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Designing Research Assignments

Avoid These Assignments

Large classes working from a limited selection of topics. Competition reduces access.

Scavenger hunts. These do not teach students how to use the library effectively.

Searching for obscure facts. This causes unnecessary frustration for staff and students alike.


Alternative Assignments

These inquiry-based assignments will help students develop their research skills.

Research Skills: Searching, Analysis, and Resource Evaluation

Ad campaign: Research product reviews, conduct market research to identify demographic and financial information, review psychological research linked to advertising and consumer behaviour.

Anatomy of a term paper:  Break down the research for a term paper into segments – students submit a clearly defined topic, thesis statement, proposed outline of paper, and an annotated bibliography (using proper citation style)

Annotated bibliography. Find a certain number of sources (specifying how many should be scholarly, whether websites are permitted, etc.) on a topic and write descriptive or evaluative annotations.

Anthology: Readings, websites by one person or on one topic

Biography: Choose person relevant to the course; use biographical dictionaries, popular press, scholarly sources, books to find information on the person [oral presentation, poster or written]

Debate: Gather credible evidence to support either side of an argument.

Family history: Use various sources of information to compile a family history. Actual interview (primary sources), surveys, birth/death/marriage notices, maps, directories and newspapers are examples.

Follow-up: Find additional information sources that support or refute an article.

Literature review analysis: Find two literature reviews on a topic of interest. Describe the purpose of a literature review based on your reading of the two cases and provide an analysis of how the two reviews are similar or different in their writing approach.

Research journal:  Keep a record of library research including sources consulted, keywords and subject headings, noting successes and challenges in the search process.

Critical Reading  Skills

Article analysis: Identify assumptions, thesis, theoretical framework, and/or research methods in a single paper.

Course textbook analysis: Using reviews and study of authors, look behind the book to determine point of view, strengths, and weaknesses.

Journal article comparison: Compare two scholarly or popular articles with differing viewpoints on a topic.

Media analysis: Compare coverage of a controversial issue in current newspapers and media. What perspectives and biases are present?

Reference analysis: What purpose does each reference in a single paper serve to support the argument.?

Review analysis: Compare reviews of a major work to understand the scholarly review process and the new perspectives for which a work may be supported or criticized.

Communication & Presentation  Skills

Debate: Gather credible evidence to support either side of an argument.

Infographic: Collect data and information on a topic and present it in graphic format using a tool such as Piktochart. Make these works freely available using Creative Commons licenses.

Paper slam: Students present a 60-90 second oral narrative in class using one slide that highlights their key ideas.

Poster: Present research integrating written and illustrative components. Can be done in physical or virtual spaces.

Web page/ wiki entry: Page on a narrow topic relevant to the course; include major sites, e-journals, discussion lists

Wikipedia entry: Edit a Wikipedia encyclopedia entry. Review the history of the entry and who has already made edits.

Zine: Create a zine engaging materials discussed in the course; include an analysis and explanation of methods used, as well as a discussion of the experience of producing the zine

Structure of the Literature in a Discipline

Citation tracking: Trace an important paper through a citation index. What does it mean to be "cited"? How important is it that a scholar be cited? Introduces the interconnectedness of the scholarly network and how ideas percolate, disseminate, accumulate, and are refined.

Classic work: Explore  book reviews, biography, and citation indexes to learn  how and why a work becomes a "classic." What effect does a classical work have on a discipline? Demonstrates the evolution of ideas, and identifies factors which make a work "important".

Course pack: Students “compile” the readings according to specific criteria (such as scholarly, published within the last 5 years). They write an introduction to the course pack that must demonstrate an understanding of the subject matter; citations to articles must be done using the appropriate citation style for the course, annotated with why they chose the particular reading as it pertains to the course content.

Interview: To generate useful questions students would have to be familiar with the life and work of the person and understand their work’s significance. Real or hypothetical.

Journal analysis: How many journals are published in a given field? What are the core journals in a discipline? Compare and contrast  their content, tone, audience and impact factors.

Research trends: Examine a single research tool at 10-year intervals to explore changing issues and research methods.

Trace a Scholar's Career: Choose a scholar/researcher and explore biography, writings, contributions to field, and scholarly network in which s/he works.