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Information Literacy at Belmont: Research Process Assignments

Belmont's Information Literacy program. Information for faculty.

Sample Assignments that Support the ACRL Framework

The following assignments encourage critical thinking in the research process and can help students understand the “big ideas” of information literacy. They are divided into the major concepts of the Framework for Information Literacy and can be adapted by classroom faculty on their own or in consultation with a librarian. 

Authority is Constructed and Contextual

  • Ask students to evaluate/analyze social media posts for a current event and determine why the post is or is not credible.
  • Ask students to analyze one source in detail asking questions about authority and why that type of authority is appropriate for their information need.
  • Provide students with two different information types (with two different goals) on the same topic by the same unnamed authoritative creator/author (for example, scholarly article and blog post). Use as discussion starter with students about context in relationship to authority. Reveal authorship later.
  • Have students look at a blog, a video on YouTube, a collection of tweets, or some other type of social media regarding a contemporary event (e.g. online backlash and demonstrations again separating immigrant families at the border). Ask them to describe how they would analyze and evaluate the authority. Are there ways to determine whether the individual was an actual witness or participant? Are there ways to identify whether the individual or group has a political bias? Can they determine whether the author(s) has a particular status within the group he/she represents or is the individual reporting as an "average citizen"?

Information has Value

  • Ask students to find several images that would enhance the project or paper on which they are working. Then ask them to determine which can be used without asking permission. What would they need to do to use this material?
  • Assign students to read a timely article connected to information ethics in the field of study as a discussion starter.
  • Discern between the economic processes behind different types of information, e.g. newspaper articles vs. 24-hour TV news, edited academic volume vs. popular title.
  • Ask students to determine what information they can find about themselves or a relative online, and to assess whether steps should be taken to control this personal information.
  • Have students demonstrate how their online information has value to others  
  • Identify issues that impact access to information

Scholarship as Conversation

  • Have students read your article and the related seminal article in your field. Discuss what a seminal article is and how it affects work in that field. Talk specifically about your own research and its place in the conversation.
  • Mini Lit Review: Groups of students are given a packet of article abstracts, and then write summaries and synthesize the articles into a mini-literature review. Allows them to practice using scholarly sources before doing it on their own.
  • Suggest students contribute to the conversation in an appropriate forum: Wikipedia entries and edits, undergraduate research journals, conference presentations and posters.
  • As part of a research paper assignment, ask students to identify seminal or early voices in the conversation of their research. Students can turn in a timeline of sources in the conversation.
  • Using an encyclopedia entry, or a literature review, prompt students to recognize references to other works. Show students how to use library tools to trace the citations to other sources.
  • Ask students to share what markers of quality or red flags they look for in sources to develop a class developed evaluation tool. Engage them in the critical evaluation of a web source or professional journal, which can display confusing characteristics.
  • Assign an entire class to conduct an investigation of a particular topic from its treatment in the popular media, and then trace its origin in conversations among scholars and researchers.
  • Create a timeline to track the evolving threads of a continuing scholarly conversation.


Searching is Strategic

  • Use concept maps to brainstorm topic ideas and generate keywords
  • Ask students to keep a search log to document how their search changed over time. What keywords did they start with? What search engines? What did they learn from initial searches and how did they improve their search with different terminology, limiters, different search engines?
  • Assign students to identify and use subject headings after conducting a keyword search; after which they write a paragraph on the differences between subject and keyword searching
  • Students must identify one or two important databases for the project they are working on and analyze why they consider them to be an effective resource for their research.
  • Ask students to choose a topic, develop key search terms, and use two different search engines to locate information on their topic. Have them compare the results in terms of quantity, types of sources (e.g., government, educational, scholarly, and commercial), order/sequence of results, and relevance. Pair students who used the same search engine with different topics to compare results.

Information Creation as a Process

  • Rather than assigning a list of required source types (eg. 2 books, 3 journal articles, 1 web) for a research paper, ask students to reflect on the kind of information they need and to find/propose sources to match.
  • Spend time demonstrating when it is appropriate to use non-scholarly sources: news for first person accounts, late-breaking information only available on Twitter, statistics on government websites, etc.
  • Discuss the scholarly publication process with students. Show them your own published articles and describe the process that got them published.
  • Assign a scholarly article reading before the research assignment has begun. As a class, dissect the parts of the article, their characteristics, and uses. Reflect on the functional process the researchers used to create the parts of the article, and the process the publishers used to distribute the article.
  • Provide students with a source, and ask them to imagine transforming it into another format. Ask them to describe what changes would need to be made, what new information they would need, or what they had to consider for this transformation to happen.
  • Bring sources of different formats that illustrate different roles in the information cycle. Ask students to describe how each source was created. Ask students to explain differences they observe as well as probable explanations for the differences.
  • Explore specific source categories, like primary sources or reference sources, to distinguish them as a unique class of sources. Describe their creation process and discuss their unique uses.

Research as Inquiry

  • When assigning a research paper, make background reading a step in the research process. For example, have students pick a general topic, require them to use background reading sources (even Wikipedia) to help develop a focused thesis statement. This activity helps them develop a big picture idea of their topic before they can adopt a strong thesis statement.
    • Require students to do background reading
    • Require students to turn their topic into a thesis statement
    • Allow students the flexibility to change their thesis as they do research
  • Stage the research process with small research process (not just writing process) assignments throughout the semester so students are guided to complete each step.
  • Model the iterative nature of research by explaining your research process with a recent article you have written. *Remember they likely have not crossed your discipline thresholds, help them find that basic information through background reading, even if you did not need to do so.
  • Explain research as non-linear process, assigning strategically placed research exercises. *Must be done at the point of need with authentic topics. We can:
    • Introduce students to relevant subject specific reference tools including encyclopedias and websites. Using the background sources, have the students do mind mapping of the main issues related to their topic. This will help students narrow their focus, pick a thesis and choose relevant keywords.
    • Once students have a big picture understanding (and ideas of what direction to go with their topic), we can lead students through using scholarly resources to find new sources, come up with new questions and develop and redevelop their search strategies.
  • Students reflect upon the steps they went through when researching a major purchase or event in their lives (buying a car, selecting a college, etc.). They identify the steps involved in the research behind such a decision, and confront the importance of employing a similar strategy in the academic setting.


Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), “Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education,” 2015, accessed June 7, 2018,

Sample Active Learning Assignments that Support the ACRL Framewor. Retrieved February 4, 2016 from 

Jacobs, Heidi L.M., and Dale Jacobs. "Transforming the one-shot library session into pedagogical collaboration: information literacy and the English composition class." Reference & User Services Quarterly Fall 2009: 72+. Expanded Academic ASAP. Web. 5 Feb. 2016.