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Faculty Resources

Creating Effective Research Assignments

Purpose of Course-Related Research Assignments

A well-designed assignment can teach students valuable research skills and improve the quality of their papers.

An Effective research assignment...

  • Has a specific, understood purpose.
  • Relates to some aspect of course content and learning objectives.
  • Leads to increased understanding of a subject or the process of locating information.
  • Makes students aware of the variety of information sources and formats available.
  • Teaches students to select and evaluate quality information sources appropriate to their topic.
  • Reinforces habits of ethical scholarship.

Pitfalls to avoid...

  • Assume students know the basics -- Prior experience or a general orientation do not substitute for discipline-based training or assignment-based instruction.
  • Require resources not available through the library --  The NU Library may not own or lease the same materials you use at other libraries.
  • Ask the whole class to find and use the same item -- Provide a link to the electronic version or place the item on reserve.
  • Send students on a scavenger hunt or ask them to find obscure trivia -- This type of assignment demonstrates that the librarians are good at finding resources, but it does not usually teach meaningful research habits.
  • Forbid students to use anything from the Internet -- Most library resources are now available using the Internet.

Encourage well rounded research...

  • Recommend a balance of library resources (news, trade/professional, academic/scholarly, monographs, reference) as well as reliable Web resources.
  • Encourage higher-order thinking skills and critical thinking in the selection process.
  • Reward the student research process by including it in the project rubric.
  • Avoid plagiarism by asking the student to maintain a log of the research process.
  • Provide resource lists, with links to searches as well as individual items, as starting points for an assignment.

Librarians are an excellent resource for developing library assignments.

Content adapted from the following:  Creating Effective Research Assignments (University of Maryland); Effective Research Assignments (UC, Berkeley Library);Incorporating Information Literacy into the Curriculum (Castleton College Library, VT)

Related Articles

  • Hamalainen, M. (2007). Useful tips on avoiding plagiarism. Library Media Connection25(6), 40-41. Available from

Information Search Process

Carol Collier Kuhlthau's Information Search Process Model provides a holistic view of research. 

(Cunningham, April, and Carr, Allison:  adapted from Carol Kuhlthau’s “Initial Model of the Information Search Process” in Seeking Meaning, 2004.  p. 45)


Talk with your Library Team for ways the Library can help get your students through the initial stages of research so that they are more satisified with the research process and have the skills they need to be successful.

For more articles & books:

Promote Higher Order Thinking Skills

Benjamin Bloom, while working at the University of Chicago in 1956, developed his theory on Educational Objectives. He proposed three domains:

  • Cognitive - person's ability to process and utilize information (thinking)
  • Affective - This is the role of feeling and attitudes in the learning/education process
  • Psychomotor - This is manipulative or physical skills

Bloom's Taxonomy is a taxonomy of activities and behaviours that exemplify Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) and Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS). Bloom's allows us to rank and structure different classroom activities and plan the learning process. In the 2001, Lorin Anderson and others revised Bloom's original work to give us Bloom's Revised Taxonomy.  (