DESIGNING EFFECTIVE RESEARCH ASSIGNMENTS*
Identify the purpose of the assignment and learning objectives for
students, including any information literacy outcomes you have identified
for your course. Information Literacy Competency Standards based on the
Association of College & Research Libraries recommendations is available
on the Information Instruction Program web page: http://lib.westfield.ma.edu/iiprogram.htm.
(If you are writing or revising a library-related assignment and would
like our feedback, let us know. We would be happy to meet with you. Contact
Corinne Ebbs, Coordinator of Information Instruction, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Give the research assignment in writing to reduce confusion. Include all
information they will need to complete it.
Define vague or unfamiliar terms. If you differentiate between magazines
and journals, explain what you mean by those words (Use our guide defining
Scholarly v. Popular at http://lib.westfield.ma.edu/scholpop.htm).
If you expect your students to use primary sources, be sure your students
understand what "primary" means in your discipline or in this instance.
If you discourage use of "the Internet," clarify that use of the web-based
research databases subscribed to by the library is acceptable.
THE RESEARCH PROCESS:
Make the assignment part of a real investigation, linked to course content.
Effective research strategies may seem obvious to experienced researchers,
but are often unknown to students, despite their familiarity with Internet
search engines. Discuss the information search process in class. Teach
research strategies. Practice shaping "topics" into research questions
appropriate to the field, selecting appropriate research tools for a given
information need, and evaluating sources.
Students benefit from opportunities to reflect on their research strategies
and think critically about what they are doing. Show your students what
you look for when you research the literature on an unfamiliar subject.
Provide opportunities for feedback and reflection throughout the research
process. Include a method for evaluating strategies (for example, a research
log) as well as readings.
Require students to exercise critical thinking in the research process.
Grade their bibliographies for quality of sources, balance, etc., not just
for style. If they will be using Web sources for the project, have them
develop criteria for judging the quality of those sources, or use the Evaluation
Criteria available through the library at http://lib.westfield.ma.edu/evalcrit.htm,
and discuss these criteria in class.
Discuss the role of documentation in a community of scholars. Have your
students read "Avoiding Plagiarism" http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/print/research/r_plagiar.html.
See adapted handout for easier distribution.
Require early submission of a thesis, peer or instructor responses to drafts,
oral presentations of work in progress, etc.
Make research assignments that do not follow the usual research paper structure
Announce and use grading criteria that are specific to the assignment and
are not likely to be fulfilled by a generic research paper.
Require a journal or research log in which students describe successful
and unsuccessful research strategies and/or analyze what they learned in
the process of completing the assignment.
Require an annotated bibliography of the sources cited.
*Adapted from Emily Werrell,
Perkins Library, Duke Univ. http://www.lib.duke.edu/services/instruction/assignments.htm
Provide resource lists to give your students a starting point. Check to
see whether there is a Subject Research Guide available for your area (These
are located on the Library Home Page http://lib.westfield.ma.edu). Feel free
to link to these guides, for your classes.
If the assignment requires the use of specific sources, check on availability
and access before giving your students a list of them. Databases and other
resources change from semester to semester, and vary from library to library.
Web pages may disappear. New sources and ways of accessing information
may have replaced old ones since the last time you assigned this project.
(Contact the reference desk at (413) 572-5234 or email@example.com for assistance
in tracking down items.)
Orient students to complex sources or unfamiliar research strategies by
scheduling an instruction session with a librarian. (See the Information
Instruction Program link on the Home Page http://lib.westfield.ma.edu for
more information or call Corinne Ebbs at 572-5464 to talk about library-course
maintained by Corinne Ebbs
Coordinator of Information Instruction
Posted August 24, 2004