The Research Plan
Where to start with scholarly research
- Expectations for Research
- Types of Sources
- Preliminary Research
- Planning your Research
Expectations for Research
A good essay is grounded in good research, which requires clear direction, patience and persistence.
Research helps you to focus your topic, formulate and refine your thesis, and discover details, opinions, and facts to support your overall argument. You are better equipped to search for and sort sources when you have made decisions about your topic and developed a working thesis.
It is important that your research be accurate, reliable, relevant, and, for many disciplines, recent. The quality of your research determines the efficacy of your argument and your instructor’s assessment of your work.
Maintaining your academic integrity is an important factor that is assessed by your professors. The sources you use must be properly documented, accurately communicated, and clearly explained in relation to your topic and thesis. You are less likely to copy the text word for word or paraphrase too closely if you have spent some time thinking about how the research will inform your thesis and if you think carefully about your research process
Types of Sources
Many assignments will require you to focus primarily on scholarly, peer-reviewed sources. Check with your professor or the assignment instructions for guidance on using popular sources.
Scholarly vs. Popular Sources
Scholarly sources are supported by the peer review process, which means they are sources that have been evaluated by other experts in the same field.
- Are written by and for academics
- Ensure that data is thoroughly checked
- Cite all evidence
- Make arguments which are supported by research
- Meet conventions of scholarship in the discipline
- Are written in formal, academic language
Popular sources are written for a wider, general audience and are more informal in tone. Sources like newspaper articles, documentaries and corporate websites are not scholarly, but they can offer useful information that you can include in your analysis alongside evidence presented by scholarly sources.
Grey literature is produced by entities whose main task is NOT publishing. Industry, think tanks, government departments, scholarly societies and associations can all produce grey literature. Grey literature can include reports, working papers, newsletters, government documents, speeches, white papers, and urban plans. Grey literature also includes newsletters, emails, blogs and other social networking sites. In addition to scholarly sources, grey literature can offer valuable evidence to your essay, but be sure to consider whether its use is appropriate for the discipline, the course, or the assignment.
Primary vs. Secondary Sources
In some disciplines, such as history, philosophy, or English literature, it is important to distinguish between primary and secondary sources.
Primary sources are original, first-hand materials. A primary source may be a government document, census data, a short story, old letters, or a piece of art.
Secondary sources are articles, editorials, textbooks, books, and other published materials that may interpret data, works of literature, ideas or events.
You may need to do preliminary research to find or refine a topic. Some early reading can help you narrow your focus, establish research questions, and avoid the frustration of directionless research.
Places to Start
- Begin with course materials. The syllabus, required or recommended readings, textbooks and lecture notes will often provide ideas for a topic, while focusing on the major themes of your course.
- During the early stages of research, you can use reference works, such as discipline-specific textbooks, encyclopedias and dictionaries, or Wikipedia, for an introduction to your topic. Use the library subject guide to find useful reference works in your subject. Be sure that only material from your scholarly research, not Wikipedia, is used and cited in your paper.
The materials found during the preliminary research stage can help you to identify main concepts, key terminology, and important literature on the topic.
Planning your Research
A Plan Establishes Research Goals and Clarifies Direction
A clear direction and plan for research helps you assess the quality and relevance of sources.
Creating a Research Plan
In advance of beginning a search for evidence, take time to make a plan.
- Develop specific questions about your topic: what do you want to know and how does it relate to your thesis?
- Create a list of key words and synonyms for your search. Include specific and more general terms; establish parameters for your search (place, time, theory, field, species) but be open to related materials.
- Identify types of evidence you are required to use (research requirements of the assignment) and you will find informative for your topic. Think about where you can find these types of sources.
Look to your course content to identify the types of sources commonly used in the discipline; here are some examples:
- Peer-Reviewed scholarship: Argumentative articles, clinical trials, empirical articles (use library databases, google scholar)
- Numerical and financial data: export data, quality of life measures (see library subject guides
- Visual records (maps, old photographs, film)
- NGO documents: Stakeholder reports, Best practice documents
- Government documents: laws, legislation, reports