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6.2: Approaching a Research Paper Assignment

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    Audio Version (January 2022):


    A Latin American woman works at a computer, looking confident.
    Photo by Liza Summer on Pexels under the Pexels License.


    Before getting started on a research paper, spending some time with the prompt will help keep us from becoming overwhelmed. A research essay prompt is the instructor's description of the assignment. It will answer many of the questions we may have about the requirements, such as the following:

    1. How many sources will we need? 
    2. What types of sources (see Section 6.5: Types of Sources)?
    3. Do the sources need to be found somewhere specific, like the college library? 
    4. How long does the research essay need to be?
    5. Is there a specific structure we need to follow?


    A point on a map, in the style of computer mapping software.
    Image by mmi9 from Pixabay under the Pixabay License.


    The steps below will help us analyze the essay prompt to get a clear picture of what the finished paper should include.

    • Circle or highlight all of the most important verbs in the essay prompt. Verbs are action words that often communicate the most important requirements, like analyze, evaluate, describe, and so on. 
    • Then, create a chart that lists the most important verbs on one side and the rest of the sentence on the other side. Use this chart as an example. This will contain the most important components of the assignment. You may use this to create a final draft checklist.
    • Put a star next to the most important sections of the prompt, such as where the main writing task is summarized.
    • Underline or highlight any words or requirements you don’t understand, and ask your professor to clarify.
    • Summarize the research essay prompt aloud by telling a friend or classmate what your assignment is about and the major requirements.

    This chapter will guide you on what authoritative sources are, where to find them, and how to choose them, but always take your instructor’s specific instructions into consideration.

    6.2: Approaching a Research Paper Assignment is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Amy Guptill.