It may sound simple but understanding your assignment is one of the most important steps you take towards writing a good paper. Your instructor carefully crafted the assignment and may have even used language you can use to guide your search for useful information.
Pay special attention to:
- Language - Pay close attention to verbs like argue, analyze, compare, or describe to guide your approach to a topic. For example, an assignment that asks you to argue requires you to take a position and support it with facts, statistics, and quotations. An assignment that asks you to analyze, requires you to critically examine your topic. Also, look for descriptive words your instructor uses because you might be able to use them as key terms in searching for relevant information.
- Scope - Look for "multi-part" assignments in which instructors ask you to do more than one thing. Listing or outlining separate parts of an assignment can help you divide a daunting assignment into manageable parts. You also may see which sections will require research beyond what is covered in class.
- Instructions - Take note of special instructions regarding format or length restrictions, information source requirements (does he/she require primary source materials or articles from scholarly journals), and grading criteria.