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Designing Research Assignments

Tips to Develop Research Skills

Researchers at Project Information Literacy at the University of Washington found in a review of 191 course-related research assignments many handouts do not offer useful guidance on conducting research (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). Their study states that first-year students apply the strategies they learned in high school, focus on the length of the paper rather than its content, and that 84% of students have difficulty starting assignments while 66% of students have difficulty defining a topic. With regards to writing abilities, the study indicated that students:

  • Use patchwork writing as a result of snipping from online sources.
  • Need to learn to focus on specific question rather than summarizing broad topics.
  • Need support in developing arguments
  • Need support in how to integrate and cite sources
  • May unintentionaly plagiarize when they are from other cultures

Assignment Design Checklist

Describe Approach Synthesis, analysis, argument, evaluation? Include research journal?  Discuss academic integrity and “patch” writing. Is topic open or pre-approved? Collaboration allowed ? Expected length?
Provide Context

State how the assignment relates to course material. Consider both "big picture" and "information-finding" context.

Set Outcomes

Describe learning outcomes including those for information literacy and writing skill development.

Scaffold Process Split assignment into tasks to give feedback at each stage. Example: find five sources and create research log - analyze a single article - class sets evaluation criteria for websites.
Offer Research Strategies Discuss research strategies, finding tools, and appropriate web resources. What is a good starting point? Google Scholar or a discipline-specific database?
Provide Sources Checklist

Specify useful types of resources (clarify “web” vs. “online” resources).  Is Wikipedia acceptable? Tools to identify new vocabulary and terminology? Discuss scholarly versus popular, etc.

Set Citation Style Name citation style and give link to tutorial on library website. Use citation management software if extended research involved.
Share Assessment How is the assignment and the research process assessed? Rubrics are helpful especially when they are reviewed before the assignment so students know how they will be graded.
Describe Services

How supporting service  help: Library - Data - Learning Strategies - Writing Centre - Student Success - Counseling. Bring your librarian to class!