Skip to main content

Designing Research Assignments

Assume Minimal Research Skills

All students need an introduction to research skills including clarification of:

  • Terminology within the discipline. Libraries provide discipline-specific online academic encyclopedias, dictionaries and handbooks that provide background summaries and context for new concepts and ideas.
  • Types of resources appropriate for the task such as books, government documents, scholarly articles, statistics, "grey literature", primary sources, etc. A research starting point depends on the type of information that will best address the research problem.
  • Library tools specific to the discipline. While there are many interdisciplinary research tools, every student must be acquainted with the standards for their field.
  • Research journals vs. popular vs. trade journals. Many students cannot identify scholarly articles until they have seen and discussed examples of them in comparison to those from popular magazines.
  • Citation management and documentation style. Familiarize students with the style guide appropriate to their subject area and to information management and storage software such as RefWorks.

Research Studies on Search Behaviour

Centre for Information Behaviour and the Evaluation of Research (CIBER). (2008). Information behaviour of the researcher of the future: The literature on young people and their information behaviour. London: University College London.

Study overturns the common assumption that the ‘Google Generation' is the most web-literate: … although young people demonstrate an apparent ease and familiarity with computers, they rely heavily on search engines, view rather than read, and do not possess the critical and analytical skills to assess the information that they find on the web.

Duke, L.M. & Asher, A.D. (2012). College libraries and student culture: What we now know. Chicago, American Library Association.

Explodes myth of digital native – students not competent at finding and evaluating resources. Students tended to overuse Google and misuse scholarly databases. Majority of students – of all levels – exhibited significant difficulties that ranged across nearly every aspect of the search process. Both librarians and faculty overestimated student research abilities

Head, A. J. & Einsenberg, M. B.(2011). Finding context: What today's college students say about conducting research in the digital age. Project Information Literacy Progress Report. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Information iSchool.

Students experience significant challenges in finding relevant information that provides context for their topic.The first step of finding context occurs when students are gathering background information and tapping into complex information landscapes and students find it the most difficult part of the research process. Selecting and narrowing a topic is part of “big picture context” and finding and accessing relevant information is part of “information-gathering context.” This research demonstrates the problem of isolating information that is accurate, well-researched, and at the right level of complexity for the reader.

Head, A. J. & Einsenberg, M. B.(2010). Assigning inquiry: How handouts for research assignments guide today’s college students. Project Information Literacy Progress Report. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Information iSchool.

Head, A. & Eisenberg, M. (2009). Lessons learned: How college students seek information in the digital age. Project Information Literacy Progress Report. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Information iSchool.

Students apply a predictable research strategy using same small set of information resources in the initial stages of research. They use course readings and Google first but do turn to scholarly databases for course-related research. They conceptualize research as a competency learned by rote, rather than as an opportunity to develop new strategies.

Taylor, A. (2012). A study of the Information Search Behavior of the Millennial Generation. Information Research Today 17(1).

Statistically significant findings suggest that millennial generation (born after 1982) Web searchers proceed erratically through an information search process making only a limited attempt to evaluate the quality or validity of information gathered. Students may perform some level of “backfilling” or adding sources to a research project before final submission of the work.