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Information Literacy at Belmont: Research Paper Alternatives

Belmont's Information Literacy program. Information for faculty.

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Librarians can help with developing or revising a research assignment that will support students throughout their research and writing process. 

Sequenced Research Paper

1. Develop a preliminary research question.

a.  Locate background sources on a topic of interest.

b.  Narrow or refine the research question in light of the background research.

2. Create (preliminary) annotated bibliography and working thesis.

a. Locate the “conversations” most relevant to the research question that are occurring in public discourse and/or scholarly literature.

b. Identify sources that will help you explore your research question. For each source, articulate summarize what it is about, and how it will help advance your working thesis.   

c. Articulate your working thesis. 

3. Write the paper draft, being sure to integrate and cite sources.

4. Revise the annotated bibliography (#2). It should accurately reflect your updated thesis, the sources you used, and the description of how the sources support your thesis.

5. Revise the final paper. The revised annotated bibliography should help inform how you integrate and use your sources.   

Alternatives to the traditional research paper

Sequenced Research Paper (See left column). Instead of focusing on the end product (number of pages, number of sources, etc), create smaller assignments that focus on the process and include opportunity for reflection and feedback along with way. 

Research Log/JournalKeep a record of your search process. Note things such as your research question, sources consulted, search terms and strategies, relevant sources and how you will use them, or changes to your research question. (Assignment directions can be modified to emphasize the aspects of research that are most critical to the class.)  

Follow The Citations:  Start with a recent, controversial book aimed at a general audience – some examples might be Fast Food Nation, Freakonomics, Nickel and Dimed, The Omnivore’s Dilemma – and have the students track down one or several of the sources cited in the book.  Then have them determine if the book’s author is using the source appropriately:  does the source really prove the point that the author claims that it does?  How trustworthy / authoritative / valid is the source?  This gives students a very tangible experience with the reasons why we cite sources and the importance of using sources appropriately.

Follow The Citations, Science Journalism Style:  Alternatively, you could do a similar assignment where the students start with an article from a popular source – a newspaper, popular magazine, newscast, or a blog – that reports on the results of a scientific study of some sort.  The students would then need to track down the actual published research study, and evaluate whether the popular source reported the results and implications of the study accurately. 

University Research Press Release: This is the reverse of the two assignments above.  Students find a research article on a topic of interest to them, and then pretend that they are the PR department at the university where the research was done, and they need to issue a press release, aimed at a general audience, describing the scope, significance, and results of the study. They may also do an oral presentation about the research to a particular audience of non-specialists.  As part of the assignment, students may be required to find related research (previous research done by the same researcher(s), a follow-up study to the one they are reporting on, etc.) and explain the relationship between the two studies.

Annotated Bibliography For Clients:  As part of an oral presentation for a [mock] group of clients in a [mock] social-service setting, students could prepare a list of briefly annotated resources that might include books, journal articles, websites, or organizations.  Then the students would write a separate, short paper in which they discuss the sources they selected and their reasons for selecting them, as well as – and this is important – sources that they rejected, and their reasons for rejecting them.

Contribute to Wikipedia:  There are many variations on this assignment, but the basic idea is to identify a topic that is not covered, or not covered in sufficient depth, in Wikipedia, and develop an article that meets Wikipedia’s standards of rigor and documentation (which are considerable, and not all that different from the standards of academic research).  Students then contribute the article to Wikipedia, and observe the results as senior editors comment on and revise their contributions. Wikipedia has robust guidelines, suggestions, and steps in the planning process, as well as links to ongoing school and university assignments, here:

Literature Review: First-year students are probably not ready yet to engage in the kind of synthesis and integration – as well as the exhaustive searching –  that a true literature review entails, but they are ready to start learning about the concept of a literature review and its role in the literature and research.  Starting with a foundational literature review that is 5-10 years old (depending on the speed of research in the discipline) students could update that review, identifying works within the scope of the review that have been published in the intervening years, and incorporating them into the narrative of the review.

Other Resources for Assignment Ideas

Multi-Media Assignments

Blogs: Students share experiences with specific aspects of the research process and respond to one another’s ideas (e.g. a describing one’s chosen research question, why it interests them, and why others should care about it; identifying one source that has expanded or a challenged student’s thinking about their research question; describing how one’s research question has evolved over the course of their research). 

Wikis: Students doing collaborative research might develop and revise their ideas through a wiki (like those available through platforms like Wikispaces). Wiki pages might be organized into different areas of the research topic, or into different aspects of the research process (e.g. emerging research questions, background information (such as differing perspectives on the research question), the working thesis and supporting evidence).

Public Service Announcement: Individually or in groups, students create a short public service announcement in the form of a video, poster, or webpage. The information presented must be supported by research, and sources must be cited.  


More on Implementing Multimedia Literacy Projects (Univ. of Delaware Library)