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Kalamazoo College

Designing Effective Research Assignments

Well-designed course-related research assignments can effectively introduce students to the library research process. These guidelines are designed to help you provide students with a positive research experience and reinforce library use as a means of learning.

  • Consult with a Reference Librarian before giving the assignment
    Reference Librarians will work with you to design an appropriate assignment for your course. Please send a copy of the assignment to the Reference Librarians before you distrbute it to ensure we are ready to help your students.
  • Assume minimal library knowledge
    Students may be familiar with some library tools (dictionaries, encyclopedias), but few really understand subject headings or keyword searching, and many have not used scholarly journals.
  • Explain the assignment clearly in writing
    Give students a clear idea of what the assignment involves, suggesting types of sources to be used. Give complete, accurate citations for specific works.
  • Be sure the library holds the needed information
    Few experiences are more frustrating than searching for what does not exist or has been checked out. Place materials on Reserve that many students will need to use, and send an advance copy of the assignment and its due date to the Reference Librarians.
  • Avoid the mob scene
    Dozens of students using just one book, article, or index, or looking for the same information usually leads to misplacement, loss, or mutilation of materials. Give students a variety of topics and sources. Place materials on Reserve as needed; use photocopies of "classic" articles if you can conform to fair-use practices.
  • Avoid scavenger hunts
    Searching for obscure facts frustrates students, can cause chaos in the library stacks, and teaches students little about research. If you are planning a library exercise, talk with the reference librarians about designing an appropriate assignment for your class.
  • Teach research strategy when appropriate
    Include a list of steps involved in the research assigned. Invite a reference librarian to your class to review strategies for the assignment and discuss appropriate tools or types of materials.

With sufficient lead time, librarians can provide presentations and written materials geared specifically to your course and assignment, as well as general orientations for more inexperienced students. PLEASE ASK!

To set up a research instruction session for your class, contact a Reference Librarian at or 269-337-7152. Please have an assignment available.