Via two degrees of LJ separation (in janinas_nest's LJ, reached via luscious_purple's), I've come across the SCA's Arts and Sciences 50 Challenge. While the challenge itself is interesting, what really struck me was this quote:
Most of us in the A&S community struggle to get past the novice/intermediate level; not knowing how to proceed, who to talk to for advice, what the latest research says, what about our work could use improvement or how to make those changes. We lack a clearly marked path upon which to journey towards excellence, and we lack support along the way.
Translated: We don't know how to do our own research.
Which is not surprising, and I don't mean that in a condescending way. We have thesis advisors in grad school for a reason. When I started grad school - grad school, after five years of college - I had very little idea of what it meant to really do research. I look back on the papers I wrote as a Master's student and cringe. Researching is a skill in and of itself; if your A&S project is your destination, research is knowing how to drive the car that will get you there. And like all skills, it takes time to learn and to practice.
But it's rarely taught, and when it is, it's hard to teach well. I did have an "Intro to Research" class as a freshman - egads, what a waste of time. "This is an abstract." "Listen to this researcher describe her project." Jumping to the finished product and not the process. And if you do manage to focus on the process, it is easy to get bogged down in implementing the process. For instance, it's really, really easy to digress from the general process of finding good sources to all the tricks and techniques that I personally use to sort through books in the library.
We have this problem come up in writing software, too. We all agree that it's the output that matters, and the implementation is up to the individual programmer. (While adhering to systems-level requirements, yadda yadda yadda.) But when you get down to it, you have to implement something, and if you don't have any idea of what to do to get the desired output, you don't actually have a program.
So it's all well and good to say, "Use good sources," and "A good source looks like this:" but people need at least some idea of how to implement a good source search. But you don't want to give the impression that "some idea" is the only way possible.
Since attendance has been down at "Early Period Music Theory" and classes of that ilk, maybe I'll dabble in this "meta" field. I've signed up to teach a class on goal-setting as a part of Atlantian University - that's another skill the independent researcher needs to have. Anyone have suggestions for other similar skills that would be generically useful for starting researchers of all stripes?