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Designing Research Assignments: Assignment Ideas

Assignment Templates

Research diaries offer students an opportunity to reflect on the research process, think about how they will address challenges they encounter, and encourage students to think about and adjust their strategies. 

Alternative Assignments

There are many different types of assignments that can help your students develop their information literacy and research skills. 

The assignments listed below target different skills, and some may be more suitable for certain courses than others.

Research Skills: Searching, Analysis, Evaluating Sources
Anatomy of a Term Paper Break down the research process for a term paper: Students submit a clearly defined topic, thesis statement, a proposed outline, and an annotated bibliography. 
Annotated Bibliography Students properly cite sources (specify how many and what types of sources are permitted) they plan to use for a paper, and provide descriptive or evaluative annotations.
Biography Choose a person relevant to the course. Students use a variety of source types (biographical dictionaries, magazines, newspapers, scholarly sources, books) and deliver a presentation or write a biography of the person. 
Debate Student gather credible evidence to support either side of an argument.
Follow-up Students are given an article and are asked to find sources that support or refute the article.
Literature Review Analysis Find 2 literature reviews on a topic. Explain the purpose of literature reviews. Students analyze the two literature reviews, comparing their similarities and differences.
Literature Review Update Students are given a literature review on a topic that is a few years old. Ask students to find sources published since the literature review was published and to update the literature review with new sources. 
Research diary/log Students keep a record of library research completed, including sources used, the searches and keywords tried, databases used, and reflect on challenges and successes through the research process. 
Source Evaluation

Students work in small groups and examine a few sources on the same topic, and have students work together to come up with indicators of quality. Students consider how their sources demonstrate quality, when certain indicators matter and when they might not, and report their findings to the class. 

Textbook Citation Chaining Students start with an issue, debate, fact or definition discussed in the course textbook. They use citation chaining to find the first instance where an issue was first discussed. Students then trace the research forward to see how the research conversation developed over time until consensus was built among scholars. 
Critical Reading Skills
Article Analysis Students identify the assumptions, thesis and research methods in a single paper.
Journal Article Comparison Students compare 2 scholarly journal articles with different points of view on the same topic.
Media Analysis: Controversial issue Students compare coverage of a controversial issue in several different types of sources (newspapers, magazines, academic journals, books, professional association website). Students determine determine what perspectives are present or absent, and assess sources for bias.
Reference Analysis Students are given one source with references and are asked to analyze how each source is used to support the author's argument. 
Review Analysis Students compare 2 reviews of a major academic book from the time it was published to understand how new ideas may be supported or criticized within the scholarly community. Have students find modern articles that cite the reviewed source to see how current authors are building on the ideas of others. 
Communication & Presentation Skills 
Paper Slam Students present their papers for 60-90 seconds using 1 slide to highlight their key ideas and findings. 
Poster Students present their research in a poster. Have a poster walk, and have students fill out peer-evaluation forms. 
Wikipedia Entry Edit or create a Wikipedia entry on a topic related to the course. Review the history of the entry and who has already made edits. Or, create a course wiki, and have students create entries individually or in groups.
Understanding the Scholarly Conversation in a Discipline
Citation Tracking Students trace an important paper through citations. Students consider why authors may be cited, the importance of a scholar to be cited, and what it means to be cited. This assignment introduces students to how ideas disseminate and are refined through the scholarly conversation. 
Course Packs Students imagine they are creating a course pack and compile readings using specific criteria (scholarly, current, significance to the discipline). For each reading, they cite the article and provide an annotation explaining why they chose the particular reading and how it pertains to the course. 
The Evolving Research Conversation Select a topic, and provide students with literature that discuss the topic from 2 different time periods. Have students discuss how the treatment of the topic has changed over time. 
Research through the information lifecycle Have students read a magazine or news article that discusses the findings of a peer-reviewed research articles. Have students compare the magazine's summary to the findings in the research article, and compare the sources for content, intended audience, format, etc. 
Review Analysis Students compare 2 reviews of a major academic book from the time it was published to understand how new ideas may be supported or criticized within the scholarly community. Have students find modern articles that cite the reviewed source to see how current authors are building on the ideas of others. 
Trace a Scholar's Career Choose a scholar and explore biography, publications, conference presentations and other contributions to a field