Skip to content

Ideas for Research Assignments

Two books in the Humboldt State University Library are especially recommended for research assignment ideas that involve students in critical thinking and give them an opportunity to become familiar with library materials and research methods:

Bean, John C. Engaging Ideas:; The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1996.
Call number: Fac Dev PE 1404 .B35 1996

Lutzker, Marilyn. Research Projects for College Students: What to Write Across the Curriculum. New York: Greenwood Press, 1988.
Call number: LB 2369 .L83 1988

A bibliography of other useful sources, created by Gretchen Fresher Moon of Gustavus Adolphus College is also recommended.

The suggested assignments below can be adapted to many disciplines and classroom situations. Combinations are possible, such as providing the research strategy and rationale that was used to locate material for an annotated bibliography. Most lend themselves equally well to written or oral treatment, to individual or small group work and can be adapted to either lower- or upper-division students.

Students determine if the library owns material on a reading list or bibliography.

Students find reviews of books on a reading list.

Students prepare a poster session (perhaps in PowerPoint) on their topic. An element of the assignment is the extent to which they determine key information and present it succinctly.

Students prepare an annotated bibliography on their topics with an explanation of why the given sources were chosen for inclusion. Perhaps, specify the number and types of sources to be included or a range of dates within which the sources must fall.

Students locate a periodical article on their topics and prepare an abstract of it. (Not suitable for use with indexes that include abstracts of articles)

Have the class as a whole develop evaluation criteria, then have students use the criteria for comparisons such as these:

Students locate two periodical articles on their topics--one popular (possibly from a newspaper) and one scholarly, technical, or professional--and make a comparative evaluation of them.

Students compare the bibliographies of two scholarly articles on the same topic.

Students perform the same subject search in two or more Internet search engines and compare the results.

Students perform a search on the same topic in an Internet search engine and an appropriate library Database and compare the results.

Students locate two reviews of a novel, scholarly work, or film, and compare them.

Students prepare information guides for new majors in their discipline, identifying prominent authors, important reference sources, serial publications, journals, and Websites for example. The guides could be presented as Webpages or in PowerPoint. (Most suitable for upper-division or graduate students)

Students identify one to three persons who have been (or are) prominent (in history, contemporary politics, an academic discipline, or a creative area), locate basic biographical information about each, and make brief presentations on the people, their lives, and why they were (are) noteworthy.

Students trace the careers of important people in the field (scholars, artists, politicians, authors, etc.) by producing a timeline of important events, a bibliography or works list of key publications or creations, an analysis of the reaction to the work and its ultimate impact, and an overview of how the person’s interests evolved. Results might be presented as poster sessions or Websites.

Students analyze the critical reception of a significant work of art, literature, music, or scholarship by comparing several contemporary reviews.

Students evaluate several major journals in a discipline (identified by their instructor) analyzing and comparing tone; content, including author credentials; audience; impact on the field, perhaps using citation indexes. The results could be posted on a Website.

Students keep a journal or other record of their research strategy for an assignment, presenting a rationale for their strategy, noting sources consulted and searches performed in each including keywords, subject headings, or descriptors used, and critiquing their strategy in terms of effectiveness and reasons for any problems they encountered. This record may be submitted along with the assignment or in lieu of it.

Students trace a concept through periodical indexes or specialized encyclopedias for different disciplines, noting how the focus of each discipline influences the way the concept is addressed. Limit search results to peer reviewed articles and English language, as needed. For example:

Trace the concept of stress management in PsycINFO, Sociological Abstracts, ABI Inform, SPORT discus, and Medline

Trace the concept of animal rights in Sociological Abstracts, Psychological Abstracts, Medline, and Philosopher's Index

Trace the term “Mozart” in Medline, MLA Bibliography, PsycINFO, and Art Index

These examples are based on Bean, The Professor’s Guide, cited above:

Have students research and then write an eye-witness account of an historical event, or a diary of a fictional participant.

Have students write diary entries of their daily life as a person in an earlier time or place, or a contemporary person in different circumstances.

Have students write a biographical sketch of a famous person in some field, either as if by a friend or an enemy of the person.

Have students investigate a research problem in the field and then write a paper, in which they take one of these positions:

A synthesizer of the best current thinking (“What do the experts say?”)

A reviewer of a controversy (“What are the current arguments for and against . . .?”)

An evaluator of a controversy (Add an evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments above.)

An advocate in a controversy (Take a position on the arguments above and make a persuasive case for it.)

Students, or small groups, write dialogues between scholars or experts in the field with opposing views, e.g. B. F. Skinner and Benjamin Spock. The dialogues could be the basis for a panel discussion in class.

Librarians can help to insure that your goals for library assignments are translated into effective activities. Whether or not you desire assistance in developing a library assignment, please, at the time you give your assignment, send a copy to the librarian responsible for your subject area. A note explaining your expectations (about which sources are to be used, or not used, about the level of preparation students have had, about the desired level of involvement by librarians, etc.) would also be helpful.