The research you need to do will be different for each assignment. The steps on this page will help you focus your research and make it more effective.

Research process diagram

1. Understand what you need to do

Before you start your research make sure you understand what the assignment is asking you to do.

Check the assignment type

Check what type of assignment you need to do. Is it an essay, report, presentation, or case study? Knowing this will help you understand what sort of information you need to include and how to write the assignment.

Understand the task

Next, analyse the assignment task to make sure you understand what you are being asked. Look at the task and identify:

  • Instruction words – These words tell you what to do. Do you need to analyse, discuss, evaluate, summarise or something else?
  • Topic words – Topic words tell you what to write about. What you need to analyse, argue, discuss, and so on
  • Limiting words – These narrow down and focus your topic. This might be a certain time, place, or part of a topic.

2. Gather information

Research is something we do all the time. Whether it’s researching a recipe for dinner, where to go on holiday, or what phone to buy, it’s all research. The steps below will help you focus your research.

Start with what you know

Once you are clear about what you need to do, think about what you already know to help you figure out what to focus on:

  • What is the assignment topic?
  • What information do you already have?
  • What extra information do you need to find out?
  • What questions do you have that will help you respond to the assignment task?

You could try using a mind map to brainstorm this information.

Develop your search strategy

Decide where to look. This will depend on the type of information you are looking for, e.g. definitions, examples & explanations, visuals, statistics, in depth analysis, research etc.

Sources might include:

  • course materials – check to see what information you can use for your assignment. Your course might also direct you to other information sources such as key websites, guides and articles
  • recommended readings or set texts (if your course has any)
  • Open Polytechnic Library – Your library has many great resources for you to access including:
  • e-books – accessible anywhere/anytime, including recommended texts for your course
  • print books – can be posted to you free of charge
  • research databases for access to articles – journals, newspapers, magazines and more
  • recommended websites.

For some courses you may need to cite peer-reviewed, academic articles and books. Get in touch with the Te Whare Pukapuka Wāhanga Whakapakari, The Library and Learning Centre, if you need help locating these.

Search tips

  • Use keywords from your assignment topic, to generate search results (don’t just type in your assignment question).
  • Expand on this list by thinking of related terms and synonyms. Your topic may be described in more than one way.
  • Check the limiting words in the assignment task to help refine your searches.
  • If you need help with your research, contact the Library and Learning Centre.

Learn more about identifying keywords by watching the video below:


3. Evaluate information

The next step is to decide what information is best for your assignment. You need to evaluate it carefully to check its quality and that it is relevant and useful. See the pages below to help with this step:


4. Keep track of what you find

Keep a list of everything you read, including information that you decide not to use. That way you’ll remember what you’ve looked at and won’t waste time going back to resources that weren't useful.

Tip – When you find something you want to use in your assignment record the information needed for your references list.


When to stop

There is no rule for how much research to do for an assignment. But you can probably stop if you:

  • have backed up all of your key points with relevant, credible sources
  • aren’t getting new ideas
  • aren’t finding information that will help strengthen your topic
  • are running out of time to write the assignment.

You’ll then be ready to plan your assignment and start writing.