Before you select a topic or develop a research question, it is important to understand your assignment. Understanding your assignment from the outset will help you craft a research question that you can adequately answer in the space and time allotted to you. In this section, we will look at some questions to ask when first decoding a prompt:
- What is the purpose of the assignment? Think about the goal of your assignment: Are you trying to persuade a reader? Explain an idea? Apply theories to a text? Tell a story? The purpose of your assignment will guide your research and writing.
- What kind of writing am I doing? Look for words in the assignment that tell you about the type of writing you are being asked to produce. For example, there is a difference between being asked to summarize and being asked to analyze. Other verbs to look out for include, discuss, define, explain, evaluate, etc.
- Who is my audience? How will this affect the tone and content of my paper? What are the conventions of the discipline within which I am working?
- What is the scope of the assignment? Determine what the purpose of the paper will be and how much ground you will need to cover. How many topics will you be looking at? How long should the paper be?
- What is the topic of the assignment? Has the professor given you a specific topic? Will you need to find your own?
- What are the requirements of the assignment? Familiarize yourself with the criteria of the prompt. It is easy to forget about details like number/types of sources, word counts, and formatting guidelines. Look at these early on so that you can better plan for the content and scope of your project.
- Ask for clarification. Reach out to your professor, other instructors, or The Learning Commons, for assistance with understanding and getting started on an assignment.