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HST 205: Questions in History (Nebiolo)

PRESEARCH: Preliminary Research

The research you do before you research

The less you know about a topic, the more important it is to work on making connections between your topic needs and your prior knowledge. You need to do preliminary research to learn more about the topic and the way subject experts talk about it.

What is preliminary research? Exploratory searching through general sources to develop a broad overview of your topic and its subtopics

Checklist of Observable Behaviors:

How to Establish Focus

A. Develop an overview

  • Building background information
  • Exploring general sources of information
  • Relating information to prior knowledge
  • Formulating initial questions
  • Identifying keywords
  • Brainstorming ideas and information about a topic

B. Explore Relationships

  • Relating topic and concepts through webbing, outlining, clustering, etc.
  • Narrowing or broadening a topic
  • Developing specific research questions
  • Defining information needs
  • Following procedures for using information technologies and facilities
  • Seeking help from appropriate sources when needed
  • Evaluating the outcome of your Presearch

Adapted from  Pappas, M.L., & Tepe, A.E. (1997).  Pathways to knowledge: Follett's Information Skills Model  (3rd ed.).  McHenry, IL: Follett Software.  Available:

Information Creation is an Iterative Process

Research à Create à Revise


Each time you go through this process you will further refine your topic until you have narrowed the scope to meet the need of your project, your audience, and your purpose. As part of your research, use both divergent and convergent thinking to open up new avenues of research possibilities and focus your topic into areas that you want to more deeply pursue.

Brainstorm Concepts:

Brainstorming is an example of divergent thinking.  Use brainstorming to think creatively about your topic.  Develop keywords, synonyms, subject headings, and related concepts that you can search in library databases to help you find the words to create questions about your topic that you can refine into a manageable thesis statement.

As you brainstorm you will develop questions.  Answering those questions is a way to make choices about where you want to further research.  That is an example of convergent thinking.

Keep in mind the 5 W's

As you go through this process, keep in mind the 5 W's to allow yourself to develop boundaries on your topic: Who? What? When? Where? Why?

Who are you talking about

What are they doing/being impacted by/reacting to?

What point in time are we looking at? Is it a range?

Where in the world are we looking? How many places?

Why is this question important? What drives you to do this research?


Once you've asked those questions, evaluate the answers you've found and repeat this process until you have developed a research question that is focused on the audience, purpose, and topic that you want to answer.

Image Credits:
Convergent Thinking vs. Divergent Thinking from Kat Boogaard on
Divergent Thinking and Convergent Thinking from The definitions of convergent and divergent thinking


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