Getting Started

Writing a great research paper takes a lot of time and effort. Before you begin writing you need to go back to the basics of understanding your assignment and planning your time.

Understanding your Assignment

Oh, no! You have been given an assignment and you don't know where to start. Don't worry. Take a deep breath and look at the materials provided by your instructor. There are three main sources for finding information to help you understand your assignment:

  • the handout or guidelines for the assignment
  • the marking guide or rubric for the assignment
  • your instructor

Follow along with the student in this example as she talks through the steps in understanding an assignment:

Assignment expectations can be different for different subject areas. For more insight into writing for your course, check out the Writing in the Disciplines page.

Estimating Time

The writing process takes time and should be planned well in advance. Leaving your paper to the last minute will not result in the quality or grade that you desire. To ensure that you have enough time for the entire process, consider the ¼ time plan:


The Research Paper Navigator and the Assignment Calculator are tools that will help you plan the time required for your paper by breaking it down into smaller steps and providing suggested completion dates. You can even program email reminders with the Assignment Calculator.