Pellissippi HOME | Library Site A-Z

Instructor Services: Research Assignment Guide

Got Alignment? Aligning Research Assignments with Library Resources PowerPoint

Guide: Create a Research Assignment that Aligns with Library Resources

Guide to Creating a Research Assignment

In Alignment with Library Resources

  1. Project Type

Research Project Alternatives

Instructors may want to consider options outside of assigning a traditional research paper. Other formats may be very engaging for the students to connect with the information they are working with and can prevent some monotonous grading sessions for the instructor. Additional types of assignments that allow students to complete a project based on the research they did could include:

  • Giving a speech
  • Creating a Public Service Announcement (PSA)
  • Mock Trials
  • Create a Web Page
  • Infographics
  • YouTube Video
  • Slideshow
  • Graphic Essay
  • Crime/Mystery Story
  • Compare popular and scholarly sources on the same topic
  • Create a poster for a class poster session

  1. Assignment Parameters Checklist

What is the required length of the paper in number of pages or number of words? Indicate a minimum and a maximum.

What type of resources will be required? How many different resources will be required?

When will the assignment be due? Will the assignment be accepted after the due date? Will the grade be reduced if it is submitted late?

How should the assignment be submitted? Paper versus electronic copy.

What point of view should the paper be written in? (Usually third person)

Will a plagiarism detection tool be used? Will the assignment be submitted to TurnItIn by the instructor?

Will the instructor provide a list of possible topics or will students need to narrow their topics another way?

Provide a link to any research guides or other research tools to be used.

  1. Best Practices

High-Impact Practices (HIPs)

  • Collaborative Assignment/Project
  • Diversity/Global Learning
  • ePortfolios
  • Service Learning


Scaffolding the assignment can help instructors lead students with novice experience through the process of writing a research paper.  They are able to address portions of the assignment as smaller, more manageable tasks turning each one in separately so that there are multiple deliverables instead of one deliverable in the form of the completed research paper. This can serve as a helpful time management tool since students probably will not allot enough time to each part if approaching the assignment as a whole. This is especially effective in classes with no pre-requisite where students may not have experience with college-level research. Possible sections to break the assignment into are:

  1. Choose a topic. Create a research question. Locate two (or more) preliminary resources on this topic that may be used and create citations for them (specify APA or MLA).
  2. Read, summarize, evaluate, and analyze the resources you have decided to use in support of answering your research question.
  3. Write a rough draft that discusses information that supports how you are answering your research question. Be sure to use quotes or paraphrases from the resources you have chosen to support your topic.
  4. Combine the first three parts of the assignment and add content to complete the final version of the research paper.

Be sure to indicate the expected length of time each part should take for the students to complete. So that they allot a proper amount of their time to the assignment so that they can be successful.

Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT)

Best practices in teaching in higher education settings include providing the following information on assignments:

  • Purpose -

What skills will the students practice from doing this assignment?

What knowledge will they gain from this particular assignment?

How does it relate to the students' real lives?

  • Task -

What do the instructors expect them to do?

How do they do it?

  • Criteria -

Come up with a checklist of expectations.

Show examples of what work looks like when it meets those expectations and sometimes when it doesn't.

  • Student Learning Outcomes (Mager’s performance, conditions, criterion characteristics)

Performance - What should the learner be able to do?

Conditions - Under what conditions do you want the learner to be able to do it?

Criterion - How well must it be done? (Mager, 1997, p. 46)


Performance: The learner should be able to recite their poem...

Conditions: under 5 minutes from memory in front of the class...

Criterion: ...speaking clearly, at a medium pace (not quickly or slowly), and at a volume that can be heard by everyone in the classroom which displays a level of competency that indicates the presentation was well-practiced.

Identify How Students Should Get Help

Sometimes students are not sure where to get help with their assignment. It can be very helpful to them if the assignment includes a section that identifies who they should ask for help if they find they are struggling. See example below.

Questions about:

  1. Design Choices

Choose Topics

Scanning the contents or index of the course textbook may be helpful in choosing a general topic.

Choose Library Sources and/or Website Sources

Library Sources

The library has a collection of over 100 databases containing high quality scholarly, credible, and reputable sources for students to use that they will not be able to access on the internet for free.

If using library sources, the instructor may choose for students to search in One Search or in specific databases. One Search will search through most of the library’s databases at once, but not all of them. Some of the databases are highly specialized and provide search options that will allow for highly specific searches.  Depending upon the subject, sometimes specific databases are the best place for students to search for sources such as literature databases for literature topics and business databases for business topics. If you are unsure, ask a librarian for information about available options and recommendations.

Website Sources

When choosing website sources, .gov, .edu, .mil, and sometimes .org websites can be considered credible sources. National organizations and non-profit websites may also be credible. Students can limit their searches to specific websites or domains by using Google Advanced Search ( They will enter keywords about their subject in one of the top three fields in the “Find Pages with…” section, and then entering .gov, .edu, .mil, or .org in the “site or domain” field in the “Then narrow your results by…” section, then clicking the blue “Advanced Search” button at the bottom of the web page.

Choose Required Resource Type(s)

These are the most popular resource types that instructors may want to specify that their students should use for their research assignment. Instructors can consider their course level and their students’ reading levels when choosing required resource type(s). The resource type usually recommended for first-year and second-year college students is reputable sources or credible sources. Scholarly articles can also be used as a required resource type but would be better suited to courses with pre-requisites because they may require more advanced reading skills. Peer-reviewed articles are often considered to be best used by graduate students with advanced research experience and higher reading levels. When indicating a required resource type for an assignment, instructors may want to indicate which types of sources are preferred, which types are acceptable, and which types are unacceptable. This information can greatly assist your students and the librarians who are helping them to find resources for their assignment.

  • Peer-reviewed Articles
  • Scholarly Articles
  • Credible Sources (written by an expert to a public audience)
  • Reputable Sources (written by a journalist)

Print Resources

The library’s print resources are limited and cannot adequately cover all topics. A careful review should be performed before limiting students to using print resources.

Choose the Acceptable Resource Age

How old is too old for resources students might use for the research project? Here are some examples:

5 years: Usually considered current, but it depends on the topic.

2 years: Best for medical or technology topics.

No age restrictions: Literature and history topics.

Choose a Citation Style

Indicate which citation style students will be required to use for their research project. APA and MLA are the only citation styles supported by the college. Assistance for students from tutors or librarians with other citation styles are limited.

APA Style: Often used for education, psychology, and sciences.

MLA Style: Often used for language arts, cultural studies, and other humanities disciplines.

  1. Reality Check

Test the Assignment

Now that the assignment has been written, test-drive the assignment using three different topics and taking them through the same path as the assignment was written to make sure the assignment instructions work for each topic.

  1. Developing Research Tools

You can create research tools such as those in the list below or you can partner with your subject librarian to collaborate with or request their input to fine-tune custom tools you have created for your students to use for your research assignment such as a:

  1. Schedule Library Instruction

Complete the Request Instruction form to schedule a time for a librarian to visit your class and provide library instruction. The librarian’s presentation can be customized to suit your needs.

Another option is to use the library’s video tutorials or request a custom video tutorial for your class.

  1. Avoid Common Problems

There are several common problems that can slow students down, cause them to struggle, and may even motivate them to give up.

  • Requiring scholarly sources on non-scholarly topics. (No available resources of that type)
  • Requiring print resources. (The library may have great electronic sources, but no print sources on a topic since print sources are more limited)
  • Choosing topics that are too recent. (It takes time for scholars to begin research efforts on recent topics which then need to be completed and published before they are available)
  • Choosing topics that result in a deep dive into biology or law topics in a class with no pre-requisites. (The result is that the student has a topic that may be too complicated for the class)
  • Searches for vague or broad topics. (The student will receive an excessive list of search results)
  • Searches that are too narrow. (The student may find limited search results or none at all)

  1. Student Success and Retention

Following best practices for creating a research assignment will help instructors align their research assignments with their students’ ability level and with library resources, helping students succeed in their classes and continue toward completion of their degree.

  1. Questions or Ideas

If you have questions about this guide, please contact a librarian at Ask a Librarian. Please email Susan Martel ( to submit any ideas you may have for improving this guide.






B, S. (2009, February 18). ACRLog: Academic research a painful process for students. Retrieved from

S. Gillespie, personal communication, June 25, 2021.

Tilt Higher Ed: Transparency in Learning and Teaching. (2014). Retrieved from  

UArts: University Libraries. (n.d.). Retrieved from