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Designing Research Assignments: Scaffolding Research Assignments

What is scaffolding?

Educational scaffolding refers to the process of providing temporary supports for learners to guide them towards achieving a goal or completing a complex task. 

Scaffolding can take many forms. One type of scaffolding is called process scaffolding, where a complex task, such as a research paper is broken down into smaller, more manageable parts. 


Portions of this page were modified from Lehigh University Libraries' Information Literacy in ENG2: An Instructor Guide and Modesto Junior College's Designing Research Assignments Guide

Scaffolding a Research Assignment

Assignment Ideas for Each Stage
Selecting a topic
  • Identify a broad topic area
  • Proposal
  • Develop a research question
  • Develop a thesis statement
Finding background information/Presearch
  • Refine a broad topic area
  • Revise initial proposal, thesis or research question based on information gathered during presearch
  • Brainstorming
  • Concept mapping 
  • Class discussion to share findings on a topic, changes to research focus, questions that have arisen 
  • Annotated bibliography
  • Research log/journal
  • Analyze a single article in depth
Source evaluation
  • Compare and contrast discussion of a topic in different types of sources (scholarly vs. popular) 
  • Critique a source
  • Investigate a scholar/scholar biography
  • Outline 
  • First draft
  • Peer review 
Final Draft 
  • Final Draft with: self-assessment or research reflection 

Scaffolding Suggestions

Research Stage Support Provided
Selecting a topic

Students often have considerable difficulty selecting a topic and coming up with an appropriate research question.

  • Provide a list of broad topics for students to select from so that they do not feel overwhelmed and spend less time choosing between topics. 
  • Spend time working with students on coming up with researchable questions. Show examples of weak research questions, and work as a class to improve the research questions. 
  • Provide students with sources to use for their paper, and have them focus on evaluating and analyzing the sources rather than on searching for sources
  • Provide students with a single source with an extensive bibliography to use as a jumping off point. Demonstrate how one source can lead to many other sources.