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The Research Process: From Assignment to Finished Papers: Getting Started

This guide contains information presented at workshops held jointly by Moon Library and the Writing Resource Center.

Choosing a Topic

When you are first assigned a research paper, be sure that you understand the assignment. 

1. Review the prompt and assignment instructions. Identify the required components (for example, the number of peer review sources you should include, the questions you are supposed to answer, and deadlines). While each writing assignment will be different, try to understand what the basic requirements of the assignment are and identify questions that you have. 

2. Choosing a topic: 

  • Use freewriting and the assignment as a prompt for figuring out your topic. You can begin by taking the wording from the assignment or prompt and "riffing" on different topics until you find one that resonate.  
  • Identify keywords, concepts, events, and people to narrow your focus

3. Visit your professor and teaching assistants for clarification. Reach out to them via email, or attend their scheduled office hours. Bring the assignment (and if you've completed some preliminary work, bring that too). Make sure you understand the basic requirements of the assignment, and share you ideas for the topic, and outline if you are at that stage. 


Developing a Research Question

Developing a Research Question

  • A good research question can guide your research (as you look for sources) and your writing (as you sit down to focus your argument). 
  • A bad research question is too general, and when you attempt to look for information, it leads you down too many paths. 
    • Too General: How does climate change effect the environment?
    • Focused: How are forests in the North Eastern United States impacted by increasing temperatures? 

Focusing the question:

  • place, community, time, species, etc