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Faculty Services @ Spiva Library

A guide explaining information literacy across the curriculum and the role the library plays in helping students learn how to acquire, manage, analyze, evaluate and use information effectively and ethically to be successful in their careers and life.

An effective research assignment...

  • has a specific, understood purpose.
  • relates to some aspect of course subject matter or learning objectives.
  • leads to increased understanding of a subject or the process of locating information related to a subject.
  • makes students aware of the variety of information sources and formats available (e.g., print, electronic, microform, video).
  • teaches students to select and evaluate quality information sources appropriate to their topics.
  • reinforces habits of ethical scholarship.

Characteristics of effective assignments

Clarity - If students have difficulty understanding what they are supposed to do, they will have trouble doing it. Give assignments in writing (rather than orally).

Currency - Information sources are constantly changing. New sources appear as do methods of accessing the information. Check your assignments each semester to verify the accuracy of your sources. If you have questions about sources contact

Avoidance of ambiguous terminology - Students are easily confused by new terms and often interpret assignments quite literally. Common problems include:

  • Some instructors differentiate between magazines and journals, while others use the terms interchangeably.
  • Does "library computer" mean the online library catalog or some other online database, or something else?
  • Use full and current titles of journals and databases; avoid abbreviations and superceeded titles.
  • What do you mean by "the Internet"? Many high quality, expensive electronic research tools are made available by the library via the Internet. These resources are not to be confused with what is freely retrieved by searching the web.

Prepare your students

  • Tell your students why they are doing this assignment and what purpose it serves.
  • If the assignment requires the use of specific sources, give the students a list of them. You may wish to place items on Reserve to assure availability and access for your entire class.
  • If it involves the use of complex sources or unfamiliar research strategies, your students will need to be oriented to these by either you or by a librarian in a customized, scheduled library instruction session.

Pitfalls to avoid

Assuming most students know the basics
Do not assume that your students have had prior research experience or experience using a campus library.

Requiring resources not available
The materials that Spiva Library owns or leases change from semester to semester. Spiva Library may not own or have online access to the same materials as other libraries you have used. Retest an assignment before giving it out.

Giving an entire class the exact same assignment
Needed resources will be difficult to find at best, disappear or be vandalized at worst. For example, Instead of asking the whole class to research the history of specific company, ask them to research a major corporation of their choosing.

Giving a scavenger hunt
The least effective assignment possible asks students to locate random facts. It lacks a clear purpose, does not teach students to do meaningful library research, and may be frustrating. Librarians rather than students frequently end up locating the answers. In general, these assignments result in a high level of student frustration with regard to using the library.

Other helpful tips

Place it on reserve - If you have a large number of students using the same source, consider placing it on Reserve so that all will have easy access to it.

Provide us with a copy - If you have numerous students doing an assignment it can be very helpful if we have a copy of it as well. We will then be better prepared to help your students locate appropriate sources. Drop it off at the Reference Desk or email it to:

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