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Creating Research Assignments

Creating a research assignment isn't an intuitive process, and sometimes we find our assignments don't cultivate the transferable knowledge we expect. To make the creation process a bit easier, here are some librarian-approved suggestions and truisms, and even some approaches to avoid, as you create new research assignments.


Suggestions/Best Practices


  • Subject and reference guides give students a good starting point for the research process by listing specific information sources or types of sources for a particular assignment. For an even more tailored approach, you can request for your library liaison to create a unique guide for a specific course or assignment.
  • Make sure the resources required by the assignment are available to your students in the library or in library databases. You can also place hard-to-find required sources on course reserve.
  • Emphasize transferrable skills – Help students strengthen the skills they need to succeed not only at BSU but also in their future endeavors. You can emphasize foundational and transferrable information literacy skills in your assignments by having students analyze search results, communicate their research in a variety of mediums, or create a data visualization.
  • Scaffold and vary your assignments – Research can be overwhelming for some students, so breaking your assignment into smaller, varied components and letting your assignments build upon one another can help students strengthen their research skills and provide you with opportunities to check in on your students’ progress and development. You can have students complete annotated bibliographies, write research proposals, or engage in class peer-review sessions.
  • Test your assignment and get feedback – Librarians have expertise in assessing information literacy and research skills and we can work with you to test and get feedback on your assignment. And remember, information sources are always evolving. You can provide the libraries with a copy of your syllabus or your assignment so we can ensure that your students have the resources they need.


  • Saying "use the library" doesn't make the library useful.
  • The best way to encourage students to use a research tool or collection is to design a task that is legitimately easier when one uses that tool.
  • The library is not a shortcut. People who use the library can't end-run thinking or evaluating.
  • Requiring something is not the same as teaching it.
  • Research is sometimes uncomfortable and stressful; students will actively try to avoid that stress.

Try to Avoid

  • Scavenger hunts. These assignments often lack a clear focus, don't seem relevant to the students, frustrate them, and the librarian ends up doing most of the work. 
  • Don't require scholarly sources on non-scholarly topics. A student allowed to write a paper on a popular topic is going to have a tough time finding scholarly sources. Consider allowing alternative resources to allow students to focus on validity, bias, and critical thinking rather than resources written above their knowledge level.
  • Assuming that students automatically understand the connections between research assignments and course outcomes.
  • Avoid expert language and jargon, or try to provide a cross reference. Students may be more familiar with the term "magazine" rather than periodical.