Preliminary Research

Preliminary Research is

to early invention efforts people engage in to identify topics of interest.

Writers engage in Preliminary Research during the early stages of composing in order to identify the scope of their investigation.

Preliminary Research could involve

  • discussions with friends about ideas.
  • interviews with experts, bosses, clients, and teachers.
  • scanning a wikipedia page or Google search
  • skimming over documents to learn about the genres and research methods of particular discourse communities/community of practice.

When engaging in Preliminary Research as opposed to the sort of deep reading practices and critical relationship to evidence recommended by ACRL’s i, researchers are reading superficially.

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.

Preliminary Research is deeply imbricated with Information Literacy, particularly Searching as a Strategic Exploration, Scholarship as a Conversation, and Research as Inquiry

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?

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