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Humanities LibreTexts

11.1: Researching a writing assignment

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    • Alexandra Glynn, Kelli Hallsten-Erickson & Amy Jo Swing
    • North Hennepin Community College & Lake Superior College

    In this book, we focus on research in academic writings. In this sense, doing research means having outside support for what you are writing. Usually, that is logic, or data, which our world agrees is the best thing to turn to for proof that cannot be argued against. This data is data achieved by the rigorous and time-tested scientific method.

    Argumentative writing and writing describing academic subjects tend to require research. Other modes, such as memoirs, poems, or opinion often require little to no research. The amount of research you need will depend on your audience.


    You’ve got a writing assignment. Perhaps its parameters are specific, based on something you might be studying in class:

    Write a 5-6 page essay describing the purposes of Benjamin Franklin’s various trips to Europe pre-American Revolution and the effects on the Revolution itself.

    Sometimes the parameters are specific to you:

    Write about a misconception others have about you and why they’re wrong.

    Or, at work, your supervisor might give you a daunting task:

    Write a report explaining what the IT department has been up to in the past year.

    Other times, though, the assignment is broader:

    Write an argumentative essay that effectively utilizes ethos, pathos, and logos along with two scholarly sources to make three to four salient points in support of your side of the argument along with at least one counterargument that is then refuted in your text.

    Whew! For many of us, the first instinct is to fire up our web browser of choice and do a quick internet search to figure out what to write about. At that point, however, you’ve just given up control over your essay. You’re letting the ideas of others take over your planning, and it might (even unconsciously) color your own thoughts on the topic.

    Does it make your life easier to do this preliminary searching? Sure. The problem, however, is that if you want to improve your ability to think and then write about those thoughts, then the search you do before you do your own thinking hijacks the essay. Your piece then becomes a collection of others’ ideas, when the point is for you to look at your own ideas and then make them more complex by bringing in those outside sources.

    Ultimately, when you’re given an assignment and you’re not sure where to start, follow the advice in Chapter Two of this book for getting some of your own ideas. Don’t be afraid of them. The thing about your own ideas is that if you write with those, you will automatically be more clear, because you know what’s going on, your thoughts are usually clearer to you than to anyone else.

    Once you’ve landed on a topic, do some free writing to get as many of your own ideas as possible, even if you’re not sure that you’ll use all of them in the essay. Look at where you might have some holes in what you know. These holes can now be filled with research: fire up those computers, because it’s time to start digging.

    The Ultimate Rule for Research:

    Don't let the research drive your ideas.

    YOU drive your ideas.

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