Planning and Writing a Research Paper

Survey the Literature

To find an area of interest, survey and review the subject matter for some sense of the boundaries and the territory. Called a literature review, this step has three phases:

  1. Review the literature: Take a few hours or an evening to investigate the library or Web for magazines and journals, textbooks, and even an encyclopedia article to give you a general sense of the topic.
  2. Weed out topics: This literature review can help you weed out topics that are not going to yield information for your research.
  3. Narrow and refine the topic: You will discover whether your inquiry and interest have any merit and whether your research will be productive.

This process, like writing in general, is recursive. You may need to survey the literature a few more times as you begin writing your paper. Be sure to keep a list of the titles you found useful. This preliminary research and overview prepares you to frame your research question.