Step 1 - Understanding Your Assignment
Research assignments will vary depending on the department, the major, the course or the instructor. An assignment can be a paper, an essay, a speech, a personal narrative, a report, part of a group presentation, or many other kinds of projects. There are a few basic things to remember in order to do well on any assignment.
First, read the assignment
Read the assignment description carefully. Some are very detailed and specific, others may allow you lots of freedom to choose your own topic or approach.
Then ask yourself these questions
- What am I being asked to do? (provide information, create an argument, analyze a work)
- Who is the audience? (instructor, classmates, online group)
- What are the technical details? (due date, length, format, citation style)
- What research is required, what sources can I use? (books, journals, primary or secondary sources, websites, personal opinions)
If you have questions about any of these things, ask! Ask other people in your class or talk to your instructor for more information or clarification. If your assignment allows you to choose your own topic, there is a lot of information to help you in Step 2 "Choose a Topic"
Those are the basics, but here is more detail to help you understand the assignment.
Read the assignment again
Look carefully at the keywords.These keywords help you understand the purpose of the assignment, and what your instructor expects you to do. Are you supposed to research a subject from a variety of sources and present an overview? Analyze how something works, or why it is important? Explain why or how something happened? Take a stand on an issue and argue your point with evidence? Demonstrate how or why something is the truth?
The following is a list of words often used in assignments and their most common meanings. Different words will prompt different approaches in the way you structure your paper.
- Analyze: Determine how individual parts create or relate to the whole, figure out how something works, what it might mean, or why it is important.
- Compare: Show how they are the same and how they differ.
- Contrast: Show how they differ.
- Criticize: Examine the pros and cons and give your own opinion.
- Defend: Give details that prove it or show its value.
- Define: Give the meaning.
- Describe: Give details and examples that show what it is.
- Discuss: Examine from all angles.
- Evaluate: Give your opinion as to the advantages and disadvantages.
- Explain why/how: Show how or why something happened.
- Illustrate: Give examples.
- Prove: Give reasons or examples to demonstrate how or why something is the truth
- Summarize Outline: Give the main points.
- Your instructor can clarify the assignment and help with topics, methods, sources, and presentation format.
- Classmates or group members can help with individual responsibilities, timelines and presentation.
- A librarian can help with choosing or focusing a topic, selecting and accessing resources, and citing materials.