Effective Research Assignments

  • Best Practices

Alternative Research Assignments

Collaboration & discussion through blogs & wikis, topic exploration with online forums.

  • Studies on Student Research

Beyond the Traditional Research Paper

Many instructors experience frustrations with standard research papers .

This page offers some alternatives.

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These resources give examples of research assignments that take many forms.

  • Community of Online Research Assignments (CORA)
  • Sample Assignments (Oregon State University Libraries)
  • Term Paper Alternatives (King's College)

Please let us know if you have additional assignments to share!

Blogs: Though a class blog, students might reflect on and dialogue about specific aspects of their research process.

Potential blog topics might include:

  • describing one's chosen research topic, why it interests her/him, and why others should care about it,
  • identifying a source that has expanded or challenged thinking about the research topic, or
  • describing how one's research question has evolved over the course of their research.

Wikis: Students doing collaborative research might develop and revise their ideas through a wiki (like those available through CourseDen or platforms like Wikispaces ).

Wiki pages can be organized based on different areas of the student's research topic, or on different aspects of the research process. Potential sections within a wiki could include: 

  • emerging research questions,
  • background information (such as differing perspectives on the research question),
  • the working thesis, and
  • key sources and how they inform the research.

Online platforms like Twitter, blogs, and other online networks can be good springboards for exploring how a topic has been discussed in a certain discipline or community.

Possible activities include:

  • Students examine how different communities (including academic and non-academic ones) converse, share, or create information through social media and other online forums (e.g. blogs, online networks).
  • Students use platforms like Twitter to gain perspective on how a given community or discipline discusses a certain topic or issue. Students compare how the "conversation" is represented differently in other mediums with which that community engaages (e.g. publications, blogs, conferences).
  • Students compare how discussions in specific online communities compare to those that occur through other modes of communication (e.g. in-person discussions, conferences, academic journals, the popular press, magazines). Students might then reflect on how these various communication channels may inform their own approaches to researching a specific issue.  
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Designing Effective Research Assignments: Sample Assignments

  • Student Research Habits
  • How the Library Can Help
  • Sample Assignments

Assignments from LCC Faculty

  • Assignment Ideas Assignment ideas from faculty survey and interviews.
  • Case of the White Widow Spider Sarah Steinhour, biology faculty
  • English 122 Media / Information Literacy Essay Barb Clauer, English faculty
  • Textbook Critique Matthew Thicke, history faculty
  • Child Development Research Project Danielle Savory, child development faculty
  • Nursing Teach-Back Assignment Lori Orr, nursing faculty
  • Visual Sociology Photo Essay Jean Ramirez, sociology faculty

Thanks to LCC faculty for sharing assignment ideas. Contact us if you have an assignment idea to contribute.

Assignment Repositories

  • Information Literacy Toolkit - Assignments (U of Texas) Assignments to teach information literacy such as annotated bibliographies and research logs.
  • Community of Online Research Assignments An open access resource for faculty and librarians.
  • Faculty Assignment Ideas (Buena Vista University) Assignment ideas for a variety of disciplines.
  • Term Paper Alternatives (King's College) Ideas for information-based assignments.

Media Literacy Teaching Tools

  • Factitious A game for testing your skill at identifying fake and misleading news stories.
  • Web Literacy for Fact Checkers An open textbook written by Mike Caulfield that teaches web media literacy.
  • News Literacy Project Lesson plans and activities to help students become smart, active consumers of the news.
  • Faculty Toolkit for Evaluating Sources Videos, handouts, and lessons developed by librarians at Portland Community College to teach source evaluation.
  • SIFT Course Self-paced online course created by Michael Caufield to teach how to SIFT (Stop, Investigate the Source, Find Better Coverage, and Trace Claims, Quotes, and Media to the Original Context) more... less... This course shows you how to fact and source-check in five lessons, taking about 30 minutes apiece. The entire online curriculum is two and a half to three hours.

Revise Your Assignment Handout

Students struggle to:

  • get started with their research
  • find a topic
  • find and evaluate sources

Assignment handouts help students meet these challenges and are important when students seek help from librarians and tutors.

  • Planning Checklist: Research Assignments Use this checklist to plan or revise research assignments. Adapted from a handout from Maricopa Community College.
  • Transparent Assignments Revise your assignment by applying the transparency framework (purpose, task, criteria).
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  • Last Updated: May 30, 2023 2:56 PM
  • URL: https://libguides.lcc.edu/assignments

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Research Assignment Ideas

Research paper.

Based on Chapter 7 and the Appendices in this book:

D’Angelo, B. J., Jamieson, S., Maid, B. M., & Walker, J. R. (Eds.). (2017). Information literacy: Research and collaboration across disciplines . The WAC Clearinghouse ; University Press of Colorado.

  Full Assignment Description For Students .DOC (including 4 mini assignments)

Assignment Timeline

  • Research Proposal (due week 8)
  • annotated bibliography (due week 10)
  • Outline and Draft #1 (first half paper) (due week 11)
  • Outline and Draft #2 (second half of paper) (due week 12) 
  • Required Peer Review (week 13)
  • Final Paper due (due week 15)

Help Guides for Students

  • Choosing Topics & Search Tips
  • Annotated Bibliographies
  • Citation Resources
  • Writing with Sources
  • Peer Review Checklist for students

Assignment Ideas from other Libraries

These assignment ideas target and demonstrate student learning in specific skills without requiring an annotated bibliography or full paper. 

  • Rutgers University Library Guide : 5 assignment descriptions with learning objectives for assignments that can be easily adapted to different source types and target the searching or critical thinking aspects of a traditional paper.
  • Kings College Library Guide: 11 assignment idea descriptions with a wide variety of source types.
  • Designing Research Assignments  (Columbia College): a comprehensive guide with tips, common assignment struggles for students, and assignment ideas,
  • Portland State University Library Toolkit : 10 assignment ideas with lesson plans and worksheets you can copy and save.   

Technology-Focused Alternatives

Instead of a written paper, consider one of these alternatives which demonstrates technology and computer software skills as well as information searching and source use.

Source: Harvard’s Creative & Digital Assignments Guide

Webpage or Wiki (G3, G5)

Sample Assignment:  Create a webpage on a narrow topic relevant to the course. Begin by conducting research that informs the development of the web page content. Then write an introduction to the topic and include links to major sites, e-journals, discussion lists, and newsgroups. Write a brief paper explaining your choice of sites included on the website.   (The instructor may also want students to include a brief bibliography of important print resources available in the library.)  

Purpose : Students learn to select, evaluate, and organize electronic resources in order to communicate information on a researched topic.

Wikipedia Assignment Guide for Educators

Note: Blackboard has a Wiki option built in the Tools Section

Infographic (G4, G5, G6)

Students create an infographic meant to persuade or inform a specific, identified audience. Students also submit a list of references used and an explanation for design choices which reflect an understanding of the information creation process and the infographic format. 

Easy, Free Online Tools: Piktochart Canva

Multimedia Resource (G3, G4, G5)

Students create a video, podcast episode, Prezi presentation , or other multimedia product and write a reflection paper detailing the research process and decisions related to the format selected based on the intended audience with a bibliography of sources used.

Learning Objectives

Each outcome comes from one of three authoritative sources in information literacy. Create a small assignment or class activity that focuses on a specific skill or combines multiple skills into a larger project or assignment.

Global Learning Outcomes

G3: Integrated Disciplinary Knowledge G4: Critical Thinking/Creative Problem Solving G5: Communicative Fluency G6: Analytical Fluency

Information Literacy Outcomes

Creating and disseminating information (g3, g5).

1.1 Students are able to articulate the traditional and emerging processes of information creation and dissemination in a particular discipline (B).

1.2 Students recognize that authoritative content may be packaged formally or informally and may include sources of all media types (B).

1.3 Students are able to monitor the value that is placed upon different types of information formats in different contexts (B).

1.4 Students articulate that their information creation choices impact the purposes of the information product and the message it conveys (B).

Finding Sources & Research Process (G4)

2.1 Students are able to locate general information sources to increase familiarity with a topic (A).

2.2 Students are able to use library research tools and indicators of authority to determine the credibility of sources (A).

2.3 Students are able to locate physical resources found in the library or through the library’s electronic resources (A).

2.4 Students value persistence, adaptability, and flexibility in the research process (B).

2.5 Students seek multiple perspectives during information gathering (B).

Authority & Evaluating Sources (G4)

3.1 Students are able to make a preliminary evaluation of the information resources found to ascertain their appropriateness to the information need (A).

3.2 Students are able to determine reliability, accuracy, validity, authority, timeliness, and point-of-view or bias of information found (A).

3.3 Students are able to define different types of authority, such as subject expertise (e.g., scholarship), societal position (e.g., public office or title), or personal experience (e.g., participating in a historic event) (B).

3.4 Students are able to identify the purpose and audience of possible resources (such as scholarly vs. popular vs. professional) (A).

3.5 Students can identify the sponsor, organization, or institution that provides support for a source (C).

3.6 Students are able to distinguish between primary and secondary sources and how each would be used in a discipline (A).

Citing Sources & Information Ethics (G3, G4)

4.1 Students are aware of the legal and ethical use of information resources (B).

4.2 Students value the skills, time, and effort needed to produce knowledge (B).

4.3 Students know what bibliographic information is needed to cite a source (B).

4.4 Students are able to find documentation guidelines for various documentation styles (B).

4.5 Students are able to convert bibliographic information into style format for a particular discipline (B).

Synthesizing and Using Sources (G3, G4, G5)

5.1 Students are able to summarize or compare and contrast main ideas found in information resources (A). 5.2 Students take responsibility for critically evaluating and explaining a sources’ authority to one’s audience when stating and standing by their claims (C). 5.3 Students identify the contribution that particular articles, books, and other scholarly pieces make to disciplinary knowledge (B). 5.4 Students can summarize the changes in scholarly perspective over time on a particular topic within a specific discipline (B). 5.5 Students recognize that a given scholarly work may not represent the only or even the majority perspective on an issue (B). 5.6 Students are able to develop a general thesis statement for their topic and to refine that topic to a manageable focus (A). 5.7 Students are able to synthesize the information in the resources found and express the information in their own words (A).

A) ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education B) ACRL Framework for Information Literacy C) Carrick Enterprises Threshold Achievement Test for Information Literacy

Journal articles about teaching Writing & Research

Armstrong, J. (2010). Designing a writing intensive course with information literacy and critical thinking learning outcomes. Reference Services Review, 38 (3), 445-457. http://dx.doi.org.cuw.ezproxy.switchinc.org/10.1108/00907321011070928

Bankert, D. A., & Van Vuuren, M. S. (2008). Stranger in a strange land: The undergraduate in the academic library- A collaborative pedagogy for Undergraduate Research. CEA Forum , 37 (1), 1.

Crist, C., Duncan, S., & Bianchi, L. (2017). Incorporation of cross-disciplinary teaching and a Wiki research project to engage undergraduate students to develop information literacy, critical thinking, and communication skills. Journal of Food Science Education, 16 (3), 81–91. https://doi.org/10.1111/1541-4329.12111

Mackey, T., & Jacobson, T. (2004). Integrating information literacy in lower- and upper-level courses: Developing scalable models for higher education. The Journal of General Education, 53 (3/4), 201-224.

Becky, R. L., Bach, P., & Hong, L. (2019). Learning to evaluate sources: Comparing teaching modalities and student outcomes. Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 19 (2), 233-252. http://dx.doi.org.cuw.ezproxy.switchinc.org/10.1353/pla.2019.0014  

  • Apply to UVU

Research Assignment Ideas

Assignment ideas.

  • Sample research synthesis worksheet (University of Northern Colorado)
  • Sample article analysis worksheet (University of Northern Colorado)
  • Create a short annotated bibliography on a topic
  • Find an article in American Psychologist and evaluate it.
  • Find a book on a topic and evaluate it.
  • Create a citation for a specific article.
  • Create a short bibliography on a topic.
  • Fact check a Wikipedia article. Not only does this assignment require research, it also teaches important lessons about the quality of information found online.
  • Create a grant proposal for a project in your discipline. A good proposal will include a literature review, justification, budget, impact, etc.
  • Create a research guide on a topic for other students that includes books, articles, and quality websites.
  • Nominate someone or a group for a Nobel Prize (choose the prize most appropriate for your class) and justify the nomination.
  • Create a problem scenario for your class; this could be a disease to diagnose for a health class, an engineering problem, or a case study. Students would need to justify their solutions with actual data and research.

Assignments Using Archives

  • Using the student newspaper archive , have students trace the development of how Utah Valley University has addressed challenges such as parking, student diversity, engaged learning, tuition, and others. 
  • Have students select an artifact from the Sutherland Archives and research its history and meaning. Our collection currently holds opium boxes, samurai swords, and a jade club. 
  • Have students select an image from our photograph collections as a starting point for a research project on local, technological, or social history.
  • Ask students to analyze the advertisements in the newspaper collections. How do they reflect changes in advertising, gender politics, or popular culture?
  • Using our oral history collections as a model, have students create their own oral histories of fellow students, friends, or family. The theme and subject possibilities are endless.
  • Using materials from our nineteenth century materials (letters, photos, diaries, maps, and so on), have students create short documentaries about Utah's pioneer period. 

Discussion Questions

  • When do you know you have trustworthy information?
  • What makes a good research question?
  • Evaluate a journal to determine its scholarly value.
  • What are some common problems with citation?
  • What are some things you would look for when evaluating a source?
  • Why are citations important?
  • Why is it important to use scholarly sources? Why can't I just use Google or Wikipedia?
  • Why use library databases and not just Google?

In-Class Activities

  • Give students a list of articles and have the class create citations for them
  • Clicker (or phone poll) activity
  • Bring in citation list from assignments and have students peer review citations
  • Have students brainstorm topics and keywords

Instructional Designer

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Sample Academic Research Assignments

There are many ways for students to learn from the findings of their academic research. What follows is a sampling of possibilities, and librarians are always happy to work with you to create new assignments.

Abstract or Executive Summary of a scholarly article : Students are asked to read a scholarly article and write an abstract or executive summary of it, including the author’s thesis, argument, evidence, and conclusions.

Anatomy of a Research Paper: Students conduct the research but do not actually write the paper (for your class):

  • clearly define topic
  • annotated bibliography of useful sources
  • outline of paper
  • thesis statement
  • opening paragraph and summary
  • present research findings to the class

Annotated Bibliography: A selected list with annotations describing and evaluating as well as explaining the relevance of these sources.

Biographical Sketch: Students present a brief sketch of the author of a significant work of literature or history.

Briefing Paper: Students select a current problem and prepare a summary of the main issues involved and the proposed solutions, including the strengths and weaknesses of each solution. Students may argue for the solution they think is best.

Campaign Speech: Similar to the Briefing Paper, but students take a position and write a campaign speech to persuade voters to support that position.

Compare Reference Sources: To facilitate interdisciplinary understanding, students research one topic in specialized reference sources covering a number of academic perspectives: Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 as discussed in the fields of economics, education, history, law and sociology, for example.

Contemporary Conditions: Students write a brief two to three page statement on the social, ethical and political conditions contemporary to the major literary or historical work under study. This assignment provides context for subsequent reading and study and integrates a limited number of both general and specialized reference tools.

Contemporary Reception: Students collect and summarize book reviews of an important work. This assignment requires students to use a specific research tool (book review indexes) for the time the original work was published.

Credibility of a Course Reading: Students write an evaluative essay drawing on book reviews, biographical information, discussion and their own analysis.

Cultural Context: Students in an international politics class first research another country and then watch the political news of the world through the eyes of someone in that country. Class projects are can be prepared as diaries, letters, editorials, speeches, posters, interviews or any other creative method.

Encyclopedia/Wikipedia Article: Students write or update an encyclopedia article, including a list of references OR students select a stub (placeholder for a topic) from Wikipedia and write an entry based on Wikipedia’s guidelines.

Newspaper Article/ Letter to the Editor: Research a contemporary or historical event and then write an “objective” story OR students may choose to write a letter to the editor reacting to an event.

The Practical Assignment: In a course on animal behavior for biology and psychology majors, students were asked to design an experiment in the field of animal behavior nutrition that proposed a research question so meaningful that a government agency or research institute might provide funding. Students identified an appropriate funding agency, figured out the costs involved, and submitted a proposal describing the project with a supporting annotated bibliography. Groups of students acted as reviewers for the proposals.

Top Ten List: Develop a list of the most important, under-recognized or over-rated people, events or creations within a particular field of study and justify your selections.

Understand Primary Sources: Students compare primary and secondary sources on the same topic, list and annotate both types of materials.

Additional Assignments:

  • Compare print and Web resources
  • Create a handbook or research manual
  • Create a poster, display or exhibit
  • Create a slide show, presentation or demonstration
  • Follow research trends
  • Maintain a research log
  • Update a review article
  • Write a book or film review
  • Write field notes
  • Write a literature review

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Designing Research Assignments: Student Research Needs

  • Student Research Needs
  • Assignment Guidelines
  • Assignment Ideas
  • Scaffolding Research Assignments
  • BEAM Method

Video: What Students Say About Research and Writing Assignments

Assume Minimal Research Skills

All students need an introduction to research skills including clarification of:

  • Terminology within the discipline. The library's discipline-specific online and print encyclopedias and dictionaries can provide context for new concepts and ideas.   
  • Types of resources appropriate for the task such as books, government documents, scholarly articles, statistics, primary sources, etc. A research starting point depends on the type of information that will best address the research problem.  
  • Library tools specific to the discipline. While the library has interdisciplinary research databases, students should also be aware of any databases that are focused on the subject they are studying.   
  • Research journals vs. popular vs. trade journals. Many students cannot identify scholarly articles until they have seen and discussed examples of them in comparison to those from popular magazines.  
  • Citation and documentation style. Familiarize students with the style guide appropriate to their subject area.

Research Studies on Search Behaviour

Centre for Information Behaviour and the Evaluation of Research (CIBER). (2008). Information behaviour of the researcher of the future: The literature on young people and their information behaviour . London: University College London.

Study overturns the common assumption that the ‘Google Generation' is the most web-literate: they rely heavily on search engines, view rather than read, and do not possess the critical and analytical skills to assess the information that they find on the web.

Duke, L.M. & Asher, A.D. (2012). College libraries and student culture: What we now know . Chicago, American Library Association.

Head, A. J. & Einsenberg, M. B.(2011). Finding context: What today's college students say about conducting research in the digital age . Project Information Literacy Progress Report. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Information iSchool.

Students experience significant challenges in finding relevant information that provides context for their topic.The first step of finding context occurs when students are gathering background information and tapping into complex information landscapes and students find it the most difficult part of the research process. Selecting and narrowing a topic is part of “big picture context” and finding and accessing relevant information is part of “information-gathering context.” This research demonstrates the problem of isolating information that is accurate, well-researched, and at the right level of complexity for the reader.

Head, A. & Eisenberg, M. (2009). Lessons learned: How college students seek information in the digital age . Project Information Literacy Progress Report. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Information iSchool.

Taylor, A. (2012). A study of the Information Search Behavior of the Millennial Generation . Information Research Today 17 (1).

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Assignment Ideas

On this page, you’ll find ideas for scaffolded assignments that make it easy for students to learn to love doing research, one step at a time. Foundational information literacy concepts like where to begin, how to develop a question, how to join the scholarly conversation, how to critically evaluate sources, and how to cite sources, can be overlooked when they’re wrapped up in the larger process of researching and writing a long paper. Shorter exercises give us a chance to encourage students to hone each research-related skill individually.

Talk with  your librarian  and see what makes sense in the context of your class. Your librarian will be able to answer questions and brainstorm, help you design an assignment, walk your students through an assignment, and more.

How to Begin Doing Research

  • Dissect a scholarly journal article (or a book chapter): How did the author organize their article?  What kinds of sources did they use? Might any of their sources be useful to you?
  • Encyclopedias and other reference works can help you find and develop ideas for a research topic.  Go to a discipline-specific encyclopedia and search for an essay related to your topic.  Probably, you will need to think broadly about your topic in order to find something about it. Once you’ve found an essay, describe how it could help you work more on this topic. [NOTE to faculty:  Our Reference Guide recommends alternative online reference sources.

Top Tips for Starting Your Research

  • Watch Top Tips for Starting Your Research .  Then, think of a time when you did research on your own.  Share one tip that you would recommend adding to the Top Tips video.
  • Create a five-step research plan for incoming Midd Kids. For example, “Step 1: Collect a handful of topics to research…” Follow your own research plan and adjust as necessary.
  • Help students choose a research topic. First, students answer a prompt: What did you imagine you’d be able to learn about in this class? Students then pair up and ask one another questions: What strikes you as most interesting about those topics? Finally, each student selects one topic, writes a strong statement about it, and lists a few arguments that they expect to find in their research. The students can use these arguments as subtopics for an exploratory literature search. [Thanks to Professor Hector Vila for the idea!]
  • Help students warm up to a longer research paper. Students record a two-minute oral presentation. The presentation must answer essential questions about a narrow topic. For example, a student might choose a historical figure and explain who the person was and why they were important. [Thanks to Professor Sarah Stroup for the idea!]

Develop a Research Question

  • Dissect a scholarly journal article or book chapter: What question did the authors ask? What is their answer?
  • Draft a research question for an imaginary research paper (you won’t actually write the paper).
  • Pick a topic for an imaginary research paper.  (You won’t actually write the paper.)  Then, revise your topic by following the advice we provide in Top Tips for Starting Your Research .  Describe how and why you revised your topic.

handwritten letter

  • Select specific online primary sources (especially from Middlebury’s collection of over 14,000 rare books, archives, and more ) in order to model document analysis and historical thinking through directed, specific prompts, like “Who created this?” and “What questions does it raise?” Ask students to identify questions for further investigation, and offer strategies for how to answer them.
  • Give students a dissertation by a well-known scholar and have them find related articles and books by the same author. Then, have students discuss how the author revised their research question over time.
  • Have students generate questions about the historical events that provide the setting for a literary work, then try to find answers to the questions. Afterwards, invite the students to reflect on the process of using a question to guide their research.

Join the Scholarly Conversation

  • Dissect a scholarly journal article (or book chapter): Identify one outside source that the author of your article refers to several times. Does the author of your article agree with it, or do they disagree?  Pick a few specific passages in which the author refers to and agrees/disagrees with the outside source.
  • Research a topic, then write 2-3 sentences of agreement (or disagreement) with one of the sources you’ve found.
  • Pick a single primary source (from our collections or beyond). Ask students to analyze the source, read it closely, and summarize it. Then, ask them to find 2-3 primary and secondary sources that support, contradict, or deepen their understanding of the original source. 
  • Have all students read the same article, then write a commentary about some element in the article about which they feel strongly. The commentary should be concise and well supported, and students should be assured that if they take a critical stance, that doesn’t mean rejection, merely critical evaluation. Students should post their commentary to a class discussion board, then thoughtfully respond to at least one other opinion (activate a setting requiring users post before seeing replies). [Thanks to Professor Eric Moody and librarian Wendy Shook for the idea!]
  • Show students that the creation of information is a process, not something that occurs at a single point in time: Have students analyze how an event is written about over the course of severalyears, tracing the progression from newspapers to magazines to scholarly articles.
  • Have students trace the development of a medical treatment. Include a discussion of how current research has changed earlier medical practice or scientific understanding.

The book They Say, I Say provides practical advice and examples that can help students learn how to enter the scholarly conversation.

Evaluate Sources

  • Have students watch an instructional video about scholarly authority , then analyze the coverage of a topic by investigating different types of materials (popular vs. scholarly, primary vs. secondary). Additionally, students could describe the goals of each form of writing.
  • Find a popular article in a magazine or newspaper article that is based on scholarly research, and have students track down the sources that were used. Students should describe how well the facts are presented, and whether important findings were misrepresented. This assignment might work best for topics related to science, health and public policy.
  • Find a persuasive editorial that does not cite sources for its claims. Have students look for evidence, then rewrite their own version of the editorial with sources acknowledged.
  • Choose one book from your course reading list. Have students find and read 2-3 reviews of the work, then write a response to one of the reviews.
  • Choose an article that has been heavily critiqued by scholars. First, have students read the article and submit their own response. Then, have students research the article to and respond to what the critics have said. Bonus: Have students reflect on what they learned about evaluating scholarly sources.
  • Assign an article that was based on industry-funded research (common topics might include smoking, obesity, health effects of particular drugs or products). Have students check the author’s affiliations and note the funding source for the research. For background, have students read articles that discuss industry-funded research. Example: Coca-Cola Funds Scientists Who Shift Blame for Obesity Away From Bad Diets .

Cite Sources

  • Have students compile an annotated bibliography on a topic that they’re investigating for a research paper. Be sure that in each annotation they describe how they might use the source. You may wish to direct students to our Annotated Bibliographies Guide , and our Citation Guide.
  • Have students take the Tutorial outside of class, and ask each student to pick one question to discuss in class. (Alternatively, discuss all of the questions that the students answered incorrectly.) 
  • Have students take the Tutorial outside of class. Do not check the results, and don’t ask students to share. Instead, discuss all of the answers. (Bonus if you take the tutorial and get some answers wrong; this can serve as a useful discussion point too.)
  • Put students in small groups and have each group take the Tutorial during class. Then, as a class, review all of the answers together.
  • In a first-year seminar, you might pair the AIT with a ceremony around the class’s virtual signing of the pledge.

Citation for People Who Hate Citation

  • Watch Citation for People Who Hate Citation and write one question that you would add to Middlebury’s Academic Integrity Tutorial.
  • Do some backwards-engineering of the in-text citations (or footnotes/endnotes) in a scholarly journal article. Which sources seem to have formed the foundation for the main idea that the author presents? Does the author provide at least one source that suggests the existence of a counter-argument?

Research Within a Genre

  • Give students a scholarly article from your discipline, then ask them to identify its key elements and compare them to those of a magazine article.
  • Literature Review: Have students read the literature review section of an assigned journal article. Then have them write a literature review with bibliography on another topic.
  • Have the students read a critical analysis of a theatrical performance. Have students describe the types of sources cited and how the sources are used.

Special Collections & Archives

  • Contact us at [email protected] to learn about curated primary sources on your course topic, exhibits, class meetings, mini lectures, and more.
  • Introduce students to the history of the book, the dissemination of text, materiality in a digital environment, and other hands-on, creative experiences.
  • Help students search the  Internet Archive  at Middlebury for digital copies of items in our collections including photographs and films, unique manuscript items, letters, maps, Middlebury College yearbooks and newspapers, College documents, and more.
  • Give students experience navigating finding aids for archival and manuscript collections in  ArchivesSpace , our online Special Collections inventory.

Brainstorm with a librarian

When you’re to start planning a research workshop, contact your library liaison . Or, chat with any librarian at the Research Desk!

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Teaching Research to First-Year Students: Assignment Ideas

  • Student Perspective
  • Advice for Instructors
  • Assignment Ideas
  • Assignment Prompts
  • Teach Research with the Library
  • Library Instruction Sessions
  • Information Literacy
  • Faculty Development Materials

The ideas on this page are meant to inspire assignment prompts. (If you're looking for prompts, consult the Assignment Prompts tab.) We have gathered a number of suggestions and grouped them by various learning goals. In addition to the ideas on this page, you might also consider the assignment ideas we've generated for both u pper level courses and WRITL courses . Many of those ideas could be modified to meet student learning outcomes for first year students. Finally, we highly encourage you to consult with your library liaison (or any librarian of your choice!) to further develop these or other assignment ideas.

If you are teaching to the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education , we have tagged each assignment with its corresponding frame(s).

Gain Familiarity with the Library as a Space

The Gustavus Library is a popular study and gathering space for students. We have study spaces that fit a variety of preferences and needs, ranging from private rooms to the super quiet third floor to group study tables. Here are some ideas to get students into the building itself and help them feel like the library is their space. The more familiar the students are with the space, the more comfortable they'll feel using library resources. 

Collaborative Library Tour : Assign students to investigate various spots in the library, such as the Reference Desk, relaxation room, General Collection, Archives, Young Adult collection, etc. During class, have students walk around the building with each group giving a brief overview of the spaces. Contact your library liaison for ideas on specific places to tour.  Frame(s): Searching as Strategic Exploration.

Goldilocks Goes to the Library : Have students try out three different study spaces on the library's three floors. Prompt them to write a reflection on what each spot was like, which was their favorite, and why. You can also expand this to have students explore more of the campus. Prompt students to “take a photo of a place you like to study” or “your favorite writing spot” and write a paragraph about it. The idea is to help students be thoughtful about their choices and be exposed to choices other students make as they study and write.  Frame(s):   Information Creation as a Process; Searching as Strategic Exploration.

Secrets of the library:  in pairs, assign students something unusual in the library to examine and report back to the class: for example, the SCRB (special collections and rare books room), old issues of  Ladies Home Journal  or  Life Magazine , the zine collection, the relaxation room, old college yearbooks, etc. This will involve seeking directions from student staff at the information desk or asking reference librarians clarifying questions. This activity could then become the basis of a short oral presentation. Contact your library liaison for more ideas.  Frame(s): Searching as Strategic Exploration.

You Are Here:  Ask students to spend half an hour exploring the library, then write a short reflection on how it compares to libraries they’ve encountered in the past.  Frame(s):  Searching as Strategic Exploration

Ask Around: Have students ask an upper class student about their experiences doing research at Gustavus and report back to the class.  Frame(s):  Searching as Strategic Exploration

Work with Sources

Students benefit from guided exposure to the basic formats in which scholars communicate . They need guidance learning how to work with sources. Here are some suggestions.

Analyzing Arguments:  Choose or have students bring in an opinion piece related to course content. Ask students to analyze the piece: what is the author’s purpose (what do they want the reader to believe)? What claims do they make? What evidence do they provide to support those claims? Do they address counter-claims or not? Finally, do you agree with the author? Why or why not? This could be done in small groups in class or as a take-home assignment. Ask students to track down information about the evidence the author has provided. Have students write about or present in class how what they found affected their take on the original argument. Frame(s):  Authority is Constructed and Contextual; Information Creation as a Process; Research as Inquiry

Your Voice Matters:  Ask students to write down a short statement of opinion about something related to the course and/or something in the news. Have a discussion in which they compare their ideas to those of other students. Then practice reading laterally by searching the web for sources that address the issue. Map out the range of approaches to the issue. Have students return to their statement and revise it in light of the exploration and class discussion, affirming that meaning is something that is made and students have a role to play in making it. Depending on the issue, this may also be an opportunity to help students identify trustworthy sources and discuss what makes them trustworthy.  Frame(s):  Authority is Constructed and Contextual; Information Creation as a Process; Research as Inquiry; Searching as Strategic Exploration

Speed Date a Book or Article:  New students tend to be unfamiliar with how scholarly sources are structured. In class, have them examine various academic sources. Ask them how they would quickly find out the main point of the source. Be sure to highlight features in articles such as abstracts, where they'd find the main argument and conclusion, the role of a literature review, etc. For books, include additional features such as the table of contents and index.  Frame(s): Information Creation as a Process; R esearch as Inquiry

Comparing News Sources and Scientific Articles : Have students examine a news article that discusses a recent scientific study. Then have students locate the study itself. Ask them to evaluate how well the news source relayed the main points of the study or if there were any questionable claims or interpretations. This also helps students understand differences between sources and the role of audience.  Frame(s):  Authority is Constructed and Contextual; Information Creation as a Process

Evaluate Sources: Have students find a range of sources about a single topic related to the course. Ask them to come up with criteria they would use to evaluate each source, then discuss each source together as a class. In addition to helping you gain an understanding of the criteria students use to evaluate sources, it also allows you to model ways to evaluate information.  Frame(s):  Authority is Constructed and Contextual; Information Creation as a Process; Information Has Value

No One Right Answer: Ask students to compare two things that have not been compared before; have them use secondary sources to inform their analysis and remind them that they won't be able to look up "the right answer." This exercise helps them think about their own voice in analysis as well as exposing them to the complexities and nuances of inquiry.  Frame(s):  Authority is Constructed and Contextual; Research as Inquiry

Behind the News:  Ask students to analyze something that happened within the last few weeks using secondary sources that provide background. This gives students experience searching for secondary sources. Students also learn how to explore and establish contexts and develop a more inquisitive approach to the news.  Frame(s):  Authority is Constructed and Contextual; Information Creation as a Process; Research as Inquiry

Historical Interview: Have the class prepare an interview for a historical figure (or a contemporary one who is unavailable). To generate useful questions, students will need to become familiar with the person's life and work and understand its significance. They could then write their own imaginary responses based on available evidence.  Frame(s):  Research as Inquiry; Searching as Strategic Exploration

Trace Facts: Have students trace a finding or fact from course readings to its original discovery and dissemination. Have them analyze the contemporary reception of the "fact" - was it challenged, debated, hailed or reviled? Was it recognized to be significant? What it newsworthy enough to be covered by the popular press?  Frame(s):  Authority is Constructed and Contextual; Research as Inquiry

Learn about Library Resources & Academic Research

Students also need to start seeing the Library as a place that provides the resources to help them do research well. These exercises and ideas encourage students to explore the wealth of information - and help - available to them. These ideas also provide a solid foundation that helps students conduct more sophisticated research.

Reference Desk Visit: Have students reflect on any inquiry they are conducting for the course. Is there a common question related to the course that they are investigating? Maybe they are working on a research project. Have them come up with a few questions, which could be as broad as: "How do I know I've found the right information for my topic?" "Where should I be searching that I haven't yet already?" "How do I know these sources are appropriate for this work?" Then send students to the reference desk to talk with a librarian. Frame(s): Research as Inquiry; Searching as Strategic Exploration.

Model Research: In class, demonstrate how you would research a topic that you're not familiar with (as students will not be necessarily familiar with course content). Discuss how you develop search terms, where you search for information, how you develop search strategies, and what you do when you hit a roadblock. Alternatively, model for them how they conduct inquiry into a class topic. We recommend demonstrating library resources such as searching the catalog and databases. You can also bring them into the library for an instruction session where the librarian will lead them through conducting research.  Frame(s): Research as Inquiry; Searching as Strategic Exploration.

Research Log or Reflection: Encourage students to submit a research reflection or log along with any research project they complete for class. Ask them to discuss their research process, the sources they used, any issues they had, and how they addressed those issues. Prompt them to reflect on how well they think they did in terms of conducting secondary research and what they would do differently in the future.  Frame(s): Research as Inquiry; Searching as Strategic Exploration.

Databases v Internet: Have students conduct a search on the same topic on the internet and in an article database via the library's website. Discuss the results of their search in terms of what kinds of sources they found and the likely quality of those sources.  Frame(s): Authority is Constructed and Contextual; Information Creation as a Process; Searching as Strategic Exploration.

Find Full Text:  Provide students with four or five citations to various types of sources (book, journal article, newspaper article, edited volume, etc.). Ask students to track down the hard copies of the sources, which gives them practice in utilizing a variety of library resources, as well as helps them develop perseverance. Discuss what they found, how they found it, and what issues they had. You can also discuss the purpose of various formats. If students encountered paywalls, discussion can also center on the commodification of information and open access movements.  Frames(s):  Information Creation as a Process; Information Has Value

Information Creation

Students also play a role in creating information . Try some of these prompts to get them to think through the issues related to seeing themselves as participants with active voices in the information landscape.

Me, Myselves, and I: Ask students to create a photo diary of a day in their life as a student. Prompts might direct students to address particular questions about classes and down time and what their residential space is like. These can be the basis of a conversation about how they are managing their lives in a new place. Have them reflect on how what they share with the class about their college student identity might differ from what they post to social media. This helps them to think about identity formation and how it intersects with different audiences. This could then lead to a discussion of rhetorical principles – how do you craft your self-presentation for a particular purpose and audience – or could be the basis of a discussion about how social media platforms are influencing our lives and society at large.  Frame(s):   Authority is Constructed and Contextual; Information Creation as a Process; Information Has Value

Collaborative Lecture: Have the students work in groups to develop a collaborative lecture on a topic related to the course content. Ask them to gather information and compile it during class. Students develop practice in gathering and evaluating sources, as well as putting those sources in conversation with others, and exploring their own role in deciding how to organize information for presentation.  Frame(s): Research as Inquiry; Scholarship as Conversation; Searching as Strategic Exploration.

Timeline: Have students develop a snapshot of a year that is significant for your course. Have groups report on politics, the arts, science and technology, social issues, or whatever categories make sense for your course. Students learn how to make choices about what events are significant and making choices about how and what information to present.  Frame(s): Research as Inquiry; Scholarship as Conversation;  Searching as Strategic Exploration.

Useful Links for Students

The Library's website has a number of useful links about our services and spaces. We encourage you to share these with students.

  • Research Help Hours and methods for contacting a librarian for research help
  • Finding Books on the Shelf Students struggling with locating physical books in the building. Call numbers are complex (and new) - this guide breaks down the steps of tracking down books in our building
  • Library FAQs This guide covers a lot of common questions that all students - especially first years - have. Direct your students to this guide and encourage them to explore it on their own.
  • Doing Research Provides a great overview of the research skills and mindsets required for college-level research, as well as resources and information for students to further develop those skills.
  • Research Guides Research guides are incredibly useful, providing students with recommended resources and methods for specific disciplines and courses.
  • A Guide to the Library This in-depth guide contains a wealth of information about our library in particular and conducting research in general, including information for students about how knowledge is created and shared.
  • Fact Checking This guide provides an excellent overview of how and why to fact check.
  • Fighting Fake News Use the resources on this page to help students understand the complexities of discussions about fake news, including ways to evaluate claims.
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  • Last Updated: Dec 6, 2023 2:20 PM
  • URL: https://libguides.gustavus.edu/LibraryFTS

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