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Suggestions for Designing Effective Research Assignments
- Inform the students of the purpose of the research assignment.
- Be specific. Let students know what is acceptable and/or required. Length, format for references (MLA, APA), and acceptable types of sources (books, scholarly articles, magazines, web).
- Test the assignment beforehand. Try to put yourself in the students’ shoes with their experience and perspective. Be sure the resources you are asking them to use are available. Many CSU,C students have no prior experience using a college library.
- Whenever possible model the inquiry process to students in the classroom. If you have access to a projection system in your classroom, take questions from class or plan questions to demonstrate to students how to choose a database, how to create an effective search statement, and how to access full-text. The more times they see the process for different questions, the more they will remember and learn.
- Topic selection. Students often choose “hot topics” when conducting research and may have difficulty developing a focused research question from a current news event. Before students finalize their research questions, consider having them run their topics by you for approval.
- Allow for incremental and continual improvement. Allow students to choose a topic early in the semester. Have them turn in a bibliography of initial sources. Check the appropriateness of the sources selected (this could also help prevent plagiarism). Have them turn in a revised topic statement based on consultation of initial sources. This emphasizes the process of incorporating new information into the student’s knowledge base.
- Provide examples of scholarly journals. Many students may not understand the distinction between popular and scholarly sources. If you require students to use articles from peer reviewed journals, provide examples in the assigned readings, refer to them, and discuss the characteristics of scholarly research and publication.
- Student use of the Web. The use of the web is expanding, and library materials are increasingly web-based. Students will come to the reference desk and state that they are not allowed to use web sources, yet most of our full text journals are available on the web through our library subscriptions. Be precise in your instructions for student use of the web for research, and reinforce the distinction between such reliable library sources and general “internet” searching.
- Place limited resources on reserve. If there is a book or a chapter you want all the students in your class to read, place it on Reserve so everybody has access.
- Give citations not photocopies. If you assign students to read an article in a journal that is in our online collection, give them the article citation, not a photocopy or link to the article. Students need the experience and practice of finding articles from citations.
- Schedule a library instruction session. Librarians can teach your students how to conduct effective research. Instruction should be tied to an assignment and scheduled at the beginning of the research process.