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Research Fundamentals Tutorial

Understanding your assignment

Research by Gregor Cresnar from the Noun Project

When your professor assigns a research assignment, it’s a good idea to read it right away and make sure you understand the instructions.

Make sure you know the requirements for your assignment’s...

  • Topic
  • Purpose
  • Audience
  • Length
  • Source types
  • Citation style

 If you’re not sure of any of these requirements, ask your professor.


What should my project (i.e. paper, presentation, podcast, etc.) be about? 

Your professor may ask you to pick your own topic under certain restrictions or guidelines. 

Examples of topic guidelines: 

  • Any topic covered in your textbook
  • Any two short stories read for class
  • Current issues in society

We’ll cover strategies for choosing a topic later in this module.


What should my project do?

You may be asked to write a paper that does something, for example compares two related ideas or argues one side of a debate. 

Look for these words like this in your assignment: 

  • Compare and contrast
  • Analyze
  • Discuss
  • Argue
  • Debate
  • Evaluate

It can be tempting to summarize your topic, but instructions like these require you to read your sources critically to support your argument.


Who is the intended reader, viewer, listener, consumer of my project? 

Your audience could be:

  • An educated lay person (i.e. someone who is well read but has no particular expertise in your topic)
  • A group of fellow students
  • The entire college community
  • Other

The sources you pick and your writing style may differ depending on your audience.


How long should my project be?

This will help you determine how broad or narrow to make your research question and how in-depth your research needs to be.

Source types

What types of sources are required?

Some professors require a number and mix of source types, for example 3-5 articles from a library database.

Some types of sources include:

  • Scholarly, peer-reviewed articles
  • Encyclopedia entries
  • Magazine and newspaper articles
  • Books
  • Websites

You’ll learn more about finding sources in Module 3: Finding Sources.

Citation style

What formatting and citation style should I use?


  • APA (American Psychological Association)
  • MLA (Modern Language Association)
  • Chicago (Chicago Manual of Style)

If your professor doesn’t require a specific citation style, pick one and use it consistently.

More about citation styles in Module 6: Citing sources.

Image: Research by Gregor Cresnar from the Noun Project