Research & Writing Assignment Ideas

Options for papers, projects, or annotated bibliographies


Understanding differences between search engines, databases, and publication types

  • Gather and compare information on a topic found by searching web search engines and library search tools such as Summon. Write about the kinds of information each search tool finds. Describe the criteria that should be used to judge the resources.
  • Analyze coverage of a topic by investigating different types of materials-e.g. popular & scholarly, primary and secondary. Describe what is learned from each form of writing.
  • Write a proposal with bibliography of scholarly and popular sources for a practical project--with positive environmental, political, and/or economic ramifications.
  • Group project using two partners or a group of four. Pick a broad, large topic which can be researched historically and is still being explored today (e.g. poverty in the US). One partner researches the past (say, 1960-1990) through print means and the present (1990-2010) through electronic sources, while the second does the opposite search. Or four people could have one of the searches each. What sources are found and what are the strengths and weaknesses of the information they offer?

  • Assign a scholarly article reading (preferably from a print journal) – then have students find the full journal issue it is from and write about the other articles in the journal.  How is the journal organized and how are the articles related? 

Understanding the information cycle

  • How is an event reported over time?  News item at time of event, opinion magazine article, scholarly analysis in journal, books.
  • Trace the development of a medical treatment or scientific process.  Include discussion of how current research has changed earlier medical practice or scientific understanding.
  • Give students a dissertation by a well-know scholar and have them find related articles and books by the author that have been published.  Include discussion of how the author has revised or expanded the topic and /or discuss how the writing has changed for different content types (books, journal articles, popular sources).
  • Literature Review: have students read the literature review section of an assigned journal article or Annual Reviews article.  Then have them write a literature review with bibliography on another topic for the course.

Using Background / Factual Sources

  • Wikipedia assignment: have your students edit and improve an existing wikipedia article by adding additional information that cites scholarly research.  See instructor resources at for guidance.
  • Prepare for an interview of a current world leader or other prominent person.  Gather country, political, biographical, etc. information, listing sources.
  • Find an interesting array of information about a place, and write a brief chapter for a travel book in a foreign language.
  • Structured "treasure hunt" type assignment--where students have a list of questions to be answered and are given a list of resources to check.  They find the answer and cite the source.

Evaluating Sources

  • Choose one book that has bearing on your subject.  Students find and read 2-3 reviews of the work, then write a response to one of the reviews.
  • Choose a controversial article or one that has been heavily critiqued by scholars.  First have students read article and write and submit their own critique (no outside sources).  Then have students research the article to discover what others have said and write a response to that criticism and what they learned about evaluating articles, even scholarly ones.
  • Find a popular article that is based on or cites scholarly research (example a health or policy topic). Have students track down sources mentioned and describe how well the facts and arguments are presented and whether important findings in these studies or other research on the topic were omitted or misrepresented because of bias.
  • Assign a topic that has had a lot of industry-funded research (ex. smoking, obesity, health effects of particular drugs or products).  Have students find research studies and articles in scholarly journals.  For each article cited, have students write annotations noting the funding source for the research and the researcher(s)' affiliations.  For background, have students read articles that discuss industry funded research. 
    Example: Coca-Cola Funds Scientists Who Shift Blame for Obesity Away From Bad Diets.

Literary and/or Historical Assignments

  • Compare historical reviews and more recent criticisms of a literary work.
  • Research and write about historical events or circumstances that provide the setting for a literary work.
  • Research a topic in digital primary source material from an earlier time period.  Include a discussion of the contemporary terminology used at the time (and keywords searched with) that illustrates the topic or concept.

Performing Arts Assignments

  • Find reviews of different performances of a play or musical work and compare how the work was interpreted, adapted, or performed over time. 

 Persuasive and/or Popular Writing

  • Write an editorial that incorporates and cites facts from outside research.


Tip: If including an annotated bibliography, direct students to the Annotated Bibliographies Guide (go/annotate) for help with how to write one.  Also see the Citation Guide (go/citations)

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