Research Assignment Suggestions

by Jeremy M. Brown — last modified 2012-08-13T20:01:28-04:00

Our goal is the academic success of your students. The following suggestions reflect many of the student research behaviors librarians observe through regular contact with students. We also have had conversations with faculty who are seeking different kinds of assignments to meet the educational goals in their classes.

We believe the following assignments can help students to utilize and further develop research skills cooperatively with faculty. We welcome the opportunity to talk with you about how we can best support your assignments and your students through research instruction and successful assignments. We also welcome the opportunity to present research instruction to your classes to help them develop the necessary skills for grappling with the vast array of resources available.

All of the following suggestions are adaptable to meet the needs of different classes and students of different research levels. Please don't hesitate to contact us for ideas on how to adapt an assignment to your particular needs.

1. Annotated Bibliography

An annotated bibliography assignment asks students to find materials on a well-defined topic, cite them properly in an appropriate style (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.) and then review them thoroughly enough to write a short annotation of the work. Many students find annotations confusing; it is important to note that annotations, unlike abstracts, are not intended simply to summarize a work, but should also critically analyze the work, and give some indication of how it fits into the greater academic conversation about the topic.

We have created a guide for students on how to write an annotated bibliography. Feel free to use this guide to develop your own assignment.

Benefits:

  • Starting point for larger research project
  • Helps build confidence in research and writing skills before moving to a larger assignment
  • Offers an opportunity to teach students about different kinds of research resources (books, articles, government documents, electronic resources)
  • Helps students understand scholarly research and writing
  • Familiarizes students with style guides for formatting, references, and citations
  • Requires students to think critically about what they find in their research

2. Literature Review

Although not found in every discipline, literature reviews can be very useful assignments for students, as they require the student to locate a variety of sources on a particular topic, evaluate and analyze these sources, and then write a coherent essay describing how these sources relate to one another.

Benefits:

  • Starting point for larger research projects
  • Requires students to use library resources to learn how to locate quality sources in their discipline
  • Offers an opportunity to discuss how scholarly communication works
  • Familiarizes students with how academics in a certain field write
  • Requires students to think critically about the sources they find and how they relate to one another

3. Article Compare and Contrast

Students use a database relevant to their interests or field to find at least two articles on the same topic. Students then compare and contrast the articles. You can adapt this assignment by requiring students to find two scholarly articles or one scholarly and one non-scholarly article, among other variations.

Benefits:

  • Introduces students to electronic resources
  • Teaches students to formulate effective search strategies
  • Teaches students to think critically about information presented from different points of view and bias
  • Provides scalability

4. Scholarly Conversation Tracker

Beginning with a single article, students locate other articles that cite the original, using library databases such as Web of Science. Students then summarize how the new articles build on information in the original article.

Benefits:

  • Students learn how scholarly communication functions in a specific field
  • Students see the benefit of citing sources accurately in context
  • Teaches students how to read citations
  • Creates an opportunity to discuss how research functions in a particular discipline

5. Historical News Events

Students locate newspaper articles from a relevant date (birthday, holiday, anniversary, etc.) using library resources. Then, select a news event from that date and research it to meet your educational goal.

Benefits:

  • Familiarizes students with an electronic database
  • May familiarize students with using microform
  • Teaches students about news media
  • Interests students; assignment has relevance
  • Requires students to use a variety of research tools to find more information about a topic

6. Research Presentation

Students create a report, oral and/or written, from the standpoint of a researcher (product developer, manager, engineer, journalist, marketing executive, etc.), presenting information about a product, service, or issue.

Benefits:

  • Teaches students to think critically while playing a research role
  • Offers a realistic and practical application for research
  • Teaches students to think critically as they develop an argument
  • Helps students learn to focus work toward a specific audience

Helpful suggestions for research assignments:

  • Consult the Subject Librarian from your area.
  • Know that some students have limited working knowledge of an academic library or fear the library.
  • Arrange for research instruction. This allows a librarian to show students the resources they will need before they begin research. We can also discuss key concepts such as the difference between scholarly and popular sources, how to evaluate sources, and how to properly construct a search.
  • Work through an initial library assignment and its instructions during a research instruction class. Students can then begin work with an opportunity to ask questions to both the instructor and the librarian.
  • Library 'scavenger hunts' may give students great exposure to the library, but finding this information is no substitute for doing in depth research and applying it in a meaningful way.
  • Before assigning students to use a particular research tool, please make sure the library has it.
  • Clear assignment steps and objectives will help students to focus. Dividing a research assignment into smaller steps or 'chunking' helps students feel less overwhelmed.
  • When outlining acceptable resources to be used in an assignment, be specific about Internet resources. Excluding the Internet as an acceptable resource may confuse students. Many of our databases are web-based and students will feel these are off limits. There are many reliable sources of information, particularly government information (statistics, financial information, organizational reports, etc.) available. Helping students learn to effectively evaluate information on the Internet is a less exclusive strategy.
  • Please send a copy of the assignment over to the reference desk before distributing it to students.