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

Welcome to the Research Planning Guide

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?
  • Do I need to adapt my research question or thesis statement based on new knowledge? 
  • 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. Getting your notes organized will help you when you start to write.  You'll be able to refer 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 if Ideas in Your Paper

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.

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.
  • 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.

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

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