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Research Process

A general guide through the process of writing a researched paper or putting together a project that involves background research.

Analyzing the Assignment

Read the research assignment that your faculty member has given you. Read it when you receive it. Look for these common parts:

  • a one- or two-sentence introduction
  • a list of thought-provoking questions or ideas
  • key verbs that indicate what you need to do
  • tips for success
  • information about format and logistics

As you read the assignment, ask yourself a few basic questions, underline key terms, and jot down the answers on the assignment sheet:

  • When is this due?
  • How long is supposed to be?
  • What am I supposed to write about?
    • Is the topic given to me?
    • If I get to choose my topic, are there any stipulations about the kind of topic and I can choose?
  • What am I expected to do with this topic? Analyze it? Report about it? Make an argument about it? Compare it to something else?
  • Who is my audience and what does this audience know, believe, and value about my topic?
  • What is the genre of this writing (i.e., a lab report, a case study, a research paper, a reflection, a scholarship essay, an analysis of a work of literature or a painting, a summary and analysis of a reading, a literature review, etc.), and what does writing in this genre usually look like, consist of, or do?
  • What kind of writing style is acceptable?
  • What kind of evidence do I need to support my ideas?
  • Why did my instructor ask me to do this particular task?
  • What are the absolute rules of the paper or assignment?

The University of Wisconsin-Madison Writer's Handbook provides additional points about reading and analyzing the assignment or task.

Ask your faculty member questions about anything that you don't understand.