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Faculty Resources

Building Effective 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.

Avoid the following:

  • Assume students know the basics -- Prior experience or a general orientation do not substitute for discipline-based training or assignment-based instruction.
  • Tell students to use library resources without providing a path to the specific books/databases you wish them to use.
  • Require students use 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.

Students need experience using a variety of resources to build their confidence in using them and making them apart of their personal research strategies.

  • 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)

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: