UofL Writing Center

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Taking Research Assignments One Step at a Time

Michelle Peña, Writing Consultant

Research projects can seem daunting to many students new to collegiate style work. This type of writing requires a certain degree of commitment, that many aren’t familiar with yet. Oftentimes, new students finish their work in a hurry, without proper research, and without forming an analysis around their research.Michelle Pena

Why this method for approaching projects has failed in the past is because students feel unprepared to grapple with the work they have set before them. I have seen this occur multiple times as a writing tutor. Students, who have not had experience writing a paper of this style, approach me with a forlorn look in their eyes begging me to help them figure out a way to use outside sources to support their thesis. My answer to them, if they are trying to write an essay that makes sense to an observant professor, is I can’t.

What many people who haven’t written academic work do not realize, until far too late in the writing process, is that the focus of their work needs to come from their accumulated research. Actually doing the research as a way to formulate your ideas is necessary toward completing these types of assignments. I understand that many students feel intimidated by the prospect of acquiring that much data for a single piece of writing.

So, as a way to counteract any feelings of uneasiness, I have listed a few ways you can approach this work without getting overwhelmed.

1. Give yourself time to think about what type of work you want to do and why:
Many rush into deciding what they should focus on. This is usually because it is seemingly the easiest or most interesting option available. What I would suggest would be to take your time looking at all of necessary information. If you are writing a research paper for an ENGL 102 class and are given an assignment that asks you to analyze a text, look at that text from multiple perspectives. Later, cater your research to these perspectives and use them to guide what you read through.

2. Actually read what you find:
This step kind of speaks for itself. But actually try to understand the material you find. You don’t want it to come down to crunch time and find out that none of what you gathered works.

3. Spread out your research time:
Try to avoid doing things last minute. I know we have all been warned about procrastination before but heeding those warnings when approaching research papers is actually pretty helpful. Try allotting a specific amount of time for preparing your work. Instead of trying to do every part of an assignment on one night, give yourself multiple days to do the research. Maybe one day you find two to three sources and another day you find a few a more. This way you don’t feel like you have to do everything at once.

4. If you are assigned an annotated bibliography, utilize it properly:
If you are assigned to do an annotate bibliography, take advantage of it by finding sources that are applicable to one another and your topic. Don’t try to find sources with an applicable word in the title; find sources that actually have material that you can work with. I would even go as far as to say you could write an annotated bibliography even if you aren’t assigned one. An impromptu annotated bib that includes the parts of the article that make it applicable to what you’re working on.

5. Pre-Organize your outline using your sources:
I understand that some people don’t like doing outlines, so if you are of the type that avoids outlining like the plague, this step may not apply to you. (But I would urge you to open your mind for a moment.) Once you have collected all of the necessary pieces of your research and you have decided what points support what you want to say, write them down in the order they will appear throughout your work. After you have done this, write where your sources will be listed underneath them. This process will help with bringing everything together in the end.

Remember, research assignments aren’t designed in the hopes that you will fail; they are designed so that you might learn. So don’t get overwhelmed and take your research one step at a time.

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