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Understanding Your Research Assignments

Mon. Jan. 23, 2017

Although you won’t be handing in your final research paper for many weeks, there are still some important things you can do now to make your life easier when the time comes to tackle this assignment.

1) Read the assignment and ask questions. The day before your assignment is due is a bad time to ask questions about it. Make sure you read and understand the assignment immediately. If there is anything about it that’s unclear, ask the professor to clarify.

2) Make sure you understand the purpose of the assignment. Often, your professor will give you a brief overview of the assignment and explain its purpose. This may include some overall themes to serve as your focus and should identify the main tasks you need to keep in mind.

For example, in the assignment below clearly outlines the purpose.

Purpose Example

3) Know when you have a choice and when you don’t. Some assignments will be more rigid than others. If you have options for your paper, make sure you consider each one carefully. Changing your mind down the line can be time-consuming. If you’re given a open choice of topic, begin thinking about the course content or chapters in the textbook that are most interesting to you.

The example assignment below gave students two options

Choices Example

4) Note the major elements of style. When it comes to writing assignments, some professors will give more direction than others. Make sure you note all the specific style elements that are expected of you. Some of these directions will be standard practice in academic writing, others will be specific to this assignment.

Looking closer at Option A above, the instructor has covered many of the key style elements she expects to see in your paper, including length, organization, and formatting.

Style Example

5) Note the types of sources you are expected to use. Academic research will require you to use other sources in addition to your own ideas. This will usually be a mix of academic, popular, and primary sources. We’ll be discussing this in future workshops, but for now, take note of the number and type of external sources outlined in the assignment.

In this example, the instructor wants you to use articles from a specific list of academic journals. This is a fairly strict example and many of your assignments will not be so rigid. Still, check with your professor to see if there are any key sources you should consider using.

Sources Example

6) Prepare questions. Once you have read through your assignment, prepare a list of questions. These questions can be for your professor, your librarian, or your writing tutor. The sooner you find answers to these questions, the better off you’ll be when you start your work.