstone of academic programs is critical thinking. The pinnacle of which is the difficult task of original research. All graduate students at universities are required to perform original research that is well-crafted and bolstered by authoritative sources. Professional academics, the backbone of universities, are expected to continually produce quality, groundbreaking research throughout their careers, something called “publish or perish.” This writing must add to the litany of existing academic research and, although it must borrow from previous research, cannot use the same core argument as previously published material. A research writer cannot “reinvent the wheel” in their thesis.
The researcher often comes to a thesis in one of two ways; either by finding a gap in previous research or by discovering an inaccuracy in common thinking about a particular subject area. For example, Leo Marx’s Machine in the Garden illuminated a gap in research regarding the connection between industrialization and literature. This book, along with a few others, helped create an entire field of studies (American Studies) found at most large universities. Usually, a researcher, while exploring a topic, will see a path to a powerful thesis, but getting to this point and then creating a finished product like an academic book, master’s thesis, article, semester paper, etc. is heavily dependent on search.
The Burden of Research
A significant impediment to faster research writing is a convoluted academic search system. While many universities are in the process of digitizing, most of them are still far from finished. Once the digitization process is complete, there are still difficulties in searching through the information. Most institutions do not have a quality search program available. Each department has their own database separate from the library and it generally contains articles from the department’s journal, dissertations, and theses. Some academic journals make their articles searchable through only one or two particular databases, forcing the researcher to search through the 50+ databases and 10+ departments, in addition to the library. The burden this puts on the researcher is heavy and has vast academic and economic consequences.
Coming up with a new idea takes time, the researcher must wade through a sea of information before finding an original argument. If their thesis has been determined, the researcher must find out whether this has already been examined in previously published research. If an article or book with the same thesis was already published, then the thesis is not original and is considered plagiarism. If I lived somewhere where nobody, including myself, had heard of a smartphone I could not “invent” it and then get the recognition for this discovery, even though I discovered it independently of the original invention.
Filling in the Gaps
What is necessary for research writing is a unifying search program that finds the gaps in the research process, just as a researcher finds the gaps in research. In the current academic system, a writer must become an expert in a particular field in order to research and write about a topic within that field. They need to learn what has been written about the subject through many sources and keep track of them so they don’t make the mistake of rewriting a prior thesis. Faster searching means that the writer doesn’t need to consume as much information before writing because they can perform a narrower search and execute quality research. The implications of faster searches in research writing are vast and would improve research writing and academic institutions. Faster research means more book sales and grants for departments and institutions, which will add immediate funding and additional prestige. Academic journals can expect better, faster articles, and students can learn more by decreasing their search time and increasing their learning time.