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Research Process: Step #1 : Task Definition

Guidelines for a successful research experience. Adapted from the Copley Library Guide,

Step #1


Step 1 : Task Definition

1.1 Define the information problem

What does your teacher want you to do? Make sure you understand the requirements of the assignment. Ask your teacher to explain if the assignment seems vague or confusing. Restate the assignment in your own words and ask if you are correct.

1.2 Identify the information you need in order to complete the task (to solve the information problem)

What information do you need in order to do the assignment? Your teacher will often tell you what information you need. If he or she does not, it will help you to write a list of questions that you need to “look up.” Example: Let’s say the assignment is to write a paper and make a product about a notable African American. You choose Scott Joplin from the list that was provided by your teacher. She may or may not have told you why this person is notable. You need to figure out what information you need to find out about Scott Joplin. Here are some questions you may ask about him if you don’t know why he is notable:

  • Why was Scott Joplin notable?
  • When was he born and when did he die?
  • Where was he born?
  • Was his birthplace or childhood home any influence on his career?
  • How did his childhood influence his adult life and his career choice?
  • Who in his life were his influences or his role models?
  • Why do we remember him now?
  • What did he do that is an influence on my life or that of Americans today?

If your teacher told you that Scott Joplin is most noted for developing ragtime music, then you may add the questions:

  • What is ragtime music?
  • How did he develop ragtime music?
  • What instruments did he play?
  • Did he sing?

Of course, as you find information on Scott Joplin, you will use some that is not included in your original questions. Use these questions as a place to get started. You won’t waste as much time if you have a place to start.

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