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Library Instruction

Designing Research Assignments

Avoid these common problems which usually result in negative research experiences


The Mob Scene - A large class looking for one piece of information or researching one topic
Resources can and will disappear quickly; either they will be taken off the shelf or checked out which will prevent other students from completing the assignment.

The Shot in the Dark - Students working from incomplete or incorrect resource lists; students assigned to use materials are not owned by the Libraries; vague topics are assigned or approved. Thus, students will get frustrated and again assume incorrectly the USF Libraries do not have the information they need.

The Needle in a Haystack - Students are sent to the Library to find obscure facts
A library scavenger hunt is usually an exercise in futility unless the assignment is focused on the research process.

Consider why you wish your students to do the assignment - State the objectives and purpose of the assignment
This will help your students understand what they will learn and how it will help them in the long run. Focus the assignment on the process of finding information which explains a phenomena, clarifies a viewpoint, or defines an issue. Do you want your students to become acquainted with key resources in a subject area? Do you want them to do the groundwork for a term project or research paper? What do you want them to do with the information once they have found it?

Consider how your students will do the assignement - A research strategy is an appropriate step-by-step method for organizing a research project Take into account the kinds of information sought, the corresponding resources which should be consulted, and the continuous need for evaluating the results.  Include analysis of the information as part of the research process.

For Example:
State your topic as a question or statement and develop a list of relevant keywords and synonyms.
Use the USF online catalog to find books on your topic. Which keywords worked best?
Select and search appropriate periodical indexes (you may wish to list particular resources) to find more recent information in magazines and journals. Which indexes and searches worked best?
Research strategies often seem obvious to the experienced researcher but are generally unknown to undergraduate students.

Help your students - Feel free to collaborate with subject librarians to assure your students are successful.
They can develop a subject guide or course guide that focuses on library resources pertinent to the class and the assignment.