Skip to Main Content

Best Practices For Research Assignments: Effective Assignments

Problem Areas

“No Internet Sites” or “Must Be In Print”

Every year we add more items to our Internet options and remove them from the print collection.  In many cases the only way for students to access scholarly journals is through the Internet.  Giving them these types of instructions can confuse students as to what they are allowed to use.

The Fact Finding Mission

While it might seem like fun for students to find obscure pieces of trivia this well-intentioned type of assignment quickly becomes a frustrating introduction for everyone. Students have to sift through an overwhelming number of sources and have a difficult time associating these same resources with future needs. Reference librarians will end up doing the work and ultimately answering the questions (even if you tell students not to ask us).

The Mob Scene

An entire class looking for one piece of information, researching the same specific topic, or browsing through the stacks can be especially difficult when printed materials are involved. At its best this type of assignment leads to temporary problems of accessing materials that are checked out or need to be re-shelved. At its worst, library materials are stolen or damaged.

Recommend Sources to Students

Students will use the resources you suggest to them.  As you create your syllabus for the next semester, consider giving them suggestions about the best library databases for their project. 

For example, if you want them to use newspapers and magazines, suggest they use ProQuest.   If you wish they used more academic articles, suggest one for your subject. For example, if you know students will find what they need in JSTOR, suggest they use JSTOR.  They will take your suggestions because they know you are the expert on the subject.

If you want them to try a variety of databases, consider browsing the Subject Databases

The librarians are also happy to create course specific shortcut guides (LibGuides) for your class. The LibGuide will focus on the tools and sources ideal for your students. These are great if your students will pull from multiple subjects like education and biology.

If you have articles, books and webpages you wish them to consider you can create a folder in RefWorks and share it with the entire class. Ask a librarian how to set this up with RefWorks.

For Your Consideration

      Ways To Combat Problem Areas 


“No Internet Sites” or “Must Be In Print”--Make sure that students understand the difference between different types of resources.  Do you want them to use reference sources, academic/scholarly/peer review journals, news sources, books, or webpages?  Identify the type of sources you do want them to use and what you specifically do not want them to use.  Regardless of what format the information is in, encourage students to evaluate the quality and scholarly nature of their sources. Students can use our CARDS method to help.

The Fact Finding Mission--A focused information hunt based on specific reference sources may prove to be a useful introduction to research tools.  Reference librarians can help you tailor it to a topic related to the class research assignment for the semester. This will help students build a stronger connection between the library and their own research needs.  Reference librarians can also create LibGuides (when given advance notice) for your class. LibGuides can help students focus on the specific resources they should consider using.

The Mob Scene--For books and journal articles consider placing the materials on course reserves. 




Advice for Students

Writing a Paper? Try These 7 Research Tips