Writing about Literature
The Research Essay
Research and The Writing Process
Using Research to Refine and Test a Thesis
Because of the potential problems of consulting secondary sources in the exploratory phase of the writing process (Using Research to Generate Topic and Thesis), your instructor may urge you to delay research until later—after you’ve formulated a tentative thesis, gathered evidence, or written a complete rough draft. This approach may be especially appealing when you begin an assignment with a firm sense of what you want to write. The chief advantage of this approach is that you can look at secondary sources more selectively and critically, seeking information and opinions that will deepen, confirm, or challenge your argument. And since you’ve already formulated your opinion, you may be in less danger of becoming overwhelmed by others’.
There are, however, several things to watch out for if you take this approach. First, you must be especially careful not to ignore, distort, or misrepresent any source’s argument in the interest of maintaining your own. Second, you must strive to keep your mind open, remembering that the goal of your research is to test and refine your opinion, not just to confirm it. A compelling argument or new piece of information may well require you to modify or broaden your original argument. Third, you still need to pose the general questions outlined above (Using Research to Generate Topic and Thesis).