Creating Effective Research Assignments

Well-designed research assignments can develop students' critical thinking skills and deepen their subject knowledge. 

Keep in mind the tips below when designing a research assignment. Librarians are also happy to work with you on assignment design. And there are many alternatives to the research paper!

Clarity/Unambiguous Terminology

  • Explain the assignment clearly, preferably in writing. BE SPECIFIC.
  • Identify the purpose of the assignment and learning objectives for students.
  • Provide a grading rubric specific to the assignment.
  • If you expect students to use primary source material, be sure they understand what you mean by primary.
  • Be clear about differences between popular and scholarly resources; state differences between types of sources when there is a specific requirement to use (or not use) them.
  • If you discourage the use of “web sites", be sure to clarify that web-based research databases subscribed to by the library are acceptable.

Library Resources for Assignment

  • Check with your subject librarian to be sure that the library has the resources your students need to complete the assignment.
  • Ask your subject librarian to create a course guide so that students can easily identify resources.
  • Use Reserves when necessary to avoid having many students trying to access the same piece of information.

Research Process & Skills

  • Make the assignment part of a real inquiry that is linked to course content. Teach research techniques, or ask your subject librarian to do it.
  • Most students will need guidance to complete library research assignments. Encourage your students to consult with their subject librarian or to get help at the reference desk throughout the research process.
  • Practice shaping topics into research questions and show your students what to look for when you research the literature on an unfamiliar subject.
  • Provide opportunities for feedback and reflection. Include a method for evaluating strategies (such as research logs). Require students to exercise critical thinking in the research process.
  • Design assignments that require your students to evaluate, analyze, and synthesize the information they find.
  • Grade their bibliographies for quality of sources and balance, not just for style.
  • Have them develop criteria for judging the quality of sources (or present your own and discuss in class).

Ethical Use of Information

Example & Alternative Assignments

There's no need to stick to the standard research paper. Check out these creative ideas:

Example Library Assignments
From Penn Libraries

Alternative Research Assignments
From San Diego State University Library

Alternatives to Term Papers
From Lawrence University Library

Ideas for library/information assignments
From Memorial University Libraries