Assignment sheets for research projects usually contain a lot of useful information that can help you to get started on your research. Here are some things to look for in an assignment sheet. Paying close attention to these clues can help you to choose appropriate sources for your project.
- Notice the verbs.
Do you need to: define, summarize, compare and contrast, analyze, or something else? Think about what kinds of sources might help you to accomplish the tasks specified. What do you need to know? Who might be talking about it?
- Notice the types of sources.
Your instructor may specify a particular type of source. He or she may require books, journals, newspaper articles, government documents, or media. Perhaps you will need to consult statistical information, case studies, or original research. Or, you might be asked to use primary or secondary sources. If your assignment does not explicitly require a type of source, think about what source is most likely to contain the information you need. You should also pay attention to the time frame of the needed material. Can your topic be satisfied only using current information or is older information still okay? Or will you need a combination of the two? Even if your professor does not specify this in the assignment, you should still think about the currency of your sources. Finally, your instructor may ask you to use peer-reviewed sources. Peer review is a practice used by many scholarly journals. Before these journals publish an article, they send it to experts in the field who do not work for them. These experts provide an objective confirmation that the article is of high quality. Many databases provide information about whether an article is peer-reviewed, and some allow you to limit your search to only peer-reviewed articles.
- Your instructor
Don't be afraid to discuss your paper with your instructor, if needed. You can do this in your instructor's office hours, via email, or, in some cases, in class. Your instructor is the expert on your assignment and can help you through this process.
For more information, please see UNC's excellent handout on understanding assignments.