Understanding Your Assignment
Before you begin your research, you should make sure you understand your assignment. Some good questions are:
• How many pages should it be?
• How many sources do I need?
• What kinds of sources? Books,
articles, websites? Scholarly or
• In what format should it be
San Jose State's Assignment Calculator is a good resource to help you determine how much time you have to complete various aspects of your research and writing, given your starting date and due date.
An encyclopedia gives you
As an alternative to Wikipedia, try looking in these databases for background information:
The Foothill Library also has dozens of subject encyclopedias in our print reference collection. If you are on campus, stop by and ask the librarian at the reference desk for help.
Students sometimes try to think of a subject they imagine will be easy, but that strategy can backfire. What are you passionate or curious about?
Try brainstorming. Set a timer for five minutes and write down every topic you can think of that sounds interesting. Ignore the inner critic that might say things like "That's stupid" or "It will be too hard." After the timer rings, look at your list. Are there any patterns? Does one idea pop out at you?
Try one of these databases to get ideas for current events and controversial issues.
A broad topic is too general, and the problem is too much information. Examples:
To make a topic more specific, you can limit it in one of these ways:
For example, to narrow the topic of gang violence:
An encyclopedia can also give you ideas for how to make your topic more specific.
On the other hand, if you have a hard time finding information, your topic is probably too narrow.