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Federal Government Overview (TR): Get Started

Beginning Your Research

Take the time to understand your assignment. This may be more complicated than it seems. Read the assignment carefully as soon as you receive it so that you can budget your time effectively, and ask your instructor about anything that is unclear.

Ask yourself a few basic questions as you read and jot down the answers on the assignment sheet:

  • Why did your instructor ask you to do this particular task?
  • Who is your audience?
  • What kind of evidence do you need to support your ideas?
  • What kind of writing style is acceptable?
  • What are the absolute rules of the paper?


How do I choose a topic?

Choosing an appropriate topic to research is critical to success. Choose one that fits the assignment and that interests you. Do not choose a topic so recent or narrow that little information is available, or so broad that the amount of information available is overwhelming. Consult with your instructor about your topic before you begin your research.



Why do I need background information?

You may not initially know a lot about the issues and debates that surround a topic. Reading background information will help you determine what some of those issues are and figure out whether your topic may be too broad or too narrow within the field. Preliminary research will also help you become more familiar with the terminology used to discuss your topic, which will be of use in identifying keywords to use when searching for journal articles and other information.


You can search the library to find many reference sources such as specialized encyclopedias.

Types of Sources


Man with arms crossed in front of a chalkboard.

How do I if a resource is scholarly (or academic)?

Scholarly sources are often written by professors, researchers, and experts in the field with advanced degrees. They are written for other scholars, professionals, and students. Scholarly resources also use technical language of the field, almost always have a list of references, and often provide research findings and statistics.

What about popular sources?

Popular Sources:

  • are for the general population
  • avoid technical terminology and use easy-to-understand language
  • usually do not have bibliographies or references
  • often written by staff writers with little specialized knowledge
  • are written for entertainment and general knowledge


Source: Cornell University 


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