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Research Planning Guide

Use this guide to learn about the research process and plan your research project.

Step 10: Organize Materials / Finalize Outline

Now that you have read and taken notes on the resources you've collected, it's time to go back and re-visit your original research question and outline.  Ask yourself:

  • Research question/thesis statement:
    • Is my research question/thesis statement valid in light of everything I've read? 
    • Is it too broad or too narrow? 
    • Do I have the information I need to answer the question adequately and convincingly? 
    • Re-write or re-configure your research question or thesis statement if you need to.  Do so NOW, before your start writing, so that your writing will support your thesis.
  • Does my outline still hold up? 
    • Is the progression of ideas logical?
    • Do I need to flesh out any of the main points?
    • Do I need to add additional main points?
    • Do I have enough information to support or explain each point in the outline?
    • If needed, take the time to re-work your outline to achieve the best flow of information (see below).  This is critical, and should be done before you start writing.

Next, organize your notes.  Give each portion of your outline a code, symbol, or color, and then read through your notes and assign corresponding symbols or colors to the notes that support or explain the points of your outline.  Getting your notes organized will help you when you start to write.  You'll be able to refer back to your notes and find the quotes or information you need, without having to read through everything over and over again. 

As you read through your notes, evaluate the information you've collected.  See "Evaluating Information," below, for suggested questions to ask yourself as you read. 

Organizing the Flow of Ideas in Your Paper

Introduction: Your first paragraph should pave the way for your readers to understand the point of your paper.  Provide some background information to give context.  State your research question or thesis statement clearly, and let your readers know that you plan to answer the question or support the statement in the coming paragraphs.

Body of text: Look for a natural order to emerge as you work on your outline.  Your job is to take your readers from ignorance of your topic to understanding, as smoothly as possible.  The order you choose may depend on the type of paper you are writing.  For example,

  • Chronological order works well for explaining a sequence of events.  This might work especially well for history papers.
  • If you're discussing a problem, start with the least problematic aspect, and then work your way to the most troubling part of the problem.  This ascending order keeps your readers interested.
  • Compare and contrast papers take two sides of an issue.  There are two ways to organize—by side or by issue.  Both ways are valid—it's up to you to decide which way works best for your topic.
    • By side:  Explain one side and all its issues, then explain the other side and its complementary issues, like this:
      • SIDE A
        • Issue 1
        • Issue 2
        • Issue 3
      • SIDE B   
        • Issue 1
        • Issue 2
        • Issue 3
    • By issue:  Explain each issue and how the two sides compare:
      • ISSUE 1
        • Side A
        • Side B
      • ISSUE 2
        • Side A
        • Side B
      • ISSUE 3
        • Side A
        • Side B
  • For more ideas on organizing your paper, see the DBU Writing Center's Quick Reference Flyers for "Specific Assignments."  These flyers present great information about a wide variety of writing assignments.
  • Remember that it's always important to DESCRIBE before you ANALYZE.  This will help you stay objective.

Conclusion: Sum up the points you have made and the conclusions you have drawn.  Remind your readers of your initial research question/thesis statement, and show briefly how you have answered or supported it.  Avoid drawn-out, sentimental, or flowery conclusions.  Keep it simple, and end strong.

The above section relies heavily on Chapter 10 of William Badke's Research Strategies: Finding Your Way Through the Information Fog, 5th edition (iUniverse LLC, 2014). 

Evaluating Information

As you look through and read the information (articles, books, websites, etc.) that you have gathered, it is important to critically evaluate what you find.  Some information may seem to fit your criteria, but may not be appropriate upon evaluation.  Here are some criteria by which to evaluate the information you find, as well as questions to ask in your evaluation:

  • Credibility - Who is the author of the material? What are the author's credentials? Is the author considered an expert in the field in which he writes? What is the author's reputation among his peers? What else has the author written? Who is the publisher of the material? Is that publisher well-known?
  • Bias - Is the information presented in an objective manner? Are all sides of the issue presented? If not, can you determine the side of the issue the author takes? Does the author acknowledge a bias? Is there any inflammatory language in the material? Does the author verify statements with facts and cite her sources? Does the publisher stand to benefit from any research published (i.e., a drug company funding a study on its own products)?
  • Accuracy - Does the author cite all of her sources? Does the material include a description of the research methods used? Does the information contradict other published information?
  • Currency - When was the material published? Does this work have a more current edition or update? Does your topic require up-to-date information (i.e., is it a scientific or medical topic or is it about a current event)?
  • Relevance - Does the information add to the topic you are writing about, or is it peripheral to your discussion? Is the information significant and valuable, or is it trivial or common knowledge? Does the material provide references which will also be useful?