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Effective Research Assignments: Pitfalls

Some Things to Avoid

  • Scavenger Hunts:  This is not really research.  When many students come to the library to complete a scavenger hunt, the librarians provide them with answers.  Instead of a scavenger hunt, schedule a class instruction session with a librarian based on a specific assignment.

  • Assumptions About Student Research Experience:  The one 50 minute library instruction students get in Comp 1503 does NOT prepare them to do research in all fields, using subject specific databases.  Librarians will be happy to schedule a time in your classroom or at the library to show your class where to locate appropriate sources.  We will also be pleased to create an online research guide for your class.

  • Assumptions About Student Experience with Citation Style:  Students who have taken our Comp and Lit course(s) use MLA citation style, but they may need some review and most will have never used APA style.  Refer students to our online citation guides and to the Writing Center for help, and/or cover this in class.

  • Plagiarism:  Many students do not understand what constitutes plagiarism.  Most assignment handouts and syllabi may mention the penalties for plagiarism, but actual examples are not usually covered in class. Requiring students to use may aid in their understanding of plagiarism.

  • Restriction on Use of Encyclopedias: Please don't exclude all encyclopedias as sources! The Library collection includes many excellent, up-to-date, scholarly subject specific encyclopedias both in print and in online format.  The format of these articles is often exactly what students need to get an overview of their topic, in order to narrow their research focus. And depending on the assignment, even Wikipedia has its place in student research as a way to gain beginner's knowledge of a subject.

  • Requiring Resources Not in Our Collections: This is frustrating for students, so please check first to make sure we own the source(s).

  • Requiring Students to Use the Same Source: Avoid this problem by putting the material on reserve at Hinkle Library.

  • Restricting the Use of the Internet: Emphasize the quality of a source, not necessarily its medium, and be specific about what you will and will not accept.  When students see "No Internet" they assume that anything accessed via the web is inappropriate, and that would include the majority of our periodical sources and many of our e-books, and e-reference sources.

  • Unclear Resource Types: If you require scholarly or peer reviewed articles, don't use the term "periodicals" as that includes both scholarly sources as well as newspapers and general interest magaziness.  If you require the use of "primary" sources, be sure to clearly define that in terms of your discipline.

Adapted with permission from "Creating Effective Research Assignments" by Jane Bigelow, Edison State College (August 2013).