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Interpreting College Writing Assignments Whats Your Professor Asking You to Do

It's not even two weeks into the new semester, and it's already happened; your professor has just assigned the dreaded research paper. Even though it isn't due for months, your diligent instructor has already passed out a three-page overview of the assignment and directed the class to choose a topic.Rather than sitting on your hands and doing the minimum amount of work necessary to meet her deadlines, you've decided to get a jump start on your paper. There's just one problem: you have no idea what your professor is asking you to do!.

Of course, it's understood that she wants to see a ten-page report on her desk exactly one week before the final, but beyond that, you're stumped. What sort of sources do you need? Does she want your opinion on the subject, or just the facts? What to write about?!.Before you get too excited, take a deep breath and fish that assignment out of your backpack. Most everything you need to know is in this document. The rest you can either infer or hear straight from the horse's mouth (the horse would be your professor, no disrespect intended!).Requirements are often stated or implied in any handouts you receive on the paper.

Pay close attention to the language and wording in the handouts - this will help you understand your professor's expectations. The technical specifications are usually clearly spelled out - minimum and maximum length, margins, font style and size, spacing, etc.You don't need to worry about most of these minute details until later, though, so you can set them aside for now. However, make a mental note of the minimum and maximum required length.

The length of the paper will help determine the scope of your topic - the shorter the paper, the more limited you must be in your discussion.That's not to suggest that you must choose a very narrow, highly specific topic right away. Quite the contrary! Your initial topic choice will be very broad in scope, and you'll gradually whittle it down as you progress through the research process. At this early point, you simply don't know enough about your subject to describe it in detail.

In addition to the technical details, you will need to look beyond the clearly stated specifications so that you can identify the content that your professor is expecting from you. This isn't high school, so your professor will very rarely want just a summary, lacking in inquiry and devoid of any analysis. Most likely, you will be asked to present an argument and support it with evidence. Rather than regurgitating what you've read, you'll be expected to digest the viewpoints of several different scholars and articulate your own analysis of the topic.There are many different approaches you can take when writing a research paper, along with an infinite number of topical choices. As such, you'll need to look for keywords in your handouts to determine what type of approach your professor would like you to take, as well as clues as to appropriate topic selections:.

* Does your professor single out any one individual, event, idea, or theory that your paper should address? [Keep an eye out for words or phrases that your class will study during the semester.].* Does she offer a number of topics for you to choose from? [The words "and/or" are good indicators that your professor is offering more than one option.].* Does your professor specifically ask for your personal viewpoint, or does she want a scholarly analysis of the facts? [Phrases such as "explain your position" and "what's your opinion?" signify that she'd like you to editorialize a bit.

].What if your professor doesn't offer any of the above clues? Should you get a frustratingly vague assignment, don't panic! While it may prove more difficult to choose a topic, such an assignment also offers you the opportunity to flex your creative muscles and write about a subject that interests you! Take a look at your textbook; pay special attention to the index and table of contents. Browse around until you find an issue which appeals to you. As long as it's in your course's text, it's probably fair game for your paper.

Certainly, it is always a good idea to run the idea by your professor before getting too involved. Students may be hesitant to meet with their professors, for fear that it makes them look "dumb" or "ignorant." Yet, professors generally welcome questions; they view them as a sign that you are involved in class and interested in the material.

So go ahead - pick a topic, schedule a meeting, and then hit the stacks!.

.Copyright Kelly Garbato, 2005.Kelly Garbato is an author, ePublisher, and small business owner.

She recently self-published her first book, "13 Lucky Steps to Writing a Research Paper," now available at Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com) or through Peedee Publishing (http://www.peedeepublishing.

com). To learn more about the author, visit her web site at http://www.kellygarbato.com.

By: Kelly Garbato

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