Research hacks #22: Come to terms with a new theory or thinker by using an ‘assumptions pyramid’

After a few posts on planning and presenting research findings, it’s time to return to the core of the research process: understanding, ordering and refining ideas. Let’s think of a particular research scenario: you have to come to terms with a new theory in your discipline. This is a phase of research that can sometimes feel overwhelming. The first book you read seems incredibly persuasive and just plain common sense, and you find yourself thinking “of course this is the way it is”. Then you begin to read critiques of the position and you find these, also, very persuasive: “what a dumb and dangerous theory it is!” With each new tome you digest, your attitude to the theory yo-yos once again, and you are left drowning in a sea of texts with no idea in which direction you ought to be swimming.

One way to avoid being blown to and fro as you come to terms with a new theory or philosophy in your area is to spend a few minutes drawing up an “assumptions pyramid” for it.

To read all the research hacks posted to date, please click here.

The assumptions pyramid is a tool that will help you to appreciate the theory more roundly, in its own terms, and come to your own opinion about it rather than hanging on to the coat tails of the latest eulogy or demolition job you have read. The principle is a simple one:
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