The process of researching, writing, and revising is not linear. You don’t stop researching when you start writing, and you don’t stop researching or writing when you begin revising. As was mentioned in Chapter 3, it is best to think of your initial thesis as a working thesis. During your research, writing, and revising process, your argument will (and should) change based on what you read and write. You may end up writing a completely different paper than you had originally envisioned, or your final thesis may simply be a revised and refined version of your working thesis. Regardless, as you write your first draft, it is important that you don’t stop doing research. How, then, does your research process evolve with your writing?
Research is initially very broad. You’re trying to figure out what scholarship on your topic exists and where you might contribute to the scholarly conversation regarding that topic. As you work toward a thesis, that research will become increasingly specific because you have a better idea of what kind of sources and evidence you need and what kind of background your reader will need to make sense of your argument. Figuring out when to write, when to research, and when to revise can be difficult, so below are some tips and tricks to help you determine what to do and when to do it.
Writing while Researching.
Don’t let the guise of “needing to do more research” let you procrastinate on writing for too long. Because time, accessibility, and resources limit the type and amount of research you can do, you will never have enough research (but that’s okay!). You should start writing when you feel like you have a solid understanding of necessary background information and a good outline of your argument. (Of course, you can always write before this point in the process, too.) Even if what you’re writing is incoherent and doesn’t end up in the final draft, the process of getting your thoughts onto paper will help you sort out your ideas.
Don’t worry if you don’t use all of your research! If reading this list is making you sad and overwhelmed (“But I already have so much research! I’ve already done so much work! I’m already so overwhelmed!”), worry not. A lot of the initial research you do doesn’t end up being part of your final product, but that’s okay! Doing a lot of research helps familiarize you with the field and points your research in the right direction. While researching and writing, it’s normal to realize that you don’t actually need to write about everything that you read.
Bringing Order to the Chaos.
Research can yield a lot of information (and books and browser tabs and open PDFs) in a short amount of time. Drowning in sources while mid draft can become stressful, so try focusing on one section of your paper, research, or argument development. You might also try finding an alternative way to save sources so you’re not bombarded with articles every time you open your computer (Remember you can use a knowledge management tool like Zotero (see Section 12.2) to keep track of sources or a PDF reader like Adobe Acrobat Reader (see Section 12.3) to mark up your digital copies of texts).