How to Approach the Research and Writing Process

woman sitting at desk with a laptop and writing on a notepad

We know that as college students our writing has to be based on research, and that we are expected to conduct research from high quality sources before we begin writing, but where does research fit into the writing process? The writing process is a series of actions we do when completing a writing assignment. All writers move through the writing process no matter the type or length of an assignment. While there are variations to the writing process, in general it includes the phases of: prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and submitting/publishing. Here is how research fits into all of these phases.

Prewriting and Research

Prewriting is what writers do before they complete a first draft. Prewriting can include tasks like reading, researching, talking with others, creating graphic organizers, outlining, or taking notes. It seems obvious that research should happen at this phase as writers need something to inform their ideas. During prewriting, writers will conduct research. If you are a student, reaching out to the library for help can be useful. Librarians can direct writers to the best databases and can help generate strong search terms. Aside from this most obvious way that research is part of the prewriting phrase, students should also begin to think about how research fits into planning an essay.

First, students should ensure that they read and take notes on all pieces of research. It is important to know how to best read scholarly articles so that they don’t miss a main idea. If you are a current student, be sure to review the Library’s guide on how to read a scholarly article.

Next, after reading all the sources, writers should know they can remove a piece of research from the rest of their writing process. Just because someone finds five articles on their topic doesn’t mean all have to make it into the final essay. Often, an article may sort of be on the same topic, but not quite enough to justify using it. It is better to put that article away and stick with what is exactly on topic.

The last thing to consider during the prewriting phase is where the sources will ultimately be used. As a writer creates outlines and takes notes, the research should match the points the writer wishes to make. We recommend referring to the research in outlines and notes, and then the writer should cite it at that time. When a writer doesn’t include the citation at this early phase of writing, it means they have to try to look it up again later.

Drafting and Research

It is obvious that writers use research as they develop their drafts. The research is the basis of all ideas in the writing, after all. During the drafting phase, research is used in order to build and shape paragraphs and the entire piece of writing (be it an essay, discussion post, or any other academic text). Writers have to pay attention to when they mention ideas from the research to ensure that those words are properly paraphrased, quoted, and cited. Writers also have to make sure any mention of research is followed up or explained in some way. Remember, research is the basis of the text, not the entire text.

Revising and Research

The next phase of the writing process is revision. Revision is when writers look at the biggest pieces of their writing. Is the thesis clear? Does the body of the writing develop the thesis? Are the conclusion and introduction logical and fit well with the body? Does each paragraph focus on one idea and develop it fully? As writers check for these things, research fits in in two ways. First, writers have to make sure that every time research is included it relates to the main idea of that paragraph as well as with the essay as a whole. Each time a student reads through the writing, they should pay attention to the paraphrases and quotes to make sure that they make sense where they appear. Second, during revising their work a writer may realize they need more research. Even though it may feel late in the writing process, it is common to have to go back to the databases and other sources to find appropriate research.

Editing and Research

The editing phase is when writers look to make sure each sentence makes sense, is grammatically correct, and includes a citation where needed. If a student included citations during the prewriting and drafting phases, then these will already be in place and correct at this point. Additionally, research can be used as an expert to double check things. For example, a writer can refer to his or her sources to check the spelling of technical terms that Word may not be familiar with. These sources can also help writers determine if a noun is proper or not. This step will help to check that capitalization has been done correctly. A writer can refer to his or her sources to check the use of vocabulary. Is “participant” the best word to use, or should something else take its place? Looking back to the research can help a student writer determine what words are best to use.

Submitting and Research

By the time writers submit their work, they may not need to refer to the research anymore. However, something to keep in mind is how the research could be useful in the future. An article that was useful in one assignment may be relevant in the future. Academic writing also has its own references, so a student can use the reference list of one article to find research on similar topics for future assignments.



Written by Melissa Sharpe, Learning Services Writing Center.

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