Making a Research Plan: How to Develop a Research Strategy

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With your topic narrowed down and focused and your research questions developed, you are ready to dive into the bulk of your research; first, create a research plan, and develop a research strategy. Your strategy should involve answering three questions to shape your research, creating a plan timetable, preliminary outline and research log.

Research strategy question #1: What amount of research do you need?

To answer this research strategy question, you must take the following into consideration:

  • The required length of the research paper
  • The number of sources required

Most likely, there are a minimum number of sources you are required to use, but if not, you can determine that based off other particulars of the assignment.

Research strategy question #2: What types of sources are appropriate for your topic?

The types of sources are primarily determined by your instructor and the assignment itself, but if you are granted some leeway on topic and source selection, consider these types of sources:

  • Primary
  • Secondary
  • Current
  • Historical
  • Scholarly
  • Popular

Research strategy question #3: What types of materials are you permitted or required to use?

Your instructor may specifically require certain types of research materials or may restrict your use of others. Make sure you understand what is and is not permitted.

Establish a timetable for your research plan

Once you have asked the three research strategy questions, establish a timeline. The biggest consideration is the due date of your research paper. This sets the pace for how quickly you conduct research to continue working through the research writing process. Use these guidelines when creating a timeline:

  • Allow adequate time to conduct thorough research
  • Start as soon as possible to eliminate stress that is likely to build at the last minute
  • Remember that researching well and finding the right sources of information takes time

Create a preliminary outline

Once you have established a timeline, create a preliminary outline. Think about and decide on the main points you intend to cover and which answer your research question(s). Take those points, and organize them in a loose order. Nothing is set in stone at this point. In fact, your preliminary outline is likely to change many times, but at the beginning it helps you keep your research structured and focused.

Keep a log of your research in a journal

With a preliminary outline in hand, you are ready to start researching. As you do so, start and keep a research log. Any spiral notebook or journal-style notebook is suitable. Index cards or files on your computer work just as well, too. This step of structured research corresponds with your note-taking methods and strategies. However, in addition to the information you record while note-taking, you also want to keep a record of the following:

  • Your ideas
  • Relevant keywords
  • Questions you develop as a result of further research
  • Keywords that generated successful searches, including the search tool used

As you work through sources of information, remember to evaluate sources as an ongoing process. If you follow the research plan you put in place, you are more likely to conduct thorough, structured research that only strengthens your paper.