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FTS: The Politics of Housing and Homelessness: Getting Started

Understand the Task

To get started, read your assignment carefully. Make sure you understand the task before starting your research. Consult the "Decode an Assignment" box for tips. 

Once you select a topic, you will need to conduct some preliminary research to decide how to proceed with your research. In addition to the "Explore Your Topic" box on this page, there are many resources to help you with this stage of the process!

  • Writing Center tutors can help you think through an assignment 
  • Reference librarians can point you toward the best information resources 
  • Your professor can help you shape and explore your topic
  • Friends or classmates can be good sounding boards as you talk through your initial research ideas

Decode an Assignment

The word "research" means many different things. Research assignments might involve reporting on a topic, reviewing the state of research in a given area, reading and critically analyzing a text, or investigating and taking a stand on an issue. You might be asked to generate an original thesis or to conduct field research (interviews, surveys, experiments, or first-hand observations), using information to support and frame your ideas.

Read your assignment carefully and see if you can answer these questions:

  • What is the purpose of the project?
  • To what extent should I bring my own ideas to the project? Do I need to present an original theory, argue a point of view, or am I primarily synthesizing and organizing information in order to report on it?
  • How much evidence (or information) will I need to gather? Is there are required number of sources to use?
  • What kinds of evidence (or sources) am I expected to use? 
  • What should the finished project look like?
  • When is the project due? To make sure I have enough time to research and write, when should I start my first step?

If you aren't able to answer these questions, ask your professor for clarification - but only after you've read the assignment carefully.

Doing research projects takes time. Look at your calendar and set realistic goals. Be sure you don't spend all your time finding sources - plan time into your schedule to read them and to write!

Explore Your Topic

Spend some time mapping out a topic, sorting out what information is available and what others have said about your topic. You're trying to figure out the conversations happening around your topic - and identifying who's having those conversations. Try these strategies:

  • Make a list of possible issues to research. Use class discussions, texts, personal interests, conversations with friends, and discussions with your professor for ideas. You'll be surprised how fast ideas come once you start writing them down.
  • Map out the topic by finding out what others have had to say about it:
  • Consult the appropriate Research Guides to explore resources for your field
  • Browse reference books (main floor of library, Beck Hall side) for overviews of your topic
  • Use online, reliable resources that provide overviews of topics presented by experts. We recommend WikipediaYouTube, and sites like Kurzgesagt - In a Nutshell, or podcasts by experts on your topic
  • Talk with your professor about ways you can develop the topic, including sources and scholars you should consider
  • Talk with a librarian via  Reference Services about useful reference books, books & articles
  • Develop questions. Do ideas you come across seem to offer interesting contrasts? Does one aspect seem intriguingly connected to something else? Is there something about the topic that surprises you? Do you encounter anything that makes you wonder why? 
  • Draft a research plan. Write down what you want to investigate and how you plan to do it. Writing down where you plan to take your research at this stage can help you clarify your thoughts and plan your next steps. 
  • Talk over your developing topic. Tell your roommate or another friend about your topic. Sometimes just explaining the idea to others can help you clarify what direction seems most interesting.
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