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Understanding Your Assignment

Key Points: 

Read your assignment carefully.

Ask for help from your instructor, classmates or a librarian.


Critically assess the assignment: 

  • What am I being asked to do? (provide information, create an argument, analyze a work)
  • Who is the audience? (instructor, classmates, online group)
  • What are the technical details? (due date, length, format, citation style)
  • What research is required, what sources can I use? (books, journals, primary or secondary sources, websites, personal opinions)

The first step to any writing assignment is making sure you understand it.

Below, you'll find a helpful link from UNC-Chapel Hill on this topic. 

UNC-Chapel Hill

You can try out this activity after you have read UNC-Chapel Hill Handout on understanding the assignment. 

Working Out Your Ideas

Work out your initial thoughts and ideas about the topic(s)

  • Do you have any initial responses to the question? What could a possible answer (or answers) be?
  • Do you have any opinions at all about the topic(s)? Write them down, no matter how ‘creative’ or non-academic they may be.
  • What do you already know about the topic(s)? Do you have knowledge that can be built on, such as familiarity with related areas, sources or frameworks for thinking about similar topics? Write everything down—you may know more than you think.

Further your thinking by ‘questioning the question’. This helps you focus by drawing out sub-questions about the question and topic.

  • Question the terms – Is there a generally agreed-upon response to the question or approach to take?
  • If not, how do different approaches/ theories/ arguments differ? Which ones could/ should you use?
  • What are the key concepts? How do they relate to each other?

Generate ideas through brainstorming. Come up with as many ideas as you can as quickly as you can. Don’t evaluate or discard anything – you can do that later – just jot them down. Use mindmaps, drawings, and lists; whatever comes to mind and stimulates your thinking. Look at what you’ve noted down. Pull out the points that are relevant to the question and discard the rest.

Creating a Project Plan

A good research plan (roughly ten pages) should include the following information: topic, background, objectives, methods, data, and execution. It should also demonstrate that the author is familiar with his/her topic and related research.

  1. Include two parts in your research plan: an abstract (150 words max) and the actual research plan (about ten pages).
  2. In the introduction, introduce readers to the topic, state your reasons for selecting that topic and specify the objectives of the study. Present your topic and state clearly why it is important to study it. Good reasons include a lack of previous research, social significance, practical need, etc. Please bear in mind that an idea is not the same as a topic; to formulate your topic, you must define your subject area, select an approach, familiarize yourself with previous research and place your study in that context. What is already known about the topic?
  3. Introduce the key theoretical premises and main concepts of your study.
  4. Formulate your research problem and related research questions in as much detail as possible. What are you actually studying? Formulate your research questions in such a way that you can answer them
  5. Tell readers how you will answer your research questions. If your study is empirical, your research plan should specify your research data and methods. You can describe them in more detail later, but try to be as specific as possible. How will you access or produce your data? How will you acquire your research subjects? How will you analyze your data?
  6. Consider possible ethical matters. If you are not sure whether your study has any ethical considerations, refer to the guidelines of the Southern California University of Health Sciences Institutional Review
  7. Outline what new information your study will produce. How and where can this information be used?
  8. Draw up a schedule describing when and how you will conduct your study and when you plan to publish your findings.
  9. Enclose references and a cover sheet stating your name and the title of your study with your research plan.