The Craft of Research, Fourth Edition: Book Review

The Craft of Research is the unrivaled resource for researchers at all levels, from first-year students to research reporters in firms and government offices, with over 700,000 volumes in print.

Gregory G. Colomb and Joseph M. Williams, seasoned researchers and educators, provide an updated third edition of their famous handbook, which was created in partnership with the late Wayne C. Booth in the first and second editions. The Craft of Research demonstrates how to construct an argument that persuades readers to accept a claim; how to anticipate and respond to readers’ objections; and how to write introductions and conclusions that answer the most difficult question, “So what?”

The third edition provides a more in-depth look at the crucial first steps of a research project: planning and writing a paper. The authors have completely rewritten and updated their section on electronic research, highlighting the importance of distinguishing between reliable sources (such as those found in libraries) and less dependable sources (such as those acquired through a rapid Web search). A chapter on warrants has also been thoroughly revised to help academics understand this challenging issue.

The writers have maintained the friendly tone, trusty voice, and feeling of directness that have made this book invaluable for anyone working on a research assignment.

Have you ever been staring at a blank computer screen, unsure what to write about for a 10-page research paper due the following week? Or maybe you had an idea for a story but didn’t know where to start? Or perhaps you gathered all your sources, drafted a draft, and then decided that no one cared if The Great Gatsby depicts the three Aristotelian components of tragedy?

Students and researchers can use The Craft of Research to help them address problems like these and others. The writers deconstruct the anatomy of a research paper and offer step-by-step processes that take you from topic selection to final polishing. The book’s main sections cover how to make a compelling research claim, how to discover and evaluate sources, how to back up your claim with evidence, reasons, and warrants, and how to plan, draft, and revise your paper. The authors employ plain, straightforward language, and if that isn’t enough, they include simple images and illustrations to help illustrate their points.

The authors also go over topics like ethics (why you should always cite even if you’re only talking about another writer’s idea), the Internet (when it’s okay to use web-based sources), and images (why 3-D graphs are a bad idea). Sure, some of the advice they offer may be familiar to you, but the authors cover practically every aspect of research papers (although in a broad sense), so there’s something for everyone. It’s also helpful to have a handbook that serves as a reminder of what you learnt in your freshman English lessons. The Craft of Research is one of the best books about research because it is clear, succinct, and approachable.

This Edition’s Objectives

The Craft of Research, now in its fourth edition, is the first since the book’s three original authors, Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams, died. We—Joseph Bizup and William T. FitzGerald—were presented with the enjoyable and difficult task of revising a book we had both long liked. Our goal was to modernize and improve it without taking it from its creators.

The fourth edition aims to address the demands of all researchers, not just first-year undergraduates and advanced graduate students, but also those in industry and government who conduct and publish research on any issue, academic, political, or commercial. The book was written with the following goals in mind:

  • guide you through the complexities of turning a topic or question into a research problem whose significance matches the effort that you put into solving it;
  • help you organize and draft a report that justifies the effort;
  • show you how to read your report as your readers will so that you can revise it into one that they will read with the understanding and respect it deserves.

This Edition’s Highlights

We have kept in mind the positive reception of previous editions and the wide audience they attracted in preparing this fourth edition, an audience that includes first-year students in composition classes, graduate students and other advanced researchers, and even professionals working in fields such as business, medicine, and law. The book has been translated into Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Japanese, and Chinese, indicating that there has an international audience.

The Craft of Research is the outcome of an incredible cooperation between three outstanding professors and scholars whose footsteps we are pleased to follow. We’ve tried to maintain and keep the perspective, material, and voice that have made The Craft of Research a renowned classic while also attempting to help the book communicate to new generations of researchers. Those who have read previous editions will notice that this one stay true to the book’s goal and overall structure. Simultaneously, each chapter has been completely updated to reflect the current research landscape. Here, concretely, is what we’ve done:

  • Chapters 5 and 6 were updated to reflect modern advances in library and Internet research, as well as compelling source materials. We focused on novel research methodologies made feasible by online databases and search engines, as well as the importance of online sources, which must be balanced against the need to check their reliability.
  • We again revised the chapter on warrants (chapter 11), a matter that has been difficult to explain in previous editions.
  • We reversed the order of chapters 13 and 14, which are now named “Organizing Your Argument” and “Incorporating Sources,” respectively, and put the first two sections of chapter 13 into chapter 12, which is now titled “Planning and Drafting.” Throughout, as we thought necessary, we clarified concepts and provided fresh examples.
  • We differentiated the related but distinct activities of research, argument, and writing.
  • Wherever possible, we used standardized words (e.g., “paper” instead of “report”) to reflect the wide range of academic and professional genres that research produces.

In doing so, we’ve sought to maintain the friendly voice, sense of directness, and stance of colleagues working together that so many have found vital to the book’s success, just as Booth, Colomb, and Williams did in previous editions.

Wayne C. Booth (1921–2005) was the George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in English Language and Literature at the University of Chicago. His many books include The Rhetoric of Fiction and For the Love of It: Amateuring and Its Rivals, both published by the University of Chicago Press. Gregory G. Colomb (1951–2011) was professor of English at the University of Virginia and the author of Designs on Truth: The Poetics of the Augustan Mock-EpicJoseph M. Williams (1933–2008) was professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Chicago and the author of Style: Lessons in Clarity and GraceJoseph Bizup is associate professor in the Department of English at Boston University. He is co-editor of the thirteenth edition of the Norton Reader and editor of the eleventh edition of Williams’s Style: Lessons in Clarity and GraceWilliam T. FitzGerald is associate professor in the Department of English at Rutgers University–Camden.


 Title: The Craft of Research, Fourth Edition

 Authors: Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph  M. Williams, Joseph Bizup, William T. FitzGerald                                                                                                 Publisher: University of Chicago Press, 2016

 Length: 336 pages



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