Before you begin work on any research paper, examine the assignment closely for any requirements.
Q. How long is the paper?
This could be a page length, a page range, a word count, etc.
Q. How many sources?
How many total sources does your instructor ask for; are they all outside sources or does the short story count as one of your sources?
Q. What kind of sources?
Does your instructor specify certain types of sources - such as literary criticism or analysis? Historical analysis? Information about the author?
Are there other requirements such as how current/old the sources can be, or where the source should come from - the library, a database, a book/ebook, a peer-reviewed journals, etc.?
Q. How do you cite sources?
Most English instructors will ask you to use MLA format for your citations, but double-check to make sure. You may want to remind yourself what information you need from a source to do the MLA Works Cited page and in-text citations before you get started.
Q. What is due?
Is this just a paper? Or is there also an Annotated Bibliography? Are there other pieces like a rough draft, outline, summary, reading response, etc. Make note of all the parts of the assignment and create a checklist to make sure you don't leave anything out.
Q. When is it due?
How long do you have to work on this paper or project? Is there one due date for everything or are there multiple due dates for different parts of the assignment? Plan out your time, so you don't get stuck doing all the work at the last minute. Plan extra time in case you have problems or get stuck.
Q. What other requirements should you make note of?
Are there requirements to include a certain number of quotes or paraphrases? Do you need to have a certain number of paragraphs? Make note of any other requirements on the assignment sheet, and ask your instructor for clarification on any parts you're not sure about.
Probably the first thing you need to do when beginning work on a research paper is to select the short story or topic that you're going to write about. Consider the following:
Q. Do you have a choice?
Review your assignment - are you allowed to choose a short story to write about or does your instructor assign you one?
Q. Do you have a favorite?
If you have a choice on what short story you write about, consider which one you enjoyed the most or found the most interesting. Which story do you think would be the easiest to write about? Which story would have the most to say about?
Q. Are there sources?
Before you totally commit to a short story, you'll want to make sure that there are enough outside sources on the story for your assignment. Not every short story is going to have literary criticism or analysis written about it. Newer stories or stories that aren't as well known may be harder to find sources for. Do some searching in the library's literary criticism databases to make sure there are sources, and Ask-A-Librarian to double-check if you're not sure there are enough sources for a story you're really interested in.
Once you've selected a short story, re-read the story very closely, looking for themes, symbols, imagery, etc. Use a highlighter or a pen to mark interesting parts of the story that you want to use in your paper. Write notes in the margins. (If you can't write in your book, take notes on a separate sheet of paper). And of course, consider any themes or elements your instructor has directed you to look at - as you re-read the story, be on the look out for them.