Analyzing a Research Assignment

Analyzing a Research Assignment

You have been given an assignment to write a research paper

Don't panic. 

Here are some tips to help you get started.

Read Your Assignment Carefully

Before you can even begin your research, though, you need to read the assignment instructions carefully – more than once! This will help you understand the work you need to do.

Basic Requirements

If the answers to any of these are not in the assignement sheet or the syllabus, you may need clarification from your professor.

  • Page length
  • Number of sources
  • Type(s) of sources
    • Journal articles
      • Peer Reviewed?
      • Review Articles?
    • Newspapers
    • Primary sources
    • Are books okay?
  • Citation Style? If it is not specified, be sure to ask.
  • Due date - Use our Assignment Calculator to make a schedule

The Purpose of the Assignment

Look for the verbs. The verbs can tell you how to do your research:

  • Analyze - Gather key facts from journal articles or other reliable resources and organize them into categories.
  • Propose - This is an argumentative paper, look for statistics and expert opinons to back up a thesis.
  • Compare - How are they similar? Find articles on both topics together or each alone and note similarities.
  • Contrast - Same as above, but look for differences.
  • Discuss - Gather facts and expert opinions.
  • Review - Usually requires a large number of sources.
  • Explore - This one is most likely to need the background information provided in books.


Other words or phrases in the assignment can help you narrow your research focus

  • "Current trends" - Look for journal articles written in the last 1-3 years (or less in fast-changing fields like energy or medicine)
  • "Recent events" - This may require newspaper articles
  • If there is a question mark on the assignment, this is at least partially an argumentative paper, look for statistics and expert opinons.

Subject Area

The subject area itself can suggest the research plan. 

  • A research paper in the sciences will typically require at least some of your sources to be from journal articles.
  • If the assignment is to write about a controversial topic, most of your research can be done in one of our controversial topics databases.


Last modified: 10/6/2010 1:41 PM by M. Potter

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