Preliminary Research refers to early invention efforts people engage in to identify topics of interest. Preliminary Research could involve
- discussions with smart friends about ideas.
- interviews with experts, bosses, clients, and eachers.
- scanning a wikipedia page.
- analyzing genres and research methods
- tracing a writer’s publications over time
- chasing down important citations in an article of interest.
Good writers are readers. They are collaborators. Creativity is informed by sustained thought on a topic and that thought is enriched by reading and talking about topics with knowledgeable experts.
If the aim of a writing project is personal reflection, then diving immediately into Drafting can make sense. Journal writing and autobiography can be a powerful way to sustain reflection and insights and set goals.
That said, if you are writing or talking about something beyond your immediate experience, you are likely to benefit from learning what other writers have thought or said about a topic. Deep reading on a topic, as discussed in Scholarship as a Conversation, can empower you to identify the current thinking about a topic. Deep reading can help you identify how research and scholarship on that topic have changed over time and who the thought leaders are on a topic. Deep reading is crucial to distinguishing fake news from real news, valid reasoning and evidence from propaganda and salesmanship (see Authority is Constructed and Contextual).
Yet early during Invention, you may benefit broadly rather than deeply. Shallow reading has its place as an Invention strategy. There are advantages to skimming across titles, abstracts, and articles.
The goal of Preliminary Research is not necessarily to become an authority on a specific topic so much as to identify conversation chatter: across disciplines, what are experts talking about? What are the issues facing a knowledge domain (e.g., nuclear energy, global warming, space exploration)? And, ultimately, if given a choice, what interests you the most?