After you receive your assignment description, you might be immediately tempted to start looking for resources so that you can learn as much as possible about the topic. The problem with this approach is two-fold:
Considering that the point of an essay is for you to communicate your ideas on a topic to your audience, versus just rehashing other people's ideas, it is important that you first identify what you think you want to focus on before you start searching through the Library databases or the Internet. At this stage, it's normal that your ideas are quite broad, but you have to figure out what you already know from your readings, discussions, and life experience before you can identify what you don't know and therefore need to research.
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Consider the following:
By identifying directions for your research, you can contain your research to what is relevant and appropriate for your paper. Otherwise, it's easy to end up doing sufficient research to write a 20-page paper when all you're trying to write is five pages. It can be as challenging to manage too much information as it is to have too little information or insufficient supporting evidence.
Your plan will change as you learn more about your topic, but having a starting direction for your process gives you a scope and a direction for your research and writing. See Planning the Paper for more information.