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Understanding Your Instructions

One of the often overlooked aspects of any project is, understanding the instructions. Students often get the gist of the instructions without paying attention to the detail or even processing the details. 

Things to consider:

  • What is the format of the final presentation (paper, Power Point, poem, poster, or paper mache sculpture)?
  • What is the length of the presentation? OK, most of you do pay attention to this, but it lets you know how deep or varied your research needs to be.
  • How many resources are required? How many are recommended?
  • What formats for resources are acceptable? Websites? Books? Lectures? Academic peer-reviewed articles?
  • What kind of resource is acceptable? General reference? any magazine? Academic scholarly work?
  • What is the nature of the audience? Are you writing for your professor? Are you writing to peers? Are you presenting to a Jr. High youth group? Is it for someone from another culture? The nature of the audience should shape the presentation; not just vocabulary, but sentence structure and detail.
  • What styleguide must you follow? MLA? APA? Chicago? Turabian? SBL?
  • What is the due date? You should consider working backwards from the due date. Finish your paper before the due date, so that you have time to edit. Think about breaking the paper into parts and setting due dates for each part. This way the paper is managable.

Discovering Your topic

Several things need to be considered when an assignment is given. The instructor usually gives some guidance, but will rarely tell you what exactly to research.

Things to consider:

  • What is the nature of the research?
    • Is it limited to a specific time period?
    • Is it an historical overview of a topic?
    • Is it a summary of the current state/understanding of topic?
    • OR Is your assignment a debate presenting all sides and opinions?
  • What are your first choices for topic? A brief list of topics and keywords related to your topic will be helpful.
  • Read, in a general reference work (dictionaries or encyclopedias are physical reference, but there is digital reference works as well, such as our Credo Reference database) about your topic. While reading you should keep track of key terms, figures and key authors that deal with your topic.
    • Explore aspects of the topic
    • What are related topics?
    • What is the broader topic?
    • What are the narrower topics? Sub-topics of your subject?
    • Where do you wish to focus your energy on research?
    • (brainstorming comes in handy here - brainstorm the various aspects of your topic and narrow your research to your favorite)
  • Develop a research question - what are you going to research? This will lead to very focused searching/researching and can lead to creating a very concise thesis statement.

Reference Materials

Reference materials are materials like dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases, and reference handbooks. These are not deep research into a very narrow topic, but materials that offer introductory (college level) information or broad overviews of a topic.

The entire bottom floor of our library is reference material.

We also have online reference materials. On our wesite, click "Resources", the online reference material is on the right.

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