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Creating Effective Research Assignments: Home


This guide shares observations about crafting effective research assignments, gleaned from the experiences of the librarians of DeVry University and other academic institutions.  Here can also be found links to ebooks and other resources that address the research process and research assignments.

General Considerations

Learning Objectives
What is the purpose of the research assignment?  The assignment's learning objectives
should be clear to both students and the instructor. 

Student Confidence
Remember that students, despite some of them being "digital natives," do not know as much about research (even online) as they think they do, and a large percentage of our population are returning students with a long "gap year." 

Library anxiety is a well documented phenomenon.  Even students who grew up with information technology admit to finding the library and its wide array of resources intimidating and confusing (Head, 2013).  The librarians are here to help, but not every student is aware of this resource - please direct them to ask for assistance.


Head, A. (2013). Project Information Literacy: What can be learned about the information-seeking behavior of today’s college students? Retrieved from

Good Ideas

Clearly define research assignment terminology.  A specification like "do not use the Internet" can be construed as applying to the library's resources (and the librarians have dealt with this exact state of confusion by students).  It is better to positively identify what your expectations are, e.g. "a minimum of six scholarly sources."

Direct students to contact the librarians for help - this is an essential part of the research process, not an admission of ignorance (if using the library was obvious, there wouldn't be librarians).

On a related note, consider scheduling a library instruction session with your DVU librarians that coincides with the start of the research assignment.  

Test the assignment yourself before assigning it to students.

Contact the librarians to make sure the library has the resources needed and in sufficient quantity.  Some access models limit the library to one "copy" of a particular e-book, for example, and some of our vendors do not always make the most recent content available immediately.

Consider requiring research journals or logs, or annotated bibliographies, etc. to encourage thinking about the research process and quality of the resources used.

Things to Avoid

Avoid directing students to a particular and finite resource - it is an unfortunate fact that some of the library's license agreements limit the number of "copies" of some content.

Avoid "scavenger hunts," i.e. directing students to find things for the sake of finding things.  Students tend to reject activities that do not appear to have direct application in their classes. However, these kinds of activities can work if students find them sufficiently engaging or entertaining.

Do not make assumptions about what resources are available in the library.  The library's resources change over time, due to factors including budget variations and vendor agreements.  Contact the librarians to ensure that the needed resources are available.

Avoid seemingly arbitrary specifications on resources.  Telling students not to use Wikipedia is not as effective as being explicit about which resources are acceptable.  


DVU Library Resources

External Links

The following sources were consulted in preparing this LibGuide:

Burkhardt, J. (2016). Teaching information literacy reframed. Chicago: ALA Neal Schuman

Head, A. (2013). Project Information Literacy: What can be learned about the information-seeking behavior of today’s college students? Retrieved from

Hunter College Libraries (2018). Creating research assignments: Faculty guide. Retrieved from

Mesa Community College Library (n.d.). Planning checklist: Research assignments [PDF]. Retrieved from

Su, D. (2014). Library instruction design: Learning from Google and Apple. [Books24x7 version] Available from

University of Idaho Library (2017). Creating effective library research assignments. Retrieved from