The following post is adapted from my personal academic coursework.
A fellow student shared her strategy for scholarly writing. She has found that analyzing the literature before she begins to write is more effective than planning her paper and selecting sources which support her points. I have used both strategies at separate times, but I think that analyzing sources before starting the paper is the better option.
Personally, I analyzed the literature before writing in my undergraduate work and in the early stages of graduate school, but a graduate professor advised me to select evidence to support my perspective instead. Part of the reason this professor suggested I change methods was due to the overwhelming amount of literature available. To read through and analyze everything was impossible. There are several ways to address this, such as limiting queries to recent literature to read more current research that builds upon the earlier work instead of getting bogged down in antiquated articles. Another strategy is to use an outline which allows the writer to narrow the focus and provide direction for research while leaving room to synthesize the information obtained.
While selecting sources to support a pre-existing perspective is indeed simpler, it seems intellectually dishonest. Scholars should be pursuing truth through knowledge, not cherry-picking sources to reinforce their confirmation biases. Toward that end, it is better to analyze the research first and then synthesize one’s findings into a high-quality, intellectually-honest paper. Through this process, scholars afford themselves an opportunity to interact with the existing body of knowledge, critically evaluate prior research, challenge their assumptions and beliefs, and most importantly, learn.