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How to write a Research Paper: Step 1.1: Preliminary Research

Writing a research paper may seem like a daunting task, but it can be broken down in easy to follow steps that help make the process simpler. In this module you will learn the specific steps to follow when writing a research paper. The steps we wi

Step 1: Preliminary Research

Did you know that selecting a topic is part of the research process?

We call this initial phase, Preliminary Research. Preliminary Research is research on a topic that helps you get a better understanding on what types of sources are available and what is being said about a topic. This type of research helps solidify a topic by broadening or narrowing it down. This research can also help you when choosing Search Terms.

Preliminary Research Video

Watch the video to understand why we do preliminary research:

How to transition a topic to a thesis:

Let's look at our own example. We think we want our paper to be about sustainability, so we come up with a topic:

Topic: Plastics are harming the environment. 

We want to take that topic and turn it into a research question, so we do some preliminary research on plastic and find that disposable plastics are harming the environment and people are turning to recycling as an answer. Now we want to create a research question with this information:

Research Question: Is recycling of disposable plastics doing enough to combat the harm that these plastics cause to the environment?

Now we want to answer this research question to determine our thesis:

Thesis: The use of disposable plastic is harming the environment and recycling is not enough to combat this.

This answer is based on the research we have already done in the preliminary research step. 

Working on a thesis

After you have picked your topic, you will want to narrow it down and work on a thesis.

A thesis is a clear statement of purpose for your paper, like an answer to a question, that will be proven with support from the sources used. 

*TIP: Read more about what a thesis is at the UNC Writing Centers page on Thesis Statements.