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Organizational Leadership

Library Instruction Handouts

Understanding Your Assignment

Several kinds of papers and presentations are routinely assigned in Manhattan College courses:

  • Literature reviews, which describe the scholarly literature in a particular area or on a particular topic.
  • Empirical investigations.  These papers report the results of new surveys, interviews, experiments, observations, or other data-gathering activities that you yourself have conducted.  However, they do include a review of previous findings and methods based on the scholarly literature.
  • “Debate” papers in which you choose one side or perspective on an issue and argue in favor of it.  You will generally be expected to discuss or refute alternative points of view, and that requires that you demonstrate your understanding of the views and evidence that appear in the literature.
  • Compare-and-contrast or pro/con papers that ask you to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of alternative policies or courses of action, often based on published evidence.
  • Explanatory or instructional papers in which you demonstrate your own understanding of a topic as well as your ability to explain it in a way that other people can understand.
  • Reflection papers where you consider a reading, event, experience, or work (literary, artistic, etc.), often in relation to your own background and perspectives.  These papers may or may not include a review of previous work.

Not all paper assignments will fit into one of these categories, however.  Be sure that you understand what is expected of you.  If in doubt, ask your professor.

Before you begin your search for scholarly literature, you should have

  • An understanding of what’s expected of you
  • A paper topic—something more specific than “learning styles,” for instance
  • Ideas about your own perspectives on the topic and, if appropriate, the argument you may want to make
  • An awareness of the kinds of scholarly papers, data, or other information that will be especially relevant to your needs.  (See the Identifying Your Information Needs section of this Research Guide.)

Identifying Your Information Needs

To some extent, your search for information is an attempt to see what’s out there—to identify the literature that exists.  Nonetheless, your search is likely to be more effective if you have a sense of what would best serve your needs.  

Ideally, what would you like to find?  At a minimum, what do you need to have?  In particular, are you looking for

  • Overviews that synthesize basic information about the subject
  • Overviews that present several different perspectives on the subject
  • Descriptions of processes (“five steps to outsourcing payroll operations”)
  • Information about a particular company (as an innovator, a work setting, or an investment opportunity)
  • Information about a particular industry, country, or region (as a market, a source of labor, a regulatory environment, etc.)
  • Lists of advantages and disadvantages (or costs and benefits) associated with a particular option or strategy
  • Studies that show the impact of one factor (introduction of flex time, transition from salary to commission payments, implementation of a new type of web site, etc.) on another factor (job satisfaction, revenue, profit, customer loyalty, etc.)
  • Studies that show the magnitude of various effects (“We know that these factors all influence holiday spending, but which have the greatest impact?”)
  • Numeric data that describe a trend or support a position
  • Typologies or classifications (“four types of retail clothing shoppers”)
  • Perspectives of individuals with a particular set of experiences (surveys, focus groups, interviews, etc.)
  • Primary historical documents that report on a particular event or trend.