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Information Literacy: Effective Research Assignments

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Creating Effective Assignments

An effective research assignment has the following characteristics:

  • Clearly stated purpose
  • Well defined search strategy
  • Specified level of research

clearly stated purpose shows students how the assignment is related to course subject matter and learning objectives and defines what level of research is expected.

well defined search strategy is a step by step method for organizing the research project. The strategy includes the types of information to be sought, suggests the resources to be consulted, and stresses the evaluation of source material. The specified level of research indicates the extent and depth of the research process. There are three levels of research. 

The first level is the description of the body of facts. At this level, students are recognized to be inexperienced researchers in need of training. The instructor should look for the following: ability to select material appropriate to the argument; ideas that are supported by research or named sources; inclusion of primary sources.

The second level is the analysis of a well-ordered body of facts. At this level students may be considered independent researchers capable of producing a major piece of creative work or a statement of experimental research and results. The instructor should look for the following:  use of a well-reasoned research strategy; selection of appropriate research methods; identification of insights into developments in a particular discipline. 

The third level is the synthetic level which includes the discovery of original facts or the presentation of an original way of looking at a body of facts. Students at this level work independently to produce a substantial piece of work which shows knowledge of the general contexts of a discipline and offers an original contribution to the discipline. The instructor should look for work that represents the leading edge of research and is worthy of publications.

Alternatives to the Research Paper

Information literacy skills can be learned through various assignments. Consider the following as alternatives to the traditional research paper and ask students to:

  1. Write an annotated bibliography.
  2. Compare and contrast the presentation of a topic in scholarly journals versus popular magazines.
  3. Identify the print and electronic reference sources, databases, and scholarly journals in a particular discipline and an analysis of the contribution of each to the discipline.
  4. Identify key issues or scholars in a discipline.
  5. Compare two different discipline's presentation of the same topic.
  6. Write a literature review.

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