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Finding Out About Finding Out

Understanding the process of enquiry is the key to successful learning. Asking questions is the best thing we can do to start learning about something new. Children are born with the urge to ask questions, yet we adults sometimes have to re-learn that skill. You'll find lots of sample questions that you might ask about the First Fleet in the Investigating section. In this section on Learning we look at a general framework for questioning.


QUESTIONS - tune into the problem, identify the issue

The big questions to ask are likely to be:

  • what were the people like who founded white settlement in Australia two hundred years ago?
  • does this convict past influence life today?


ANSWERS - think of possible answers, make a theory or a hypothesis

The questions we choose to ask will usually be based on a theory we are beginning to construct in our mind. For example, we might have a theory that the answer to the above question is that convicts were dangerous criminals, so specific questions might include:

  • How many convicts were convicted for murder?
  • How many convicts were transported for life?
  • How many convicts were repeat offenders?


FIND OUT - gather data and evidence

To answer the questions, we need to search for evidence that backs up our theories. Only some of this evidence can be found by searching the database as the database is a heavily edited summary of a number of primary source documents. Further evidence will be found in books and other resources. For example the third question above cannot be answered by the Database.


SORT OUT - process and analyse your evidence

In real life evidence is often incomplete, particularly with historical data. It is difficult to build up a picture of what actually happened and our view of the data may be coloured by our own modern-day prejudices. Beware also of the prejudices of other historians. For example, how have female convicts been described by male historians? How have Aboriginal Australians been described by other Australians?


JUDGE - draw conclusions - what does the data tell us?

After thinking about evidence carefully, we need to make the best judgement we can make under the circumstances. However all judgements must be argued from the available evidence and any conjectures must be clearly labelled as such.


REVIEW - was it all worth it? was there a better question we could ask?

At all stages in the process we should sit back and reflect on what we've been doing, reviewing whether there might be a better theory to match our evidence or whether we have enough evidence to make a judgement. For example, does our theory still hold that convicts were dangerous criminals if our search of the database finds no murderers and very few lifers? If our evidence is not supporting our theory, we may need to start all over again, in a continuing search for the "truth".


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Last Updated April 1999   email webmaster