Conducting Preliminary Research

We discuss the following topics on this page:

We also provide the following activities:

Sometimes called “pre-research,” Preliminary Research is an inventive stage in which you investigate possible topics of interest. For example, once you fully understand your assignment, the next step might be to conduct some background research online, or talk to friends and classmates. However, while it’s a good idea to try out your ideas with non-experts, the real test is to try them out with experts. If your ideas are not fully formed yet, you can ask experts to help guide you in the right direction. Undergraduate students often overlook this strategy, but it can be incredibly effective and it can lead to good research topics and resources. Let’s take a closer look at some of these strategies.

  • The Invention Stage: This can be a messy process, so keep a notebook to jot down ideas and questions as they occur to you. You’ll need to develop a research question, so those notes may come in handy later. Also, think about what types of sources you’ll need to complete your project. The assignment may specify certain types, such as scholarly and journal articles, but what else might you need? What about media and other primary sources? Where would you find them? Should you explore digital archives or make an appointment with an archivist?
  • Time Management: Think about time-management and set milestones. Even though pulling all-nighters is a rite of passage for college students, your stress will be greatly reduced (and  the quality of your research enhanced) if you’re not racing to finish everything at the last minute. Be sure to keep those milestones simple and achievable so you don’t get overwhelmed by unrealistic goals. We encourage you to use a planner!
  • Investigate Professional Organizations: Many famous authors have organizations dedicated to their legacy. One of these is The William Faulkner Society, which assembles lists of scholarly journals, conferences and conventions, research centers and information sources, and interdisciplinary university institutes. Many such organizations also provide scholarships for students. Look through the contents of author societies’ websites, as well as recent journals and conference proceedings, to help you generate ideas for your own research.
  • Talk to Experts: Finally, ask for help! You’re attending a large university where you’re surrounded by highly educated people. Don’t be afraid to schedule appointments and conduct interviews with them. Also, consider meeting with the subject librarian in your major to get an overview of key resources and tools available at the library.

Taking time to work through the preliminary research process will set the foundation for everything that comes after, and it will make your job easier.

[1]

For more advice on Conducting Preliminary Research, consider the following from WritingCommons.org:[2]

 

The goal of Preliminary Research is not necessarily to become an authority on a specific topic so much as to identify conversation chatter: across disciplines, what are experts talking about? And, ultimately, if given a choice, what interests you the most?

Preliminary Research could involve

  • discussions with friends about ideas.
  • interviews with experts, bosses, clients, and teachers.
  • scanning a wikipedia page or Google search
  • skimming over documents to learn about the genres and research methods of particular discourse communities/community of practice.

Conducting Preliminary Research Refresher


Exercises

Write 150-300 words. You can answer each question separately or address them together.

  1. List three things you have researched (they don’t have to be related to school projects). Discuss your experiences with any of the research you listed. Which parts did you enjoy the most? Where did you have the most difficulty? Did you find what you were looking for? How valuable was the information and the experience? 
  2. If there are any elements of your assignment that need clarification, please list them in the discussion area. After raising these items with your instructor, please include their clarifications in the discussion area.
  3. What was the most important lesson you learned from this page? What point was confusing or difficult to understand?

Write your responses in a webcourse discussion page.

Go to the Discussions area and find the Preliminary Research discussion. Participate in the discussion.


  1. NKU, Steely Library, director. Background Research. YouTube, YouTube, 13 Dec. 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0gXGMJAXSU4&t=74s. Accessed 1 Apr. 2022.
  2. Writing Commons. “Preliminary Research.” Writing Commons, 11 Aug. 2020, https://writingcommons.org/section/invention/preliminary-research/.

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