When you complain about the arduous process of academic writing, some people don’t understand your struggle. They think you just come up with a topic in a second, you get some information online, and you put everything together in an hour or so. Well, that might be the case for elementary school project. Anyone who’s ever tried to write a more complex paper knows that the process is much more challenging than it initially seems.
Do you know what professional writers do? They read and write at the same time. They don’t necessarily separate the stages of reading and writing; they combine them. You’ll be writing from day one, and you’ll be gathering more information at the same time.
However, a preliminary research is still necessary. This is a process consisted of note-taking and outlining. Its purpose is to give a clear direction of the actual research and writing stages.
Why Preliminary Research Is Important
This stage will help you achieve few important goals:
- Through preliminary research, you’re able to narrow down the topic. Your teachers usually give broad guidelines, but they expect you to narrow them down to a very precise topic and thesis statement. Therefore, you have to conduct a preliminary research to form a specific topic.
- Thanks to the preliminary research, you’ll find out how much information you can count on. Some topics are very scarce on information. Those are not the ones you would choose if you want to write a successful project within the timeframe you have. You’ll go for the topics that offer tons of resources to explore.
- The preliminary research helps you form your own opinions, which you’ll discuss in the paper. You’ll be flexible, since you’ll do more research throughout the writing process. However, this stage will set the direction of the discussion.
How to Conduct Preliminary Research
Make Priorities During the Reading Process
The preliminary research process doesn’t involve too much reading. You won’t spend an entire week of reading for a simple essay. Remember the main points:
- Narrowing down the topic
- Make sure there’s enough information to count on
- Form opinions
Those are your priorities. Hopefully, you’ll able to cover those points rather quickly. The preliminary research for a 5-paragraph essay on a simple topic shouldn’t take more than two hours. For a research paper, it might take a day.
Evaluate the Sources as Quickly as Possible!
You won’t be reading entire books and research reports during this stage. It’s important to evaluate the sources as quickly as possible. You’ll get into the details later on. Here are few tips to help you make this process faster and more productive:
- If you find a book relevant to your topic, check the index to see if your topic is specifically covered in it. If yes, read only the relevant pages. If you decide to use that book, you’ll also read the introduction to understand the author’s main point, but you’ll do that later.
- If you’re confused by the index of a book, check the table of contents. It should give you a clue to the relevant sections.
- If you’re still not sure what sections of the book are relevant to your topic, but you’re sure there’s information you could use, read the introduction. By now, you should realize whether or not that book is useful for this paper. If it’s not, keep researching.
Read the Big Ideas
If you’re going through an article or web page that doesn’t have an index or table of context, read the sections that expose the big ideas. This is the order you should follow:
- The opening 2-3 paragraphs
- The closing 2-3 paragraphs
- The first sentence of each paragraph (only if the previous sections seemed relevant)
- The paragraph whose first sentence looks extremely promising
Thanks to this method, you’ll evaluate the resources really quickly, and you’ll be ready for the in-depth research and writing stage.