Research assignment tips

Research assignments that involve the selection and evaluation of library resources require a set of information research skills that your students may or may not already have. You can create a positive learning experience by addressing the complexity and ongoing development of these skills.

The following are general suggestions for designing successful research-based assignments that will produce better outcomes and avoid frustration for both you and your students.

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Assignment tips

Don’t assume students already have the necessary experience, knowledge or skills for academic research.

  • Computer savvy and Google proficiency do not translate into strong research skills.
  • Effective search strategies are different for library research databases vs. the internet.
  • Students are unfamiliar with the types of sources available in research databases.
  • Students rarely know the difference between scholarly, popular, and trade articles.
  • Students do not know about the variety of library tools available, and how to locate the best ones for the job.

Set expectations/guidelines for your assignment.

  • Be specific about the number and type of sources you want your students to use.
  • Stipulate the format, length and citation style.
  • Provide examples or models of successful projects.

Define terminology and use it consistently.

  • Explain what a peer-reviewed journal/article means. Is this the same to you as a scholarly or academic journal/article? Explain how to determine this designation.
  • What do primary and secondary sources mean in your discipline?
  • Clearly define and provide examples of assignments such as Literature Reviews and Annotated Bibliographies.

Clarify what you mean by web/internet/online sources.

  • If you tell your students “you can’t use the web (or internet or online) to find sources”, students might interpret this to mean all electronic information resources including those found online through the library.
  • Many scholarly journals and books are available exclusively in electronic format and print counterparts may not be available.

Provide opportunities for students to evaluate their sources.

  • One frequently overlooked but important component of good research is the evaluation of each individual source for usefulness and relevance.
  • Provide students an opportunity to annotate, rate or make a case for how they will use the source in their paper.

Recognize that research is a process.

  • Discuss the research process in class to acknowledge its importance.
  • Divide assignments into incremental parts that align with the process.  For example: topic proposal, chronicling search strategies, initial bibliography, revised bibliography, practice paraphrasing and/or quoting sources, rough draft, and final paper.
  • Breaking down the research process makes it less daunting for the students. They will be less prone to plagiarize and will produce stronger papers.