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Information Literacy at Belmont: Research Assignment Design

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. 

Scaffolded Assignment Suggestion for FYS

Scaffolded Assignment Suggestions for FYW

Teaching Center Presentation

Why Assignment Design?

Research assignments often confuse students who have limited experience with scholarly research. The ideas presented here come largely from librarians' experience supporting students in the research process.

Rather than focusing on the end product, usually a research paper, students could benefit from scaffolded assignments that guide them through the process of research and include reflective components on what they are learning.  

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Designing Research Assignments: Tips

Identify Learning Outcomes Related to the Research Process.  

  • What research skills would you like students to develop through the assignment?
  • How will the learning goals and their importance be communicated in the assignment? 
  • How will students demonstrate their learning?

Be Clear about Your Expectations.  

Your students may not have prior experience with academic research and resources. State (in writing) details like:

  • the assignment's purpose
  • the purpose of research and sources for the assignment
  • suggested resources for locating relevant sources
  • citation practices.
  • terminology which may be unclear (e.g. Define terms like "database," "peer reviewed".)
  • assignment length and other parameters

Also consider discussing how research is produced and disseminated in your discipline, and how you expect your students to participate in academic discourse in the context of your class.  

Scaffold the Assignment. 

Breaking a complex research assignment down into a sequence of smaller, more manageable parts:

  • models how to approach a research question and how to manage time effectively,
  • empowers students to focus on and master key research and critical thinking skills
  • provides opportunities for feedback
  • deters plagiarism. 

(Example of a scaffolded research paper.)

Also, see the recommended examples of scaffolded assignments for FYS and FYW, linked in the boxes on the left. 


Devote Class Time to Discussion of the Assignment in Progress.  

Periodic discussions in class can help students reflect on the research process and its importance, encourage questions, and help students develop a sense that what they are doing is a transferable process that they can use for other assignments.

Provide Clear Criteria for Assessment.  

Be explicit about how the assignment will be evaluated. This criteria should align with the learning outcomes and expectations for the assignment.

Rubrics are one way to communicate assessment criteria to students. 

Test Your Assignment.  

By testing an assignment, you may identify practical roadblocks to conducting the research (e.g., too few copies of a book for too many students, a source is no longer available online). Librarians can help with this process (e.g., suggest strategies for mitigating roadblocks, place books on reserve, suggest other resources, design customized supporting materials like handouts or web pages).  

Collaborate with Librarians.  

Librarians can explore with you ways to support students in their research.


Adapted from the LibGuide Research Assignment Design developed by Andrea Baer, of Indiana University Bloomington Libraries. Many thanks to her for permission to reuse this resource.