Thursday, August 27, 2009

Understanding Your Assignment

In order to develop an effective research strategy you need a solid understanding of your assignment. If your instructor tells the class that you will be given the research assignment on a day you know you will be absent, ask to meet with them so you can get it in advance. Ask questions, take notes, and be sure to have all this with you when you do your research. Here are some questions you can ask yourself (or your instructor!), along with some examples of how these factors might influence your research strategy:

  • What is the size of my project? Long sources may not be as useful for short papers, unless you can easily work with just parts of them (a chapter instead of the whole book, or the introduction and conclusion of a long research article.)

  • How much time do I have? Limits the resources available to you. The less time you have the more you are going to want to work with resources which help you easily find appropriate information that is readily available.

  • What is the scope of my project? Your instructor should tell you the extent to which your project should be based on your textbook and lectures, your own thoughts and experiences, research in library information resources, or even original research (where you might conduct a study or interview experts).

  • Who is my audience? Are you preparing an informative speech for your classmates or a term paper for your psychology instructor? Your sources should be appropriate in both language and complexity.

  • Am I required to use a particular type of source? Some instructors will ask you to find a newspaper editorial or other opinion piece; others will want you to locate and analyze a ‘peer-reviewed’ journal article which details original research. In many cases you will be allowed to use other sources for background or definitions, as long as you include the required sources – ask if not sure.

  • Am I forbidden to use a particular type of source? If you have to use sources written within the last two years, historical topics may be hard! If you cannot use encyclopedias, often your instructor means general encyclopedias (like World Book) not scholarly subject encyclopedias (like the Encyclopedia of Race and Racism available through the Gale Virtual Reference Library); be sure to ask. If you are told not to use the internet they almost *never* mean to avoid using the library databases which are accessed online, like EBSCOhost and ProQuest.

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