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Mapping Your Research: 1. Understand the Assignment

This guide helps with understanding and planning the research process.

Understand the Assignment

Understanding a research assignment can help determine the amount and type of information sources needed for the assignment and will help you avoid a lot of costly errors in the beginning stages of research.   Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help with figuring out how you should approach your assignment:

  • What type of assignment is it? (e.g. Research paper, opinion paper, literature review, etc.) 
  • Who is the audience?  Ex. Is this a paper directed toward experts in the field you are writing in?  If so, you will want to keep in mind that your audience will expect strong, verifiable sources of information that back up your argument(s).
  • What kind of evidence do you need to support your ideas?
  • How many sources will you need?
  • Does the assignment require primary research, secondary, or both?

If there are any unclear details about the assignment, it is best to ask your professor to explain them. 

To All Procrastinators!

Many students put off difficult or complex assignments until very close to the due date.  When it comes to completing a research assignment it is VERY IMPORTANT that you not wait until the last minute to start gathering information sources.  It is common for some materials to not be immediately available, i.e. a book you need could be checked out, it could be located at a different USC campus, etc.  Most materials you find can be obtained one way or another, but it may take some time.  This is even true for sources that you may find online.  So if you are reading this and thinking, "oh well I'll just find all my articles in online databases," think again because though many of the articles you will find will have full text availability, some of them may not and they will need to be ordered through Interlibrary Loan, which is more than doable, but only if ample time is supplied by the researcher, YOU.