When a student asks for help with their research, we often look to their assignment for guidance. What are they being asked to do, and what is the learning goal? What kinds of sources do they need? Here are a few research assignments we’ve seen that have helped students engage with research in a meaningful and productive way.
Find more ideas for short, scaffolding-style assignments on our Manageable Research page!
Where to Begin Doing Research
- Send students on a treasure hunt for background sources: Give them a list of questions and a list of encyclopedias, dictionaries and handbooks to check. They need to find the answers and cite their sources.
- Have students use Wikipedia as a background source: Students should improve an existing Wikipedia article by adding additional information that cites scholarly research. See instructor resources at Wikiedu.org for guidance.
Developing a Research Question
- Give students a dissertation by a well-known scholar and have them find related articles and books by the same author. Then, have students discuss how the author revised their research question over time.
- Have students generate questions about the historical events that provide the setting for a literary work, then try to find answers to the questions. Afterwards, invite the students to reflect on the process of using a question to guide their research.
Joining the Scholarly Conversation
- Show students that the creation of information is a process, not something that occurs at a single point in time: Have students analyze how an event is written about over the course of a few years, tracing the progression from newspapers to magazines to scholarly articles.
- Have students trace the development of a medical treatment. Include a discussion of how current research has changed earlier medical practice or scientific understanding.
- Have students analyze the coverage of a topic by investigating different types of materials (popular vs. scholarly, primary vs. secondary). Additionally, students could describe the goals of each form of writing.
- Find a popular article in a magazine or newspaper article that is based on scholarly research, and have students track down the sources that were used. Students should describe how well the facts are presented, and whether important findings were misrepresented. This assignment might work best for topics related to science, health and public policy.
- Find a persuasive editorial that does not cite sources for its claims. Have students look for evidence, then rewrite their own version of the editorial with sources acknowledged.
- Choose one book from your course reading list. Have students find and read 2-3 reviews of the work, then write a response to one of the reviews.
- Choose an article that has been heavily critiqued by scholars. First, have students read the article and submit their own response. Then, have students research the article to and respond to what the critics have said. Bonus: Have students reflect on what they learned about evaluating scholarly sources.
- Assign an article that was based on industry-funded research (common topics might include smoking, obesity, health effects of particular drugs or products). Have students check the author’s affiliations and note the funding source for the research. 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.
- Have students compile an annotated bibliography on a topic that they’re investigating for a research paper. Each annotation should describe how they might use the source. You may wish to direct students to our Annotated Bibliographies Guide, and our Citation Guide.
Research and Writing Within a Genre
- Give students a scholarly article, then ask them to identify its key elements and compare them to those of a magazine article.
- Literature Review: Have students read the literature review section of an assigned journal article. Then have them write a literature review with bibliography on another topic.
- Have the students read a critical analysis of a theatrical performance. Have students describe the types of sources cited and how the sources are used.
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