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Designing Better Research Assignments

Dos and Don'ts of Research Assignments


  • Do invite a librarian to work with you and your class; a librarian can prepare a customized lesson around how to do research and help prepare students for their research assignment.
  • Do make sure to reinforce to your students that topics don't fail.  There aren't bad topics.
  • Do be specific with your assignment instructions. Instead of saying "No Wikipedia" or "Only scholarly sources", explain and demonstrate that research is an iterative process.  Discuss and examine different types of sources and how they can be useful at different stages during the assignment.
  • Do discuss the information cycle with your students.


  • Don't assign a library scavenger hunt as the only preparation for a research assignment. Decontextualized tasks trivialize the complexity of the research process and reinforce the perception that research is about basic and/or trivial tech skills instead of intellectual discovery.
  • Don't assume they know how to do research or that your students possess a basic research vocabulary.  For example, they might be unfamiliar with: journal, resource, database, citation, scholarly, peer-review, volume, issue, analysis, theory, method, quantitative, qualitative, etc.
  • Don't allow too little or too much choice in topic selection. Promote the idea that "Picking your topic IS research."
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