Designing Effective Library Research Assignments

Table of Contents

* Define Objectives

* Design the Assignment

* Test the Assignment

* Specify Requirements and Sources

* Offer Library Instruction When Needed

* Provide More Information On Copy Right And How to Avoid Plagiarism

* Evaluate Information Literacy Skills

Define Objectives

Identify the learning objectives for the assignment (including information literacy objectives) so that students know what to do and why.

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Design the Assignment

Consider student capabilities and resources when developing assignments. Assume minimal library knowledge on the part of your students. Even after attending library instruction sessions for INST classes, your students have only just begun to scratch the surface of the research experience. Transfer students or new graduate students may have had no experience in the Otterbein library.

Allow students to choose from a broad range of topics. This helps to prevent large numbers of students from needing to use the same information sources at the same time. Be aware if your information source is limited.

Incorporate critical thinking.

* Avoid "Scavenger Hunt" assignments that ask students to locate random facts. This type of assignment can be very frustrating to students. Scavenger hunts typically don't require learners to evaluate the source or information or use the information for any purpose. They are less instructive than assignments that require problem solving and analysis.

* Assignments that require students to evaluate, analyze, compare, question, or synthesize the information they find make for a better learning experience. They also help build skills that are transferable to other research projects.

* Create assignments with components due throughout the quarter. This allows you the opportunity to monitor student progress and offer feedback. It also prevents students from leaving their assignment to the last minute when panic may cause some students to take shortcuts that could result in plagiarism.

* Repeat skills learned in earlier assignments to reinforce learning.

  • Grade library assignments and allot them a percentage of the final grade. If it is not graded, students tend to take it less seriously.

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Test the Assignment

Do the assignment yourself before giving it to students in order to make sure your objectives are met, resources are correctly listed, deadlines are adequate, and that appropriate library resources are available. Check the online catalog (OPAL) to verify library holdings. This mandate holds true every time you assign it. Things change quickly in the information age, so be sure to check any specific instructions or sources you give to students. If you expect some sources to be heavily used, request that they be placed on Reserve by calling 823-1215.

Show the assignment to your library liaison. Librarians can provide suggestions as to what sources to use and can alert you to new sources that have become available. Sending a copy of your assignment to the your liaison librarian will also enable the library staff to prepare in advance, and to better assist your students.

Ask students for feedback on the assignment, and be open to their comments and suggestions.

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Specify Requirements and Sources

Indicate required number of sources. Recommended: minimum with no set maximum.

Require a variety of sources, but be FLEXIBLE. Not all topics, particularly those chosen by students themselves, are covered in every type of resource.

* Don't require students to use print, CD-ROM and online electronic indexes for their topics. Reasons:

  • The CONTENT of an index is more important than the format.
  • There are fewer and fewer print and CD-ROM indexes, and some indexes are only available in either print or online electronic format, depending on the year.

Clearly define your terms. Make sure requirements are clear in your mind and understood by students.

  • What is an annotated bibliography? Should it be summary annotation or critical/evaluative annotation?
  • Does "library computer" mean the OPAL or OhioLINK library catalog or some other online database?
  • Use full and current titles of journals and databases; avoid abbreviations and superceded titles.
  • Define online or web sources -- Many times when instructors say that online or web sources are not allowed, students get the impression that they are not allowed to use our book or journal article databases on the library web site, which index and make available full-text online sources that were originally published in print.

Distinguish between different types of sources. Many students do not understand the differences. (See Library Web Tutorial at for general criteria.)

  • Any kind of periodical article? Or limited to:
    • scholarly/refereed journal articles?
    • primary vs. secondary sources?
    • magazine articles?
    • newspaper articles?
    • at least 2/3 of the articles from scholarly journals ?
    • books or book chapter?
    • web pages?
    • government Documents?
    • interviews or transcripts?

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Offer Library Instruction When Needed

Consider scheduling a library instruction session. Many students have never used an academic library, and those who have, often lack the skills needed to use the library effectively. Participation in library instruction sessions should not be optional. Make attendance mandatory and plan on attending with your class. This indicates to students that you consider library skills important.

When scheduling a library instruction session, please allow two weeks notice. Contact your liaison librarian for more information.

Make sure your students know where to go for help. Encourage students to ask library staff for assistance. Alert students to services such as: " Chat with a librarian"; Contact a Librarian for an appointment for in-depth reference assistance and for instruction in how to effectively search the library's research databases. Our librarian and staff directory can be accessed at

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Provide More Information On Copy Right And How to Avoid Plagiarism

Information about how to avoid plagiarism can be found on the library web tutorial at

Make sure students know how to cite the information they find, including information from the Internet. Many students mistakenly believe that information on the Internet is free and does not require acknowledgment.

List the style manual that you want your students to use for citing their sources.

  • It is best not to ask students to "clip out" and "attach" information (e.g., journal articles) to their project as this may lead to damage or theft of library materials. If you require copies of the sources used by your students, specify a photocopy or printout of the material.

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Evaluate Information Literacy Skills

Evaluate the research process and information literacy skills as well as the end product.

Methods of evaluation may include:

  • Analyzing student bibliographies (e.g., evaluate types of sources, relevancy, currency, and accuracy in citing, etc.)
  • Asking students to describe and hand in a research strategy (e.g., have students list the sources they used, such as the indexes/databases they consulted, key terms and subject headings that proved useful, etc.)
  • Requiring printouts of database search histories
  • Asking students to write a brief (one page) essay, or orally report on their research process.

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Information literacy is the ability to access, evaluate, and use information effectively to satisfy an information need. According to the Association of College and Research Libraries, "An information literate individual is able to:

* Determine the extent of information needed

* Access the needed information effectively and efficiently

* Evaluate information and its sources critically

* Incorporate selected information into one's knowledge base

* Use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose

* Understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information, and access and use information ethically and legally."

Information literacy also is increasingly important in the contemporary environment of rapid technological change and proliferating information resources. Because of the escalating complexity of this environment, individuals are faced with diverse, abundant information choices--in their academic studies, in the workplace, and in their personal lives. Information is available through libraries, community resources, special interest organizations, media, and the Internet--and increasingly, information comes to individuals in unfiltered formats, raising questions about its authenticity, validity, and reliability. In addition, information is available through multiple media, including graphical, aural, and textual, and these pose new challenges for individuals in evaluating and understanding it. The uncertain quality and expanding quantity of information pose large challenges for society. The sheer abundance of information will not in itself create a more informed citizenry without a complementary cluster of abilities necessary to use information effectively.

Association of College and Research Libraries. (2002, October 25). Information literacy competency standards for higher education. Retrieved December 13, 2002, from