Chapter 5: page 34

Chapter 5: The Inquiry Mindset for Meaningful College Research

chapter written by Dan Curtis-Cummins

with contributions from Lizzy Borges, Matt Martin, Faith Rusk, and Melissa Seelye of SFSU J. Paul Leonard Library

& contributions from Jennifer Trainor and Todd Walker of the English Department

Image Source: Jon Tyson on

Learning Objectives

  1. Curiosity, Engagement: Develop your personal interests, passions, and experiences related to larger social issues into open-ended “Inquiry Questions” to guide your entire research process. Connect your ideas to those of other authors.
  2. Critical Information Literacy: Learn strategies for finding and evaluating knowledgeable sources to investigate your Inquiry Question, and develop skills to evaluate the credibility of all sources of information in your lives. By continuing to view reading, research and writing as an ongoing conversation, build your own credibility by establishing your own ideas in relation to sources you evaluate.
  3. Openness: Continue to practice being open: open to new ways of asking questions, open to new ways of finding information and knowledge from sources, open to relating to new perspectives that you will find in those sources.

Asking Questions

As college students on the threshold of the academic community, many of you probably think that research is about finding answers to a question given to you by your professor. While this may have been true in high school, we would like to propose that a more meaningful research process in college starts somewhere else, in a place far from just finding answers to somebody else’s questions. In contrast, research in college builds on the “Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing” and starts with your curiosity: asking your own questions, questions about real-life issues that matter to you, that hit close to home, that are related to your experience. This is the academic research that is important to people and changes the world, because it is based on real life and real motivations to create change or solve a problem.

That’s the “meaningful” part of the title of this chapter. The Inquiry Mindset is the other important part of college research, which is the “asking questions” part. College research should be driven by open-ended questions that seek to expose real issues or problems occurring in the daily lives of a particular group of people or populations. The questions you ask should not be structured in a way that they seek one correct answer, per se, but rather perspectives or experiences of scholars that have come before you. In a way, your Inquiry Questions open up the conversation with authors that characterize the reading and writing processes we’ve described earlier. The more relevant the issue and/or the population is to you, the researcher, the more meaningful the reading, research, and writing process will be. We’d like to suggest that just as in the critical and active reading process described earlier, “when you start to see reading [and by extension, research] as a ‘conversation’ with authors, who have life experiences similar to yours, and for some of whom your life experiences could teach, research engages you in solving real issues in the world that have meaning for you beyond the page” (Chapter 2: page 9).

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