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Research Assignment Ideas

Research Paper

Students often benefit from instructors breaking up large assignments into smaller sections with feedback along the way (called scaffolding). This example research paper assignment is based on Chapter 7 and the Appendices in this book (available in Primo):

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.

Students submit 4 mini assignments before the final paper to scaffold the research & writing process (deadlines based on 15 week semester):

  • Research Proposal ( due week 8)
  • annotated bibliography (due week 10)
  • Outline and Draft #1 (first half paper)( due week 11)
  • Outline & Draft #2 (second half of paper)(due week 12) 

Required Peer Review (week 13)

Final Paper due (due week 15)

Unlike the typical research proposal, this mini assignment requires students to read background sources and complete preliminary research to effectively narrow their topic to a question that's researchable.

Students also identify an audience for their topic and why it's important.

To prepare for the annotated bibliography (the next step), students describe their library research strategy.

Because students took the time to carefully define their research question and audience, each annotation must include how the source will support the student's specific research question.

In addition, students must summarize and critically evaluate the source for quality.

For a paper over 5 pages long, it's best to require students submit sections of the paper with an outline of the section covered for instructor feedback.  

Require students to Peer-review their drafts for feedback, either during class or through Blackboard.

By carefully scaffolding the research, writing, and editing process, any major issues or mistakes have been addressed along the way. Student papers should be on-target, consistent quality, and easier to grade. Enjoy!

Assignment Examples

Instructions: Click on a section below to view a description of the assignment and relevant learning outcomes

Sample Assignment: Prepare an annotated bibliography about your chosen topic. Find a specified number of sources. e.g. five sources (books, scholarly articles, and/or Websites.) Write brief evaluative annotations. Each annotation must include:

  • a statement on how the source contributed to understanding of the topic.
  • an accurate, complete, and consistent use of a citation style , such as APA or MLA.

Learning Outcomes: 2.3, 2.5, 3.2, 3.3, 3.6, 4.4, 4.5, 5.1, 5.4, 5.7

Sample Assignment: Compare three sources of information about an event or topic.

  1. Locate an article on a specific event or topic from three different sources -Newspapers or Magazines; scholarly or research articles from a journal; Website information (National/International sites).
  2. Compare and contrast the information provided for the event/topic and present your findings as an essay or presentation.

The criteria for comparing sources should include checking for:

  • Accuracy of information presented;
  • Authority of the author/producer of information;
  • Objectivity of the information presented;
  • Currency or date information was presented or created;

Learning Objectives: 1.2, 1.3, 2.3, 3.2, 3.4, 4,4, 4.5, 5.1, 5.7

Sample Assignment: Trace the research on your topic over a time period of specified number of years. When, where, and how did information about your topic begin and develop? Search for information in specialized subject encyclopedias, reference sources, books and articles to determine how your topic has changed over this time period.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Develops skills in critical thinking, analysis, reading and writing.
  • Develops skills to evaluate information based on source.
  • Develops awareness of the process of scholarship and communication in a research topic or field.

Sample Assignment: Compare the search results found with two different search tools or Databases.

  1. Provide a clear statement of your research topic and your target audience.
  2. List keywords or subject terms you used for searching each search tool.
  3. List any filters you used to refine your results.
  4. Compare, describe and evaluate the first 10 results for each search tool.

Consider the following criteria when evaluating each item:

  • The audience of the source (academic, professional, or public)
  • The credibility of the source and the authority of it's creator/author 

Learning Outcomes: 2.3, 2.5, 3.4, 3.6

Sample Assignment: Select (or assign) a bibliography or review article written a number of years ago. Students will update that bibliography or review article with additional research studies published since the article. Students must explain briefly why the new publications which you added to the updated document were chosen.

Purpose: Introduces students to literature reviews and reference sources.  Provides practice in searching for up-to-date information from various sources.  Requires students to apply critical thinking and evaluative skills as they analyze, synthesize, and integrate the information they find.

Sample Assignment: Read two to three articles cited in a research paper.  Explain how each is related to the paper.  Also identify in what circumstances it is appropriate to cite other papers, and what different purposes the citations serve.

Purpose: Assists students in understanding the use of information resources in one’s writing, as well as the relationships between ideas presented in different sources.  Shows when it is appropriate to recognize the contributions of previous authors in the development of new work.

Assignment: Choose (or be assigned) a scholar/researcher to investigate.  Explore that person's career and ideas by locating biographical information, preparing a bibliography of the scholar’s writings, analyzing the reaction of the scholarly community to the researcher's work, and examining the scholarly network in which the scholar works.

Purpose: Introduces students to the use of biographical and bibliographical tools, and exposes them to examples of scholarly dialogue.

Technology-Focused Alternatives

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

Source: Harvard’s Creative & Digital Assignments Guide

Sample Assignment:  Create a web page on a narrow topic relevant to the course.  Begin by conducting research that informs 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

Students create an infographic meant to persuade or inform a specific, identified audience. Students also subject 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:

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 Outcomes by Focus

Open each tab to see a list of learning outcomes. Each outcome comes from one of three authoritative sources in information literacy. Create a small assignment or class activity which focuses on specific skill or combine 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

Instructions: Click on a section below to view relevant learning outcomes for different skills. 

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).

2.1 Students are able to locate general information sources to increase familiarity with 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).

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).

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).

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 the 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).

Recommended Resources

Library Guides

Here are some other excellent guides from academic libraries with ideas, tips, and templates for library assignments. 

Designing Research Assignments (Columbia College)  

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