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New Student Guide to Webster University Library

Understanding Your Assignment

The better you understand your research assignment, the easier it will be to complete.  Be sure to ask your instructor if there is anything you do not understand.

Understanding Writing Assignments from Purdue's Online Writing Lab (OWL) may help you to better understand what your professor wants. Also, check out the OWL's pages on common writing assignments.

For tips on writing other types of assignments, check out the Assignment Calculator from the University of Minnesota which covers:

  • Speech/oral presentations
  • Video/media project
  • Posters (in PowerPoint)

Choosing Your Topic

  • Choose a topic that you are interested in! The research process is more relevant if you care about your topic.
  • Narrow your topic to something manageable.  If your topic is too broad, you will find too much information.
  • Review the guidelines on topic selection outlined in your assignment.  Ask your Instructor for suggestions.
  • Talk about research ideas with a friend.  They may be able to help focus your topic by discussing issues that didn't occur to you at first.
  • Do a few searches using the Articles tab on the library home page  This can help you explore your topic and see if articles have been written on your topic.
  • To further explore choosing a topic, see this video that the Library has created: 

For additional information

This Brainstorm and Explore a Topic tutorial will help you work through the process of selecting a research topic.

  • Start with a Topic (Part 3): Select a topic that is of interest to you and researchable
  • Focus (Part 6): Focus your topic so that it is manageable and fits your assignment.
  • Research Questions (Part 7): Turn your topic into a research question.

from Clark College's IRIS: Information & Research Instruction Suite

The information pyramid

To get a better idea of what kind of sources to use in your research, you can think of different types of sources and the information they provide as a pyramid.

By themselves, the individual blocks that make up a pyramid aren't very exciting, but together the result is an awesome structure. Likewise, one source is not enough to write a strong paper, but you can write a solid paper by synthesizing information gathered from a variety of sources.

It is always a good idea to check your assignment or with your instructor for the types of resources that are required for your paper or project.



Start at the base

Just like the lower levels of a pyramid require the most "foundational" stone blocks, the sources that have the most detailed information and have a wider time perspective are at the bottom of the information pyramid. Scholarly articles and books take the longest to read but are the most detailed, while magazines, newspapers, television programs, and online sources are often the fastest to read but may contain less specific information and a more general overview.