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 your textbook count as one of your sources?
Q. What kind of sources?
Does your instructor specify certain types of sources? 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 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 to create the MLA Works Cited page and in-text citations.
Q. What is due?
Is this just a paper? Is there also an Annotated Bibliography due? Do you have to give a presentation? Are there other pieces like a rough draft, outline, summary, reading response, a tutorial, 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.
The first thing you need to do before you begin a research paper is to select a 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 topic or does your instructor assign you one?
Q. Do you have an interest?
If you have a choice on what topic you can write about, consider which one you find the most interesting. Which topic do you think would be the easiest to write about? Which topic would you have the most to say about?
Q. Are there sources?
Before you totally commit to a topic, you'll want to make sure that there are enough outside sources on the topic for your assignment. Not every topic is going to have information written about it. Newer topics or topics that aren't as well known may be harder to find sources for. Do some searching in the library's 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 topic you're really interested in.