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Sticky research metaphors?

This holiday weekend I bumped into a former student at the mall.  And she said, Thank you, Dr. V., for the metaphors. I’ve been keeping them in mind at college.

When I looked at her puzzled, she reminded me of a couple of the goofy things I regularly say to make teenage sense of the research process.

On thesis dating:

You don’t want to commit to the first thesis you meet.  As you begin your research, you might be attracted to a variety of very adorable tentative thesis ideas.  But date a few.  Be fussy. Get to know them and see if you really connect in terms of point of view.  You will spending lots of time together. Will your relationship last for the long haul?  Spend some time asking tough questions before you decide to commit.  (Unlike a real-life partner, happily, you can refine a thesis.)

On brands and on being a works cited snob:

You know I don’t endorse this behavior, but there are students in our school who are snobs about the brands they wear.  They wouldn’t be seen dead with boots or sneakers without the right labels.

There are some teachers, myself included and your future professors, who are equally snobby about works cited lists.

We look for brands, for those labels that impress us–the database brands, the journal brands, the government documents, the conference proceedings, the specific authors of the books and articles you use.  We know the names of the scholars and experts in our fields, the same way some students know the names of designers and their brands. We look for these names and we are impressed that you display them in your work. You’ll find them in library pathfinders and guides. Note that more and more of these are findable as free resources in portals like the DOAJ.

And, if you can convince us that a new name is worthy, or that a new type of source is relevant, we might be open to being impressed with it too.

What are your research metaphors?

Image courtesy of [Salvatore Vuono] /

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. Heather Hersey (@hhersey03) says:

    Hi, Joyce! I use the same dating metaphor for the information search process…talking about when it’s time to “put a ring on it.” Your experience shows that these sometimes silly metaphors make serious connections in a student’s mind. I will definitely use your “brand” metaphor. For paraphrasing, I compare it to eating something (usually an apple) and then spitting it out. If there are still chunks of the original food, you didn’t chew it up enough (ew!). A teacher suggested tomatoes versus ketchup instead. Thank you for sharing!

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