With tentative thesis statement or research question in hand, you’ve got what will likely become the focal point of your paper. You have a focus, a goal, a purpose–in essence, the bones of your essay. But now you need flesh for those bones; that’s where research comes in.
The research step you are about to embark on will be exhilarating because now you can finally gather some proof for your readers about that controversial thesis. Or, you can finally explore the range of answers to your research question. By immersing yourself in a pool of outside knowledge and integrating it with your own ideas, the research step is what distinguishes this genre from other kinds of essays, namely the more personal or creative variety.
Before jumping into that pool, you may be asking, “Why not do an outline first?” Well, if you’re doing an argumentative paper, chances are that you already have some mental notes about your topic’s “sub-components” (the ones that might eventually break down into supporting paragraphs); it was probably those informal subpoints or reasons that helped you formulate your argument in the first place. Research-question writers probably have only vague ideas of what they might possibly come across in the debates they’re analyzing. In either case though, we suggest putting together an outline after you do research. You don’t want to narrow yourself too much at this point. A very clear thesis or question gives you enough direction to keep you on task, but still leaves you open to new angles on the subject.