Teaching and Learning Resource Center

Interpreting a Research or Inquiry-Based Activity


This is intended to be a quick activity to help ensure that students have a clear understanding of the expectations for a research assignment, and to provide the instructor with an opportunity to address any misunderstandings that students might have about the purpose or requirements for the assignment. This is recommended as a low-stakes activity to be used in the early stages of a research or inquiry-based project.

Learning Outcomes

Identify expectations for a research or inquiry-based assignment

Related Resources


  1. Provide students with a written description of an upcoming research or inquiry-based assignment in a handout, in the syllabus, or in Carmen
  2. Have students complete an activity in which they review and interpret the assignment instructions. This could be an individual, pair, or group activity.
  3. As they review the instructions, students should:
    1. Write an initial, brief description of what they are expected to do
    2. Highlight any academic jargon or discipline-specific terminology that may need clarification (e.g. scholarly journal, peer-reviewed article, empirical article, thesis statement, evidence-based practice)
    3. Identify the key active verbs in the assignment (e.g. define, summarize, synthesize, analyze, compare
    4. Identify the technical requirements, such as length, writing style, citation style and due date
  4. Students should answer questions about the purpose and tasks of the assignment. Some example questions could be:
    • What do you consider to be the purpose of this assignment? Why do you think you are being asked to complete this assignment?
    • What types of sources are you expected to use? Why do you think you are required to use these sources?
    • What steps will you need to take to complete this assignment? What tasks will you need to complete?
    • What are the “active” words you highlighted actually asking you to do?
    • What will you be evaluated on? What are you expected to do?
      • What do you have to do?
      • What should you not do?
  5. Students should share their responses either with a partner or a small group and identify any potential questions or concerns
  6. Review and discuss as a class, addressing any misconceptions students might have about the purpose or process of the assignment, and providing additional information as needed

If you have scaffolded the research paper or project, it may be helpful to repeat a version of this activity again closer to the due date, so students can evaluate whether they are on the right track to meeting the expectations for the assignment.