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Effective Research Assignments

Permission to Share

Creative Commons License

This guide is created by Anne-Marie Deitering and licensed by Oregon State University Library under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.  You may reproduce any part of it for noncommercial purposes as long as credit is included. I encourage you to license your derivative works under Creative Commons as well to encourage sharing and reuse of educational materials.

About this guide

This guide is here to help instructors as they design or revise assignments and projects that require outside sources.  There are resources to help you think about assignment design, to understand student needs, and to get more help.

Before You Begin

Before assigning research in your class, consider these 3 questions:

  1. Will finding, using and learning from outside sources help students be successful in my class or meet my learning objectives?
  2. What do I want students to be able to do with their research?
  3. What do I have the capacity to support?


  • Saying "use the library" doesn't make the library useful.
  • The best way to encourage students to use a research tool or collection is to design a task that is legitimately easier when one uses that tool.
  • The library is not a shortcut. People who use the library can't end-run thinking or evaluating.
  • Requiring something is not the same as teaching it.
  • Students won't automatically understand the connections between research assignments and course outcomes.
  • Research is sometimes uncomfortable and stressful; students will actively try to avoid that stress.

Try to avoid...

  • Assignments that require students to use, locate or manipulate something that their library does not have access to.
  • Assignments that require students to do things in an outdated or inefficient way.
  • Assignments that are not tied to course learning outcomes, but that serve only a potential future need.
  • Assignments that do not meet students "where they are" developmentally.
  • Assignments with source requirements that don't make sense for the intended audience or rhetorical purpose.

Resources at OSU Libraries