I’ve always had a problem with the modern use of the word ‘around’ – as in ‘the debate around’, ‘issues around’ and (particularly) ‘research around’. Over the last few years I’ve suggested to various clients that debates are about things, issues concern things, and that you research into things. But generally they’ve preferred their original wordings, and I’ve decided that this is a battle that has been well and truly lost, especially when I hear people that I quite respect using similar phrases (not that I don’t respect our clients, but you take my point, I hope). And so I’m giving up – no more challenging these formulae, just checking that they’re spelled correctly from here on in.
I suspect that the last of these bugbears, researching ‘around’, actually masks a change in the way in which research is conducted, or more to the point what it’s allowable to call research nowadays. Testing to destruction, randomised controlled trials conducted across several continents, months or even years spent in the library with the original texts – possibly reaching the conclusion that your original theory was wrong, and that the damn thing will never fly: that’s research ‘into’. Research ‘around’, on the other hand, can be a different matter entirely: at its most extreme, five minutes on Google, a bit of uncritical copy-and-pasting, and there’s your research – with ‘around’ offering the subliminal apology that you haven’t really got to the heart of the matter, or come to your own conclusions as opposed to those of others.
Prepositions such as ‘about’ and ‘into’ are all about direction and movement. You can generally draw them. Around is â†„ – taking the bypass, maybe glancing up for a view of the cathedral in the distance, but not really gaining much of an impression. Into is very much →, going through the middle, stopping off to have a good look around, and coming out the other side with some sort of appreciation of the place, even if your conclusion is that you never want to go there again.
So, I won’t be using it myself any time soon but, if you want to, you can research around whatever takes your fancy and there’ll be no editorial challenge from this quarter.