TMG-L ArchivesArchiver > TMG > 2002-09 > 1032757772
From: "Stuart Armstrong" <>
Subject: Re: [TMG] Master Source List
Date: Sun, 22 Sep 2002 23:09:32 -0600
Darrell A. Martin wrote:
> Quibble: I was with you right up until "The purpose of the
> research process is to uncover evidence."
> The good researcher *begins* with a HYPOTHESIS. That is, a
> tentative ASSERTION for which there is inadequate, or no,
> supporting evidence.
I am afraid I must quibble somewhat with your quibble. If research is only to support or disprove a hypothesis, you may be missing an important research method. I agree with all of your other statements about hypotheses. I use them all the time, not only in my research, but in the kind of work I do. I troubleshoot things that are broke. A major part of the troubleshooting process is forming hypotheses and testing them. These lead me to identify the cause of the trouble.
But the first step in troubleshooting is almost always to "milk" the situation for clues. I get the customer to talk to me about the problem, and what happened when it broke. I open cabinets, remove covers, look, smell, and listen. I haven't formed any hypothesis yet -- I'm just getting to know the lay of the land, gathering information upon which to form the first hypothesis, which will often be to hypothesize whether the problem is internal to the equipment or some external factor. Then I devise a test to prove or disprove the hypothesis, perform the test, evaluate the results, and so on ...
I use the same technique in research. I already know that William Smith lived in Sumner County Tennessee, but I don't know much else about his life while he was living there. So I go to Sumner County and review the available sources. I need to gather as much background information as I can about William's stay in Tennessee. I am going to "milk" the county. I don't know what I expect to find. I might search the Tax records and discover that the first recorded mention of William Smith was in 1816, and the last in 1826. I discover that beginning in 1823 he had 3 horses and was taxed on 320 acres of land. I go to the Land deeds index and find that he bought land from his father-in-law in 1822. And that in 1824 he jointly bought land with someone with the same surname as his wife (and the same given name as his son). And part of the land was in another adjoining county. From the description in the Deed I can almost locate the parcel of land on the map, right on the county lin!
I love tax, land and court records because they are full of surprizes. I know they are full of surprizes and that's why I search them.
Next I might go to the Court records. With these especially I may have no idea what I am looking for until I find it. Well, what do you know! William was the executor of his father-in-law's estate in 1826-1827. I hadn't even suspected said father-in-law had died yet. And one of the buyers at the estate sale was a person I recognize as one of William's neighbors after he moved to Kentucky a few years later. With this almost serendipitous information, I am beginning to assemble a vignette of the life of William Smith in Tennessee, and I am gathering the names of his friends and associates. Many of these clues prove or suggest things I had not even thought of hypothesizing until I discovered them. Yet I was not shooting in the dark -- my search focused around things I already knew. It was a focused and deliberate mission of discovery.
Note that in all this, the only hypothesis, if you can call it that, is that if he lived there (which I already know), then there must be something else to discover. I have nothing to prove until I find it. When I find these "collateral" details, they may then become fuel for hypotheses. For example, I might now hypothesize that William moved from Tennessee to Kentucky in 1828, the year after the settlement of his father-in-law's estate. To prove this I might search the 1829 tax records in Kentucky, and the 1830 census in both places. If this doesn't prove or disprove the hypothesis, it might at least narrow down the time of his move, and lead to more hypotheses about where each of his children must have been born.
And so it goes -- the research process gathers data (evidence). Some of it is in response to some hypothesis and some isn't. The above example is, but for a few details, factual, and the methodology is exactly what brought me great success. You don't always have to know what you're looking for until you find it. You only need to know where the fish are biting.
web page: http://cgi.aros.net/~stuarta