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The Craft of Research, Fourth Edition

The Craft of Research, Fourth Edition

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With more than three-quarters of a million copies sold since its first publication, The Craft of Research has helped generations of researchers at every level—from first-year undergraduates to advanced graduate students to research reporters in business and government—learn how to conduct effective and meaningful research. Conceived by seasoned researchers and educators Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams, this fundamental work explains how to find and evaluate sources, anticipate and respond to reader reservations, and integrate these pieces into an argument that stands up to reader critique.

The fourth edition has been thoroughly but respectfully revised by Joseph Bizup and William T. FitzGerald. It retains the original five-part structure, as well as the sound advice of earlier editions, but reflects the way research and writing are taught and practiced today. Its chapters on finding and engaging sources now incorporate recent developments in library and Internet research, emphasizing new techniques made possible by online databases and search engines. Bizup and FitzGerald provide fresh examples and standardized terminology to clarify concepts like argument, warrant, and problem.

Following the same guiding principle as earlier editions—that the skills of doing and reporting research are not just for elite students but for everyone—this new edition retains the accessible voice and direct approach that have made The Craft of Research a leader in the field of research reference. With updated examples and information on evaluation and using contemporary sources, this beloved classic is ready for the next generation of researchers.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226239736
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 10/18/2016
Series: Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing
Edition description: Fourth Edition
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 53,275
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Wayne C. Booth (1921-2005) was the George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in English Language and Literature at the University of Chicago. His many books include The Rhetoric of Fiction and For the Love of It:Amateuring and Its Rivals, both published by the University of Chicago Press. Gregory G. Colomb (1951-2011) was professor of English at the University of Virginia and the author of Designs on Truth: The Poetics of the Augustan Mock-Epic. Joseph M. Williams (1933-2008) was professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Chicago and the author of Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace. Joseph Bizup is associate professor in the Department of English at Boston University. He is coeditor of the thirteenth edition of the Norton Reader and editor of the eleventh edition of Williams’s Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace. William T. FitzGerald is associate professor in the Department of English at Rutgers University-Camden.

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The Craft of Research

By Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams, Joseph Bizup, William T. FitzGerald

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2016 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-23987-3


Thinking in Print

The Uses of Research, Public and Private

In this chapter, we define research, then discuss how you benefit from learning to do it well, why we value it, and why we hope you will too.

Whenever we read about a scientific breakthrough or a crisis in world affairs, we benefit from the research of those who report it, who in turn benefited from the research of countless others. When we walk into a library, we are surrounded by more than twenty-five centuries of research. When we go on the Internet, we can read millions of reports written by researchers who have posed questions beyond number, gathered untold amounts of information from the research of others to answer them, then shared their answers with the rest of us so that we can carry on their work by asking new questions and, we hope, answering them.

Teachers at all levels devote their lives to research. Governments spend billions on it, businesses even more. Research goes on in laboratories and libraries, in jungles and ocean depths, in caves and in outer space, in offices and, in the information age, even in our own homes. Research is in fact the world's biggest industry. Those who cannot do it well or evaluate that of others will find themselves sidelined in a world increasingly dependent on sound ideas based on good information produced by trustworthy inquiry and then presented clearly and accurately.

Without trustworthy published research, we all would be locked in the opinions of the moment, prisoners of what we alone experience or dupes to whatever we're told. Of course, we want to believe that our opinions are sound. Yet mistaken ideas, even dangerous ones, flourish because too many people accept too many opinions based on too little evidence. And as recent events have shown, those who act on unreliable evidence can lead us — indeed have led us — into disaster.

That's why in this book we will urge you to be amiably skeptical of the research you read, to question it even as you realize how much you depend on it.


In the broadest terms, we do research whenever we gather information to answer a question that solves a problem:

PROBLEM: Where do I find a new head gasket for my '65 Mustang?

RESEARCH: Look in the yellow pages for an auto-parts store, then call to see if it has one in stock.

PROBLEM: To settle a bet, I need to know when Michael Jordan was born.

RESEARCH: You Google "Michael Jordan birthday."

PROBLEM: I'm just curious about a new species of fish.

RESEARCH: You search the Internet for articles in newspapers and academic journals.

We all do that kind of research every day, and though we rarely write it up, we rely on those who wrote up theirs: Jordan's biographers, the fish discoverers, the publishers of the yellow pages and the catalogs of the auto-parts suppliers — they all wrote up their research because they knew that one day someone would have a question that they could answer.

If you're preparing to do a research project not because you want to but because it's been assigned, you might think that it is just make-work and treat it as an empty exercise. We hope you won't. Done well, your project prepares you to join the oldest and most esteemed of human conversations, one conducted for millennia among philosophers, engineers, biologists, social scientists, historians, literary critics, linguists, theologians, not to mention CEOs, lawyers, marketers, investment managers — the list is endless.

Right now, if you are a beginner, you may feel that the conversation is one-sided, that you have to listen more than you can speak because you have little to contribute. If you are a student, you may feel that you have only one reader: your teacher. All that may be true, for the moment. But at some point, you will join a conversation that, at its best, can help you and your community free us from ignorance, prejudice, and the half-baked ideas that so many charlatans try to impose on us. It is no exaggeration to say that, maybe not today or tomorrow but one day, the research you do and the arguments you make using it can improve if not the whole world, then at least your corner of it.


For some of you, though, the invitation to join this conversation may still seem easy to decline. If you accept it, you'll have to find a good question, search for sound data, formulate and support a good answer, and then write it all up. Even if you turn out a first-rate paper, it may be read not by an eager world but only by your teacher. And, besides, you may think, my teacher knows all about my topic. What do I gain from writing up my research, other than proving I can do it?

One answer is that we write not just to share our work, but to improve it before we do.

1.2.1 Write to Remember

Experienced researchers first write just to remember what they've read. A few talented people can hold in mind masses of information, but most of us get lost when we think about what Smith found in light of Wong's position, and compare both to the odd data in Brunelli, especially as they are supported by Boskowitz — but what was it that Smith said? When you don't take notes on what you read, you're likely to forget or, worse, misremember it.

1.2.2 Write to Understand

A second reason for writing is to see larger patterns in what you read. When you arrange and rearrange the results of your research in new ways, you discover new implications, connections, and complications. Even if you could hold it all in mind, you would need help to line up arguments that pull in different directions, plot out complicated relationships, sort out disagreements among experts. I want to use these claims from Wong, but her argument is undercut by Smith's data. When I put them side by side, I see that Smith ignores this last part of Wong's argument. Aha! If I introduce it with this part from Brunelli, I can focus on Wong more clearly. That's why careful researchers never put off writing until they've gathered all the data they need: they write from the start of their projects to help them assemble their information in new ways.

1.2.3 Write to Test Your Thinking

A third reason to write is to get your thoughts out of your head and onto paper, where you'll see what you really can think. Just about all of us, students and professionals alike, believe our ideas are more compelling in the dark of our minds than they turn out to be in the cold light of print. You can't know how good your ideas are until you separate them from the swift and muddy flow of thought and fix them in an organized form that you — and your readers — can study.

In short, we write to remember more accurately, understand better, and evaluate what we think more objectively. (And as you will discover, the more you write, the better you read.)


But even when they agree that writing is an important part of learning, thinking, and understanding, some still wonder why they can't write up their research in their own way, why they have to satisfy demands imposed by a community that they have not joined (or even want to) and conform to conventions they did nothing to create. Why should I adopt language and forms that are not mine? Aren't you just trying to turn me into an academic like yourself? If I write as you expect me to, I risk losing my identity.

Such concerns are legitimate (most teachers wish students would raise them more often). But it would be a feeble education that did not change you at all, and the deeper your education, the more it will change the "you" that you are or want to be. That's why it is so important to choose carefully what you study and with whom. But it would be a mistake to think that learning to report sound research must threaten your true identity. It will change the way you think, but only by giving you more ways of thinking. You will be different by being freer to choose whom you want to be and what you want to do with your life.

But the most important reason for learning to write in ways readers expect is that when you write for others, you demand more of yourself than when you write for yourself alone. By the time you fix your ideas in writing, they are so familiar to you that you need help to see them not for what you want them to be but for what they really are. You will understand your own work better when you try to anticipate your readers' inevitable and critical questions: How have you evaluated your evidence? Why do you think it's relevant? What ideas have you considered but rejected?

All researchers, including us, can recall moments when in writing to meet their readers' expectations, they found a flaw or blunder in their thinking or even discovered a new insight that escaped them in a first draft written for themselves. You can do that only once you imagine and then meet the needs and expectations of informed and careful readers. When you do that, you create what we call a rhetorical community of shared values.

You might think, OK, I'll write for readers, but why not in my own way? The traditional forms that readers expect are more than just empty vessels into which you must pour your ideas. They also help writers think and communicate in ways they might not otherwise, and they embody the shared values of a research community. Whatever community you join, you'll be expected to show that you understand its practices by presenting your research in the standard forms, or genres, that a community uses to represent what it knows and how it knows. The various genres of research-based writing — the research paper, the scholarly article, the research report, the conference paper, the legal brief, and a great many others — have evolved to meet the needs of the communities that use them. Relatively stable, they allow both newcomers and longtime members of a community to come together through shared practices and expectations. Once you know the genres that belong to and define your particular research community, you'll be better able to answer your community's predictable questions and understand what its members care about and why. As you learn to write the genres of a field or profession, you become a member of that research community.

But as different as research communities are, what counts as good work is the same, whether it's in the academic world or the world of government, commerce, or technology. If you learn to do research well now, you gain an immense advantage in the kind of research you will do later, no matter where you do it.


Writing up your research is, finally, thinking with and for your readers. When you write for others, you disentangle your ideas from your memories and wishes, so that you — and others — can explore, expand, combine, and understand them more fully. Thinking for others is more careful, more sustained, more insightful — in short, more thoughtful — than just about any other kind of thinking.

You can, of course, take the easy way: do just enough to satisfy your teacher. This book will help you do that, but you'll shortchange yourself if that's all you do. If instead you find a topic that you care about, ask a question that you want to answer, then pursue that answer as best you can, your project can have the fascination of a mystery whose solution richly rewards your efforts. Nothing contributes more to successful research than your commitment to it, and nothing teaches you more about how to think than making a successful (or even unsuccessful) argument using it.

We wish we could tell you how to balance your belief in the worth of your project with the need to accommodate the demands of teachers and colleagues, but we cannot. If you believe in what you're doing and cannot find anyone else who shares your beliefs, all you can do is put your head down and press on. With our admiration.


Connecting with Your Reader

Creating a Role for Yourself and Your Readers

Research counts for little if few read it. Yet even experienced researchers sometimes forget to keep their readers in mind as they plan and draft. In this chapter, we show you how to think about readers even before you begin your project.

Most of the important things we do, we do with others. Some students think research is different. They imagine the lone scholar in a hushed library. But no place is more filled with imagined voices than a library or lab. The view of research you see walking by these sites is only part of the story. When you read a book or a scientific paper, you silently converse with its writers — and through them with everyone else they have read. In fact, every time you go to a written source for information, you join a conversation between writers and readers that began more than five thousand years ago. And when you report your own research, you add your voice and can hope that other voices will respond to you, so that you can in turn respond to them. So it goes and, we hope, will continue for a long time to come.


Conversations are social activities in which we are expected to play our parts. Face-to-face, we can judge how well we and others do that by sensing how a conversation is going. Do we treat each other as equals, speaking and listening civilly, answering each other's questions directly? Or does one of us seem to be playing the role of expert, assigning others the role of audience? We can judge how well a conversation is going as we have it, and we can adjust our roles and behavior to repair mistakes and misunderstandings as they occur. But writing is an imagined conversation. Once we decide what role to play and what role to assign our readers, those roles are fixed. If as we read we think, Well, Abrams acknowledges Stanik's evidence, but he's dogmatic in criticizing it and ignores obvious counterexamples, Abrams can't change what we read next to recover from our judgment.

Of course, judgments go both ways: just as readers judge writers, so writers also judge readers, but they do so before they write. Consider these two sentences:

Interruption of REM sleep has been shown not only to inhibit memory consolidation, especially for declarative memories, but also to significantly impair cognitive processes dependent on working memory function.

If you don't get enough sleep, not only will you struggle to retain facts and concepts, but your working memory function will also be impaired, making it difficult for you to hold information in mind and consequently to understand, think, and learn.

Both writers make judgments about their readers' needs and goals. The first addresses herself to knowledgeable colleagues interested in learning about the psychology of sleep and memory. She therefore focuses on abstract concepts and freely uses technical terms. The second presents himself as an expert patiently explaining a complicated matter to readers who know little about it, and so he largely avoids technical vocabulary. He also assumes that his readers want practical advice, and so he addresses them directly as "you" and shows them what his information means to them.

The two sentences are very different: the first reads like an excerpt from an advanced textbook; the second, like it comes from a guide on good study habits. But both would be effective if their writers judged their readers correctly.

But suppose the writers switched passages. Readers ignorant of cognitive psychology looking for practical advice would think that the writer of the first was indifferent to their needs; readers knowledgeable about sleep and memory would think that the writer of the second was talking down to them. When writers misjudge their readers in this way, they risk losing them.

In fact, writers can't avoid creating some role for themselves and their readers, planned or not. So those roles are worth thinking about from the beginning, before you write a word. If you ignore or miscast your readers, you'll leave so many traces of that mistake in your early drafts that you won't easily fix them in the final one.

In writing this book, we tried to imagine you — what you're like, what you know about research, whether you even care about it. We imagined a persona for you, a role we hoped you would adopt: someone who is interested in learning how to do and report research and who shares our belief in its importance (or at least is open to being persuaded). Then we imagined a persona of our own: writers committed to the value of research, interested in sharing how it works, talking not at you like a lecturer or down to you like a pedant, but with the "you" we hoped you want to become. We tried to speak as easily to those of you starting your first project as to those of you doing advanced work. We hoped that new researchers would not be frustrated when we discussed issues they haven't yet faced and that more experienced readers would be patient as we covered familiar ground. Only you can judge how well we've succeeded.


Excerpted from The Craft of Research by Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams, Joseph Bizup, William T. FitzGerald. Copyright © 2016 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface: The Aims of This Edition: xi
Our Debts: xv
I. Research, Researchers, and Readers: 1
1. Thinking in Print: The Uses of Research, Public and Private: 9
2. Connecting with Your Reader: Creating a Role for Yourself and Your Readers: 16
II. Asking Questions, Finding Answers: 27
3. From Topics to Questions: 33
4. From Questions to a Problem: 49
5. From Problems to Sources: 65
6. Engaging Sources: 85
III. Making an Argument: 105
7. Making Good Arguments: An Overview: 110
8. Making Claims: 122
9. Assembling Reasons and Evidence: 132
10. Acknowledgments and Responses: 141
11. Warrants: 155
IV. Writing Your Argument: 173
12. Planning and Drafting: 177
13. Organizing Your Argument: 189
14. Incorporating Sources: 200
15. Communicating Evidence Visually: 214
16. Introductions and Conclusions: 232
17. Revising Style: Telling Your Story Clearly: 248
V. Some Last Considerations: 269
The Ethics of Research: 271
A Postscript for Teachers: 275
Appendix: Bibliographical Resources: 281
Index: 313

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