Creating an Effective Library Research Assignment
Purpose of an effective
Preparing your students for your library
effective library research assignments
What is the purpose of
a library assignment for your course?
- strives to teach about the course content through
the use of outside resources found through library research
- leads to increased understanding of a subject
- leads to acquisition of skills needed to locate
information about a subject
- makes students aware of the variety of information
sources in your discipline
- teaches students to select and evaluate quality
information sources appropriate to their research topic
- reinforces habits of ethical scholarship including
citing sources and abiding by the Copyright Law
How can you prepare
your students for your assignment?
- Tell your students why they are doing this
assignment and what purpose it serves.
- If the assignment requires the use of specific
sources, give the students a list of them and make sure that
the Library has them.
- Schedule a customized library instruction session
with your Librarian who will teach your students the skills
necessary to effectively complete the research for your assignment.
What are the
characteristics of effective library research assignments?
1. The assignment is clear and students know
what you want them to learn and why.
- Make sure your students know what they are
supposed to do by stating your expected learning outcomes for
- Tell them what kinds of sources you expect
them to use.
- Give them a grading rubric to help them understand
your criteria for success.
- Put the assignment in writing.
2. Correct and unambiguous terminology
Familiarize your students with terms that you may
take for granted. To prevent student frustration:
- state the differences between magazines and
journals when there is a specific requirement for either or
- let your students know that the following terms
for journals are often used interchangeably: "scholarly
journals," "peer-reviewed journals," "research
journals," "professional journals."
- explain what you mean when you tell your students
to only use the Internet. Since all of our online databases
for finding articles are on the Internet, can your students
use these as well as Internet search engines (like Google or
Yahoo) to find their information? As you know, the type of information
found in each can be very different.
- explain what you mean when you tell their students
not to use the Internet. Are you including the Library's
online databases in this instruction?
- use the full and current titles of journals
3. There is a critical thinking component.
Design assignments that require your students to evaluate, analyze
and synthesize the information they find. Consult with your librarian
about designing an assignment that challenges them yet permits
them to acquire basic and more mechanical research skills.
4. Students are given opportunities for learning
the knowledge and skills needed.
Provide your students with the instruction they
need in your class or schedule an instruction session with your
- The library instruction session will be customized
for your assignment and is likely to include knowledge and skills
that are not acquired in other library instruction sessions,
such as those done for English courses.
- Do not assume that your students have the skills
necessary to complete your assignment successfully. Many of
our students do not adequately learn these skills in high school.
- Your students may in fact have the skills necessary
to do the assignment and may tell you this, but repetition can
reinforce concepts and can give them an opportunity to hone
5. Learning of knowledge and skills needed
for the assignment are assessed.
Besides assessing or grading the final product,
consider including these "checkpoints":
- First, check the knowledge and skills acquired
during your own session or the librarian's instruction session
about how to find the needed information. Do not assume they
"got it" just because they showed up. Work with your
librarian to design a quiz or some learning activity that tells
you and them that they learned the material.
- Second, for an extended project like a paper,
establish deadlines by which the students need to hand in work,
such as topic ideas, an outline of how the paper or project
will be structured or handing in a list of sources that they
expect to use for their research project. This keeps your students
from procrastinating. It also gives both you and the student
a chance to make sure they're making progress in the right direction.
- Finally, assess the sources that they used
for their paper or project, not just the product itself. To
what extent did they find and use appropriate sources for your
assignment? Besides asking them to document or cite their sources,
require that they also state why they decided to use those sources.
6. The assignment can be reasonably done within
the time allowed and with available resources.
- Make sure that the information resources that
you expect your students to use are available.
- Consider putting materals on reserve to ensure
that your students can easily access them.
- Do the assignment yourself to see how long
it takes before you decide how long students need to do it.
- Allow for the students' limited research experience
and such processes as using microfilm and Interlibrary Loan.
7. The assignment includes information and
instruction on the ethical use of information.
- Include a policy on plagiarism in the syllabus.
- Require that the students submit work in intervals
in order to avoid plagiarism.
- Explain the concept and purpose of attribution
of sources or citing.
- Tell them about the Copyright Law.