Research Assignment Guidelines
Research assignments may prove difficult for students who have limited experience with conducting college-level research. Based on UMUC librarians’ extensive work helping students with research assignments, we offer the following guidelines for effective assignment design.
- Test the assignment before it goes live, to make sure that students will be able to find relevant information sources in the time period available to them to complete the assignment.
- Example: If you are choosing a topic for the class to research, try first researching the topic yourself. For instance, if the topic has to do with a company’s financial performance, is there enough publicly available financial information that a student can easily access and use?
- Similarly, when students propose their own research topic, try quickly searching for information about it; it may be that a topic is too obscure to be viable and so the student who proposed it may need to be steered toward a topic that’s more suitable.
- Build in effective instructions within the assignment.
- When appropriate, recommend or provide links to specific databases or other resources that would be useful for completing the assignment.
- You might even consider suggesting keyword searches that will bring useful results in databases (your department’s library liaison can help you with this).
- Define any terms that may be unfamiliar to students (e.g., peer-reviewed, primary source).
- Suggest effective research strategies
- Example: If you have asked students to analyze a little-known poem, it may help to remind them that their task is not necessarily to find published critiques of the poem, as that may well be impossible. Rather, direct students to research the poet's work as a whole, his or her cultural milieu, etc., so that students can use that information to build their own critical analysis of the poem.
- Require the use of appropriate sources; that is, do not limit students only to peer-reviewed journal articles if the assignment could more effectively be completed using other sources, such as websites, trade journals, etc.
- Encourage students to contact you with questions about the assignment.
- Solicit feedback about the assignment. Ask students whether they had trouble finding relevant materials, whether they understood the instructions, etc. Revise the assignment accordingly or provide constructive feedback to your program chair about the assignment.
Additional resources that may help with research assignment design include:
- Seneca College’s Libraries’ Building better assignments
- Carnegie Mellon University’s Eberly Center’s Creating assignments
- Gettysburg College’s Musselman Library’s Integrating information literacy into your classes
If you have questions about how to develop or revise a research assignment, please contact your library liaison.