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reasoning, our search for information about that topic, and the construction of an argument or explanation that leads to a conclusion.

It is not the answers to these questions that matter, so much as the very fact that you ask them. Most students are worried about 'the right answer'; people asked to perform a certain task at work also worry about getting the right outcome. There are few (if any) perfectly correct answers in the real world; instead there are processes we go through in order to come to a conclusion (an answer or outcome) that is going to be accepted as correct in relation to the context within which we operate. And that is why reasoning is so important. Reasoning is not about answers (the conclusions), but about the process of making answers more acceptable by giving appropriate reasons for them. Thinking through a series of questions is how we control this process.

Hence, before and during the research process, we need to have questions in mind that are prompted by the particular topic or issue that we are investigating. We need, at the very least, to be using questions to formulate the precise dimensions of our topic—establishing the parameters of our analysis:

• what we do consider and what we do not consider

• what broadly defined bodies of knowledge we will and will not call upon

• what definitions of terms we will use within our reasoning

• what methods of investigation we will use.

In particular, we need to ask these questions to avoid assuming that there is 'one right topic' in relation to a broad issue. Often the topics we are told to investigate or write about (whether through our work or study) are poorly formed or are deliberately 'open', thus requiring us to redefine them more carefully before we work on them. Each issue we encounter can give rise to a wide variety of topics. As we go about narrowing it down to the precise topic we are going to investigate, we must always be ready to justify our choices by thinking through the fundamental question of'Why have I chosen this particular topic, in this way, with references to these ideas and not some other topic?'. If we do, then we will able to argue for and establish the acceptability of our decisions about topics.

A precise topic enables us to search efficiently for information that will become our claims. It guides us regarding the sorts of reasoning we will need to use (reasoning from cause, analogy, and so on). A precise topic gives us a benchmark against which we can assess the relevance of any information we encounter, both in our research and in the final planning and construction of our arguments and explanations. A precise topic also provides the benchmark that enables us to judge the degree of evidence and argumentation needed to meet any requirements of the burden of proof, thus guiding our search further. But the key issue here is not the final product—the topic itself—but the insights we gain through the process of formulating it, and we must always be ready to change our topic in light of what we discover.

We will encounter some more questions in chapter 9. For the moment, let us turn to the ways in which we can think about the research process, not in terms of

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