I don’t remember when I was introduced to words. I do remember, though, when it was that I realised their importance. I feel that it is a story worth sharing.

During my Master of Design course, it was a practice to present our projects to a jury. (at various stages of completion). In one particular design jury, one of our fellow classmates was presenting. A few slides in, as he was explaining his work, he said “ I have concluded from my research that in all of India, there is no city like Mumbai”.

As soon as he uttered these words, one of our professors got up. In a very angry tone he  questioned him, “How can you call this research?!” 

To which my classmate replied, “ I have done extensive touring of the city over the span of a couple of days. Also I have taken a lot of information from the internet. I have compiled all of that as my research.” Our professor lost it. He criticised him profusely and could not stop ranting about how this was not research at all.

At the time, me and my classmates felt that this was very strange behaviour and that instead of focusing on the actual project, our professor was going off-topic for no reason. Now, almost 7 years later, I am realising why he reacted like he did.

What could it be about the statement “I have concluded from my research that in all of India, there is no city like Mumbai” that can cause such anger? 

There are 3 parts to this statement - Mumbai, India and research.

Mumbai is just a dot on the map of India, yet it is a bustling metropolis with a population exceeding 20 million people. Even a cursory study of the city would take a couple of months easily. 

Now consider “all of India”. Even if someone just did airport hopping across all the cities of India, that would take at least a week. How can someone conclude that “ there is no city like Mumbai “ if they have neither experienced nor studied all the other cities?

Lastly, casual use of the word research.

A more appropriate statement would be, “In my experience, I have felt that Mumbai is unlike other cities of India.” When you make light of a heavy word such as ‘research’ in that sentence, by using it in place of “personal experience” it is quite a blunder. 

Broadly speaking, “research” means exhaustive study of existing knowledge, conducting further inquiry, and on the basis of those, coming up with new knowledge and insights.

Unfortunately, what happens is that in the pursuit of sounding significant, one misuses words. This causes one to use the word ‘research’ in place of ‘experience’.