Research Basics & Strategies

Research and academic writing are intertwined. The term research is fairly easy to grasp, but that doesn’t mean everyone shows up on day with with a good sense of how to approach the task of doing research for an essay.

Here are some tips for how to engage in the research process and ensure successful results.

Tip One

Always begin with a goal in mind.

The goal of the essay is the top priority and that goal will determine the subsequent goals for your research.

  • Do you want to prove a point?
  • Educate the reader?
  • Solve a problem?
  • Engage in a debate?
  • Propose a change or an idea?
  • Do you want to create an intellectual argument or forward an interpretation?

In a school setting, your goal will often be defined for you by the assignment.

Tip Two

After you define your purpose, begin to wade into the material.

  • Often, it is a good practice to conduct some preliminary research before crafting a working thesis.
  • Be willing to adjust the thesis argument as you learn more about the subject.
  • The research process, ideally, will lead you to a more informed and more nuanced point of view than you started with.
  • This new point of view should be reflected in the final version of your thesis.

Taking Notes

Tip: Be Organized

  • Make a document dedicated to your notes.
  • In that document, copy the bibliographic information of the source and use it as a header for a section of notes taken from that source.
  • Mark the page number for each quote that you cut & paste or copy down.
    • Doing these things means that you will not need to look up the resource again during the writing and revision process.

Tip: Be Thorough

  • Gather more material than you think you will need.
    • During the writing process, you may develop new ideas for how to structure your essay/argument.
    • Having copious resources already gathered will make adjusting much easier.
    • (Football Analogy: You can only audible effectively if you have supplemental plans in place.)

Defining Good Sources


  • How trustworthy is a research source?
  • Look for editorial oversight
  • Look for an investment in a publication’s reputation
    • Does the publication stand to lose revenue if the material it publishes turns out to be false or inaccurate?
  • Look for expertise in the writer(s)
  • Look for transparency in the sources discussion of evidence
    • Is the writer citing sources?
    • Are statistics explained?
  • Look for some degree of objectivity


  • Is the work up to date?
  • Is the material directly relevant to the topic you are writing about?
  • Is the evidence presented in the source of high quality and veracity?

Be the Analytical Researcher

As a writer doing research, part of your job is to analyze your sources in terms of credibility and validity.

It is also your job to ensure that you only use sources you fully understand.

How to Use “Bad Sources”

There are times when you will want/need to use bad sources. There are a variety of reasons for this.

Maybe your essay is critiquing the logic of a counter-argument. Maybe your essay is arguing for a need for more rigorous editing and vetting on a certain publication platform.

These are good reasons to bring “bad sources” into your essay. But we don’t just want to start pulling quotations into the essay.

Context is crucial!

Be sure to directly address the weakness of a source. Explain why you are using it anyway.

Research Outcomes

As we said at the top, good research will always begin with a specific goal in mind. Whatever that specific goal is, your research should also always lead you toward growth.

We do research to participate in a community of learners and learning. Growth is the philosophical goal.

We don’t do research just to complete an assignment. We do research as part of a larger educational project.

Research Outcomes:

  • Build expertise
  • Develop understanding of multiple points of view
  • Develop nuanced perspective on the subject
  • Generate material and ideas of numerous substantial points of argument and/or points of elucidation
  • Cultivate a new, stronger and more compelling point of view
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