Creating Effective Research Assignments

A well-designed research assignment is an excellent teaching tool. Effective assignments develop not only students’ research skills, but their critical thinking abilities and subject knowledge. Through faculty and librarian collaboration we hope to develop assignments that enhance course objectives and minimize frustration.(13)

The exponential increases in the number of information resources and technology tools available today have made libraries more complex than ever. This phenomenon of “information overload” has led to the increased importance of Information Literacy and critical thinking skills on the part of today’s college students. An information literate student is able to recognize their information need and then locate, evaluate, and use effectively and ethically the needed information. Enabling students to go beyond the confines of an assignment and focus on the process of seeking solutions to their information needs is crucial. Information literacy enables students to recognize the value of information and use it to make informed choices in their personal, professional and academic lives. An important first step in laying the foundation for an information literate student body is the collaboration between faculty and librarians in creating effective research assignments.

Help Us Stamp out Bad Research Experiences!

Please Do:

  • Send a copy of your assignment to your campus library. In Pleasantville, send a copy to Steve Feyl at the Mortola Library; in New York, send a copy to Sue Hunter at the Birnbaum Library.
  • Test your Assignment. Run through your assignment and ask others to try it before handing it out to students. Check with a librarian to be sure the resources you are asking your students to use are still available.
  • Remind your students that research takes time. For instance, if they need to obtain materials from Interlibrary loan, it may take up to two weeks before your students can view the materials.
  • Use clear terminology when creating assignments. One clarification we often make for students is the difference between something found on “the Web” and an article or piece of information found using one of the Library’s “web-based” subscription databases. Subscription databases such as Academic Search Premier or Lexis-Nexis contain many full-text articles; usually these are the equivalent of what you would read in the print publication.
  • Clearly state what students are expected to learn from the assignment. Tie the assignment to stated course objectives. Students who understand the reason for an assignment and how it will enhance their knowledge should be more motivated to complete the work.(1)
  • Assess your students’ research skills and knowledge. Ask them to give evidence that they have completed what you think might be a basic task (i.e. retrieve an article from a database). This may help you determine what you can expect from them in the research project.
  • Request a library instruction session. Librarians can teach students how to locate, evaluate and cite information resources, and much more.

Please Try to Avoid:

  • Asking students to copy information from one source. If it is necessary for a whole class to use a particular source, please consider putting it on reserve at the Library.
  • Assigning hard-to-answer trivia questions. Librarians will usually have to provide the answers, and students will not benefit from the experience.(13)

Assignment Ideas that Develop Information Literacy Skills:

Open the Word File

Sample Research Exercises/Assignments:

Here we provide you with some more detailed and developed sample research exercises, activities and assignments. Most of these have student learning outcomes listed, and some provide a listing of corresponding ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards. Please feel free to use or adapt these for your needs!

These links will open Microsoft Word files:
Topic Selection and Refinement Worksheets
Best Source Essay
Information Source Comparison
Periodical Comparison
Editorial Assignment
Annotated Bibliographies
Knowledge Inventory
Scholarly vs. Popular Periodicals
Summarize vs. Analyze
Portfolio Reflective Questions

Resources Consulted:

  1. North Harris College Library. “Keys to Designing Effective Assignments.” http://nhclibrary.nhmccd.edu/library/instruction/keys.html
  2. Beck, Susan E. New Mexico State University Library. “Suggestions for Successful Internet Assignments.” http://lib.nmsu.edu/instruction/evalsugg.html
  3. Funes, Carolyn. Palomar College Library. “Assignments to Promote Information Competency.” http://www.palomar.edu/library/infocomp/assignchart.htm
  4. University of Maryland University College. “Information Literacy and Writing Assessment Project: Tutorial for Developing and Evaluating Assignments.” http://www.umuc.edu/library/tutorials/information_literacy/sect4.html
  5. The University Libraries at the University of Missouri – Kansas City. (Handout from conference – not on the Web).
  6. Kauffman, Lynn. School Without Walls, Washington, D.C. (Post in a Discussion Board).
  7. Queen Elizabeth II Library. “Ideas for Library/Information Assignments.” http://www.library.mun.ca/qeii/instruction/assignment_ideas.php
  8. Heller-Ross, Holly. “Plattsburgh Tip Sheet.” http://faculty.plattsburgh.edu/holly.hellerross/InfotechLithandout.doc
  9. Francis A. Drexel Library. St. Joseph’s University. “Information Literacy Standards for Higher Education with Selected Outcomes and Ideas for Active Learning.” http://www.sju.edu/libraries/drexel/forfaculty/illstds.htm
  10. D. Leonard Corgan Library, King’s College. “Term Paper Alternatives: Ideas for Information Based Assignments.”
  11. Columbia Gorge Community College Library. “Alternative Assignments Requiring Library Research.” http://www.cgcc.cc.or.us/Library/facultyservices/alternatives.htm
  12. University of Arizona Library. “Information Literacy Outcomes with Ideas for Active Learning & Assessment.” http://dizzy.library.arizona.edu/library/teams/InfoLit2000/Outcomes_Activities.pdf
  13. King’s College. “Teaching With Information Sources: Designing Effective Assignments.”