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Research Planning Guide

Use this guide to learn about the research process and plan your research project.

Step 1: Understand the Assignment

Have you ever heard the old saying, "Well begun is half done"?  It means that getting a good start is one of the most important things you can do if you want to be successful.  To get a good start on a research project, you need to read the assignment carefully

Consider these points:

  • Due date - When is the project due? Will late submissions be accepted? Penalized?
  • Pages - What is the minimum number of pages required? If the answer is 2-5, then your paper will need to be concise and simple.  If the answer is 6-15, then more complex reasoning, with additional points, will be required.  If 16-30, you will need examples, evidence, proofs, and a lot of source material.
  • Resources - how many outside resources are required? Will you need scholarly articles? Case studies? Are non-traditional sources such as blogs or broadcast transcripts allowed?  (NOTE: Some professors say "no internet sources." What they usually mean is they don't want you to use Wikipedia or sources you find with a simple Google search.  Although delivered through the internet, articles from the journal databases and ebooks offered through the library's website are usually acceptable.)
  • Format - APA, MLA, or Turabian?  Some professors don't care, as long as you're consistent.  Other professors care a great deal, and will penalize you for deviating from the standard format.  Be sure you know before you start your research.  For more information, check out our Citation and Plagiarism Guide or read the information in Step 13.
  • Product - What type of paper/project does your professor expect?  Will you have to make a presentation as well?  Some basic types include Descriptive, Analytical, Investigative, Persuasive, and Literature Review (Badke 235).  If the assignment doesn't specify the type of paper, look for action verbs such as "discuss," "describe," "compare," "analyze," "explain," "evaluate," "support," etc. The DBU Writing Center has useful descriptions of various types of academic papers here: look under "Specific Assignments."
  • Submission - How does your professor want you to turn in your final product?  Via Blackboard, email, or a paper handed in during class time? 

Knowing the answers to these questions will allow you to plan your research strategy efficiently and will make the process go as smoothly as possible. 

Resources for Step 1

What if you've read the assignment over and over, and you STILL aren't sure about what's required?  Here are some helpful tips:

  • Ask your professor!  Your instructor is always the best resource and will be glad to clarify any points that may be confusing. Professors would much rather answer questions early than waste their time reading poorly written papers or papers that don't meet the purposes of the assignment.
  • Talk it over with your classmates.  Do all of you have the same understanding of the assignment? 
  • Check out these great resources:
    • DBU Writing Center Quick Reference Flyers.  Look for the list of "Specific Assignments" in the right-hand column.  These handouts have been compiled with the help of DBU professors and are designed to help DBU students successfully complete a variety of assignments.
    • Understanding Assignments, from the Writing Center at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill.  This excellent handout provides a great overview of this topic, with fun examples. Also available in PDF.
    • Understanding Assignments Demo, also from UNC-Chapel Hill.  This short video offers a graphic example of a typical assignment and how to de-code it.