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Leading Students Beyond Google: Effective Research Assignments for the 21st Century

Getting the Most Out of Your Assignments




To read well-researched papers…

Don’t assume your students have even the most rudimentary research skills. REALLY! Most of them have trouble getting started with projects. Despite fluency with online information retrieveal, many of them struggle with defining topics, developing a thesis and creating supporting research questions.

Do schedule a research instruction session or encourage them to visit the research help desk or schedule a Workshop on Demand. We will help your students get started!

Students to get an idea what is available in and through the library, and feel comfortable asking for help from MJC librarians…

Don’t assign a library scavenger hunt! Searching for obscure facts frustrates students, can wreak havoc in the library stacks as scores of students look for the same title, and ultimately teaches students little or nothing about a holistic research process.

Do schedule a research instruction session or encourage them to seek assistance at the research help desk, or through a Workshop on Demand. A librarian can meet with your students, talk to them about the research process as it relates to your class. Librarians can teach them know what kind of resources and services are available to them, as well as give them tips and tricks to streamline the research process.

Students to be able to navigate the library confidently….

Don’t assume the library is the same place it was last semester! A constant stream of additions, deletions, and name-changes makes both the print and online collections a challenge to keep straight. Calling the Library catalog OPUS, or lumping the 35 Gale databases under the name Infotrac, makes for a confusing library/student interaction.


Do run your assignment by your library liaison. She can guarantee your assignment reflects the most current resources, make certain our collections are sufficient to support your students’ research, and generally ensure the assignment is actually “do-able.”

Students to be aware of current information on their topic…

Don’t limit ALL their sources to current information. You risk denying students access to seminal documents in the discipline.

Do require students to find some current information sources.  At the same time, encourage them to identify and use seminal works on their topic.

Students to avoid general sources such as World Book Encyclopedia  or Encyclopedia Britannica

Don’t exclude encyclopedias altogether. There are many scholarly, college-appropriate titles available in the Library and through our online subscriptions

Do explicitly exclude ONLY general sources. Encourage them to examine more scholarly sources of background information. This background information will help them transition to more scholarly work and is a great “scaffolding” technique.

Students to seek out only high quality information…

Don’t assume you can protect them from bad information by limiting/denying them the opportunity to use specific information formats.  “Good” and “bad” and biased information exists in all formats.

Do encourage them to evaluate ALL information they use.  We teach and use the CRAAP test -- currency, relevancy, authority, accuracy , and point of view -- because it is easy to remember.

Students to be aware of a variety of information sources…

Don’t exclude or prohibit a particular type of resource. Excluding websites and/or forcing them to use print resources sometimes precludes them from finding and using the best possible source of information.

Do make sure they are aware of the variety of sources available for research. A research instruction session, a visit to the research help desk or a Workshop on Demand is a great way to accomplish this!

Students to start their research early and work on it steadily throughout the semester….

Don’t assign one huge paper/project due at the end of the term.




Do break the assignment into segments. Have students turn things in along the way: a list of research questions, a response to a consultation with a research librarian, article summaries, an annotated bibliography of sources they plan to use, an outline, a journal detailing the successes and failures of their research process, etc.

Students to be absolutely clear regarding your expectations…

Don’t assume they come to class, listen in class—and most importantly -- understand what they are hearing in class! 

Do put everything in writing.  Include all details about scope, length, format, number and types of sources. Hand this document out in class, make it available online, if possible, and forward it to the Library reference desk.