Once you have a sense of what you want to write about, the first step is to research to find out what others have written about your topic. Finding Sources on your topic and getting a sense of what others have written provides you with an opportunity to build your background knowledge and also to narrow down your topic.

  • Begin with recent scholarship on your topic. Scholars build upon one another’s work to develop knowledge, and it is useful to be sure you are working with the latest material. When performing literature searches, you should start off by searching only in the last few years, before expanding that time if required.
  • Use your writing centre tutors and/or librarians to help you draw up a research plan and then use the services available to find your information. UBC’s Centre for Scholarly Writing and Communication offers ethical tutoring, while UBC Library provides helpful tutorials for getting started with research.
  • Make short, annotated summaries of all the sources you find, as you find them. This will help you hugely when it comes to the next stages of writing, and will save you re-reading the same sources again and again to remember exactly what information each one contained. It is very difficult to recall which sources contain specific information once you have read a few, but it only takes a few minutes to write a little summary for each useful one you find. Remember to include complete citations in your notes!

It’s important to note that writing and research are not separate activities -- they’re interrelated, entangled, and often messy. So, if you find yourself writing then researching and writing and researching, this is a sign that your ideas are developing and more likely than not, your paper is developing too.