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Effective Library Assignments

General Preparation for Assignments

  • Make sure the assignment is crystal clear—a handout is never a bad idea.
  • Ensure that students understand that they need to focus on a particular element of a topic, even if it the subject of the assignment is general, rather than try to cover everything about it.
  • Talk about format, citation style, and when something should be cited. Encourage questions and discussion.
    • Remind students of the University's academic honesty policy; be sure they know you will enforce it.

Research and Finding Sources

  • Take time to talk about evaluating information critically.
  • Provide guidance by defining what a research journal is (hand out a list of the most relevant ones available in Harrison University Libraries), and discuss what is and is not an acceptable source.
  • Schedule library instruction and/or require the research tutorial; even upper level students need instruction in new library tools. Schedule instruction to coincide with giving a research assignment.
  • Direct students to Harrison University Libraries' web subject pages as starting points for finding quality information on the web (and let us know about sites that should be added).
  • Remember that many periodical articles are only available through the libraries' online databases. The best source may not be in print or microfilm.
  • Do not exclude web sources without very careful consideration. Many excellent sources (including government information) are only available online.
  • Be sure that the library owns the material (you might want to check the shelf to be sure it is there, or consider reserves).
    • Do not have all your students looking for the same thing unless it is on reserve—it will disappear!

Other Considerations

  • Consider alternatives to the traditional "term paper" such as
    • Problem solving. Require students to present background/history/data and then find a solution to a problem; this calls for analysis, not just gathering facts but using them.
    • Make research the topic. Have students find information on a topic in different types of sources, using different searching tools, and write about both the process and the differences in the information they found.
  • Consider group project. An entire group is less likely to plagiarize blatantly; on the other hand, one member of a group frequently carries the load and getting groups together to work can be difficult.
  • Consider requiring progress reports, working bibliographies, outlines, drafts, etc.
  • Consult with a librarian. This may help make the assignment better and will allow us to provide better assistance to your students.