In our previous post, we have discussed the importance of knowing your professor’s expectations. Now that you have read the requirements thoroughly, a natural question comes charging in. What should I do next? There is a simple and an easy to follow process that can address all of your concerns in this respect
Above all, you need to identify the key questions or ideas that you need to discuss. If the instructions do not pose a clear-cut question, focus on the general themes that need to be addressed. If it is an English paper, is there a specific short story or a poem that needs to be analyzed? If so, can you identify the main message of the narrative? Are there any key metaphors that represent the work of literature as a whole? If it is a philosophy paper, is there a specific scholarly text that needs to be analyzed? If so, can you identify the school of thought that the author in question belongs to?
For example, David Hume is an empiricist, Rene Descartes is a rationalist and A.J Ayer is a logical positivist. Once you identify the key idea, look it up on a reputable source and try to grasp the essence of the idea in question. Once you begin developing an understanding of the main idea, you will have a much easier time discussing the topic in question. Likewise, if it is a history paper, identify the historical event in question. Next, look up the author or the narrator of the event and learn about their perspective.
Are they writing as a scholar of history or are they an amateur? If they are a scholar of history, what ideological orientation do they subscribe to? What intellectual culture do they belong to? If the writer in question is a layperson, pay attention to their background such as age, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and political leanings. Once you are able to connect the author’s nature with the text, you will be able to see connections between their perspective and the historical event that they are writing about.
Altogether, to start your research, you need to focus on the key ideas of the assigned topic. Do not miss the forest for the trees: focus on ideas, not concrete facts, titles, names or other knowledge that you can acquire only through rote learning. That is not to say that the facts and specifics are not important, but it is to say that such knowledge is easier to acquire when you start by grasping the foundational ideas.