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Library Instruction: Research Assignment Tips

Effective Research Assignments

Our Recommendations:

What Works:

  • Make Sure Students Can Access What They Need
    • Ask a librarian to make sure the library has the resources you want your students to use
    • Ask a librarian to create a Library Guide to get your students to the best resources more quickly.
    • Work with course reserves to make sure all your students have equal access to the same resources.
  • Communicate Your Expectations Clearly
    • Assess the quality of the sources your students cite as part of their overall grades and explain clearly in your rubric how that evaluation will be made
    • Spell out your expectations regarding sources. Instead of asking for scholarly sources, for example, you could ask your students to "cite at least two peer-reviewed journal articles and two primary sources"
    • Explain terminology and provide background regarding scholarly publishing. What’s peer-review? What are some differences between scholarly books and journal articles? When should one consult popular news sources? What’s a primary source?
    • Clearly communicate which style manual is required
    • Include a policy on plagiarism in the assignment or syllabus and discuss the purposes of proper attribution. Discuss examples: "Does paraphrasing another author’s ideas require a citation?"
    • Provide examples of topics that are appropriate in scope for the assignment at hand, and provide feedback to individual students as they begin to develop and refine their topics
  • Let Us Help You
    • Meet with a librarian to review your research assignment. We're happy to offer suggestions
    • Request a research instruction session for your class or assignment
    • Encourage or require students to schedule a research appointment with a librarian
    • Remind students to visit the Library or message us for immediate research help

What Doesn't Work:

  • Scavenger Hunts
    • These types of assignments often require Library Staff to answer the same question or find the same book repeatedly, and the students only gain the experience of walking into the Library
    • If you want to do this type of assignment, please work with a Librarian on how to make it an effective learning experience for your students
  • Outdated or Untested Assignments
    • Assignments that use old database or resource names create considerable confusion for students
    • Test the assignment yourself. Can you find the kinds of sources required? Are you required to evaluate the sources you find?
    • Ask students for feedback on the assignment. Are they having problems finding relevant materials? Do they understand your expectations?
    • If the assignment is particularly demanding, consider dividing a single research project into multiple assignments (outline, draft, final draft), each one focusing on a different aspect of the research process.
  • Since many scholarly sources are available online, it can be confusing for students when “Internet” or “Web” sources are forbidden. It’s helpful to describe why certain sources (such as Wikipedia) may not be allowed
  • Make sure the resources required by the assignment are available to your students in the library or in library databases. You can also place hard-to-find required sources on course reserve

Berkeley Library. University of California (2018). Effective research assignments. Retrieved from

Robert W. Woodruff Library. Emory University. (2019). Creative effective research assignments. Retrieved from

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