Scoping and Magnifying
This article is part of the Deconstructing MUN: Research series. Check out the rest of the series below!
Part 3: Scoping and Magnifying (currently reading)
Part 4: Source Curation (coming soon)
Part 5: Annotation and Analysis (coming soon)
Part 6: Cross-Referencing (coming soon)
Learning is limitless.
For the self-proclaimed autodidacts among us who get their news and facts from Reddit (myself included), we would be painfully aware of how many nights were spent devouring thread after thread as we delved deeper into Reddit’s dustier corners.
Similarly, research can regress into such a state of mindless reading as one academic paper leads to another ten, to another hundred, and, God forbid, to a thousand. There is nothing inherently wrong with reading as widely and deeply as you like on a subject — in fact, all the better as it enriches your understanding. However, given the time constraints one faces when preparing for a MUN, too much research on less relevant aspects of the issue can be quite an inefficient use of your time.
This is where Scoping and Magnifying come into play.
What Scoping aims to do is that it sets a realistic scope of topics and cases which you can further explore and research. Based on the keywords which you have identified earlier (see my previous article), your Scope can be constructed and expanded from this pool of keywords.
Under normal circumstances, your Scope would be wider than your pool of keywords as you should explore more novel concepts and examples not immediately relevant to the issue. Afterwards, Magnifying then kicks in to provide depth to the topics and cases which you have identified as worth exploring further. Thus, this combination will give your research both breadth and depth.
So far, we have been discussing in rather abstract terms, which may sound like tufts of cotton-candy fluff. So let’s talk about concrete tips and techniques for Scoping and Magnifying.
Personally, I use Wikipedia as my initial launchpad for research by searching for articles which explain the keywords I have identified. Most of the time in MUN, the classes of articles you would find when researching are:
Historical and Current Events
Theories and Models
On Wikipedia, you would find that the article content structure remains consistent for each article class. The breakdowns are as such for each class:
Early Life and Education
Honours and Recognitions
Scandals and Allegations
Government and Politics
Founding and Contemporary History
Mission and Objects
Scope of Work
Criticism and Public Scandals
Historical and Current Affairs
Timeline: Initial Development
Timeline: Height of Affairs
Domestic and International Responses
Theories and Models
History of Conception
Central Concepts and Assumptions
Intersections with Other Theories/Models
The points bolded above are the important sections which you should read to consolidate your Scope. The content presented here are primers for further readings, and you can already begin working on the next step, Source Curation, by recording some of the citations featured in those sections.
In addition, most articles would have an information box on the right-hand side which displays important descriptors and statistics. They would also have obvious hyperlinks to what is called a “Portal” on Wikipedia, which is a gateway to a cache of articles related to a certain theme (e.g. academic discipline, major historical incident).
Another nifty thing to note about Wikipedia is the types of content they publish. Different from the classes of articles discussed above which relate to content themes, content types deal with the style of content presentation. In fact, the "articles" which you are used to seeing on Wikipedia is just one of several content types available. Here are some common types you will come across:
Article — conventional expository explaining and describing a particular incident, individual, or idea.
Disambiguation — a page that provides all articles with the same or similar name in differing contexts.
List — a page solely listing objects related to a theme that can also be ordered according to some descriptor or statistic. I highly recommend that you use this to harvest examples, you will be surprised at how many listicles there are on Wikipedia!
Relationship between X and Y — a very specific type of article that describes the relationship between two entities. Useful for exploring diplomatic relationships between two countries.
Criticism of Z — another specific type of Article that consolidates the criticisms/responses toward an incident or theory. Useful for analysis and gaining insights.
Portals — pages which serve as the "Main Page" for specific topics and directs readers to articles relevant to the topic
Category Trees — pages which organise articles and other content under a specific theme in a tree format.
Once you have done your groundwork by reading articles relevant to the issue, you should have curated many follow-up questions on specific research interests/topics. These questions can be categorised into 4 main sets: Solutions, Evidence, Aftermath, and Models (S.E.A.M.). Finding the answers to these questions will eventually lead to a better understanding of the overall issue.
Solutions: What are some areas of improvement or alternative solutions to existing issues and their present courses of actions?
Evidence: What are some hard statistics or documents that prove/justify a certain viewpoint or course of action taken?
Aftermath: What are the implications/aftermath of an incident or course of action in the near foreseeable future as well as in the decades to come?
Models: What theory, model, or framework would comprehensively explain the genesis and predict the subsequent development of the issues we are observing?
How does this differ from Scoping as mentioned previously? Unlike what you have done for Scoping, your search terms this time round should be longer and more specific, or a synthesis of two or more ideas/factors. Moreover, you should also start paying attention to more authoritative and reliable sources, which will be discussed in the next section on Source Curation.
Before we end this section, this is a quick note for those who still feel squirmy about using Wikipedia for research. While Wikipedia is certainly not the most reliable source to cite for any information (and you should definitely avoid citing Wikipedia), it does boast a high frequency of editing and an active community of editors who regularly vet the content of articles. Hence, information found on Wikipedia is generally accurate.
However, at the end of the day, Wikipedia is being recommended only as a starting point, and you should not become too reliant on it for the entire research process. For sites which are slightly less popular but may still be useful, check out Encyclopaedia Britannica and CIA World Factbook as well.
Read Part 4: Source Curation here (coming soon)
Tan Yong Yi
Gentile, J. R., Voelkl, K. E., Pleasant, J. M., & Monaco, N. M. (1995). Recall After Relearning by Fast and Slow Learners. The Journal of Experimental Education, 63(3),185-197. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220973.1995.9943808
Biggs, J. B. (1985). The Role of Metalearning in Study Processes. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 55(3),185-212. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2044-8279.1985.tb02625.x