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Effective Research Assignments: Effective Assignments

Effective Assignments Include or Consider the Following:


  • Feasibility/Notify the Library:  Try doing the assignment yourself before assigning it to students. Make sure the Library holds the needed information! A familiar source from your own collection or another library may not be available here. Librarians will be happy to preview an assignment and would benefit from having a copy of the assignment a head of time so we can be ready to help your students.
  • Currency: Information sources are constantly changing. Check with a librarian to ensure that students are being directed to the most current sources. It is also important for students to understand that information about very current topics may be limited to newspaper sources, as journal articles and books take time to appear.
  • Variety: Incorporate choice into assignments so that large numbers of students are not looking for the same material.  Items that will be needed by many students may be placed on RESERVE.


  • Time Frame: Providing deadlines for different stages of the assignment is especially useful for larger research projects.


  • Databases: In designing assignment handouts, refer to specific databases and sources by (their correct) name. Students tend to use  the one database or source they learned about in high school or in their English Comp class, and this might not be the best source for your particular assignment.  Librarians will be happy to make suggestions or will design an online guide specific to your assignment. 
  • Web/Internet Sources:
    • Avoid blanket statements about not using the Internet! Be specific about what you do not want students to use (example .com web pages, Wikipedia).
    • Remember that the majority of journal/periodical sources, and a great number of reference sources are now only available via Library databases that are accessed over the Internet.
    • Most government sources are only available on the web. 


  • Citation Requirements:  Specify the citation style you wish students to follow. Don't assume they know how to to do this.  Refer students to online and print citation sources, such as the Purdue Owl website.


  • Rubrics: Include a grading rubric so students know how their work will be assessed.
  • Assignment handout: This is one of the most important components for creating an effective assignment. See the "Handouts" tab" on this guide.

Adapted with permission from University of New Brunswick Libraries at