The writing process: Conducting preliminary research

You’ve generated an interesting idea for a topic, compatible with both your audience and your constraints. Now, before you begin writing your paper, consider doing some preliminary research to ensure that the topic will, indeed, work. As you research, think about your audience and your constraints, modify your topic, and try to hone it into something more precise.

Furthermore, though, note any discussions that seem important to the topic, and try to find an issue that you can focus your paper around. Are there any issues that people seem to overlook in the sources you research? Are there any heated debates you can address? Do you have a unique take on your topic? Does the research suggest that a possible argument of yours, which seems appealing, is somehow flawed? If so, how is this argument flawed? Can you build on or resist this take on your ideas?

Keep in mind that many easily accessible databases or websites, such as Wikipedia, are not considered reliable sources; however, they can be good places to begin your research because they are so readily available and are often easy to read. If you find any information you can use in one of these sources, verify it with a reliable source.

Remember—if it can’t be verified in a trustworthy source, it can’t be trusted. Scholarly sources, such as university-run websites and scholarly journals, are the most reliable places to find the information you need and verify the information you have.

Some writers do as much research as possible at this point in the writing process, but most writers do not. For most, research at this stage is just preliminary study to make sure the essay is on track and get a sense of the literature. When you are comfortable with your topic and able to concisely define the purpose or the main issue your essay will deal with, you’re ready to craft an outline of the essay.

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Shane Bryson

Shane finished his master's degree in English literature in 2013 and has been working as a writing tutor and editor since 2009. He began proofreading and editing essays with Scribbr in early summer, 2014.

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