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TATTO 2015

Teaching Assistant Training and Teaching Opportunity

Tips for Effective Research Assignments

To begin:


1. Have students watch NCSU's From Idea to Library, so they understand academic writing and what all that stuff is in the library. (This video is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States license.)


2. Grade the research -- not just the speech, paper, or project.

3. Break big assignments into small steps so students aren't overwhelmed. (Proposal, source list, outline, draft, etc.) Here are links to 2 short readings about scaffolding learning:

6 Scaffolding Strategies to Use with Your Students

Scaffolding Student Learning: Tips for Getting Started

More tips for designing assignments:


  • Explain the assignment clearly, preferably in writing.  BE SPECIFIC.
  • Identify the purpose of the assignment and learning objectives for students.
  • Provide a grading rubric that is specific to the assignment.

Unambiguous Terminology

  • Be clear about what sources are acceptable. For example, let your students know the differences between popular and scholarly resources.
  • If you expect students to use primary source material, be sure that students understand what you (or your discipline) mean by "primary."


  • Check with your subject librarian to be sure that the library has the resources your students need to complete the assignment.
  • Ask your subject librarian to create a course guide so that students can easily identify resources.
  • Use Reserves to help students who may want to use the same book.

Research Process

  • Practice shaping topics into research questions. This is not as easy for students as you might think...after all, you're in graduate school.
  • Show your students what to look for when you research the literature on an unfamiliar subject.
  • Provide opportunities for feedback and reflection on the research process. For example, have them develop criteria for judging the quality and range of sources (or present your own and discuss in class).
  • Most students will need guidance to complete library research assignments.  Teach research techniques in your class and invite your subject librarian to supplement what you do. Encourage your students to consult with their subject librarian throughout the research process.



Alternatives to Research Papers

There are lots of assignment options that can help students learn research without throwing them into a full research paper assignment. Here are some great suggestions:


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