Tips for Designing a Meaningful Library Research Assignment

Thoughtful planning when creating a library research assignment can make the difference between an engaging and energizing experience and one that is an exercise in student frustration. After many years working with library assignments, both successful and not, HCC librarians have some tips to share:

Explain the purpose of the library research assignment. 
What should the student learn from the assignment and how does this assignment relate to the course objectives? Show clearly how the activity is not busy work.

Students need your guidance when developing their research topics.
Assignments for classes that are not content specific (composition classes, for example) can be problematic when students are instructed to "choose any topic you want." Students often flounder when given too many options and become frustrated before they even start researching.

Provide the assignment in writing.
The reference librarian can provide the best service when the assignment clearly states exactly what you are looking for. Specify all due dates, indicate the numbers and kinds of sources (popular or academic) required, indicate whether Internet sources are allowable, specify the required length, the expected format, etc.

Break up large assignment into manageable units.
This helps to keep students on track and makes plagiarism more difficult. Provide specific due dates for topic selection, list of resources consulted, thesis statement, first draft, revision, and final draft.

Become acquainted with HCC Library resources and be sure that your assignment is appropriate for this collection.
For example, the Local History Collection does not circulate and must be used on site. Some questions are difficult to answer with our resources. Don't hand out an assignment that you have not tried to do yourself.

Other tips

  • Do not assign the same topic to large groups if there are limited library resources.
  • Scavenger hunts teach students nothing valuable about the research process and waste the time of library staff.
  • Assume that your students do not have experience with on-line academic research, although they may be skilled Internet surfers. Students may falsely believe that these activities require the same skills.
  • Interested in talking to a reference librarian about a library assignment or scheduling an information instruction class geared specifically to your assignment? Contact the Reference Staff at the Reference Desk (third floor of Donahue) or call 413.552.2424.

Holyoke Community College
303 Homestead Ave. 
Holyoke, MA 01040 
413.552.2372 (Circulation Desk) 
413.552.2424 (Reference Desk)
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