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Resources for Foothill Faculty: Effective Research Assignments

This guide describes library resources and services designed to support Foothill College faculty.

Tips for creating effective research assignments

  • Familiarize yourself with Foothill Library's print and online collections. Before you design your research assignment, make sure that the library has the resources necessary for your students to successfully complete the assignment.
  • Update your assignment each quarter. Information sources are constantly changing. New sources appear as do methods of accessing the information. Check your assignments each quarter to verify the accuracy and availability of your sources.
  • Be careful when you limit resources. Since many library resources are available online, it can be confusing for students when “Internet,” “Web, ” or ".com" sources are forbidden. Our library collection consists of many varied print and online resources and it is often a combination of these that can best help your students. If you feel strongly about limiting resources, please talk to us so that we understand your expectations and can convey this to your students when we help them. 
  • Define your terms. Students are easily confused by new terms and often interpret assignments quite literally. Common problems include:
    • Some instructors differentiate between magazines and journals, while others use the terms interchangeably.
    • If you say "journal", do you mean only peer-reviewed sources, or will trade journals or commentary publications work, too?
    • What do you mean by "the web"? Do you differentiate between library online databases and "internet sources" such as free web pages found on Google, Yahoo, etc? Many high quality, expensive electronic research tools are made available by the library on the web. These resources are not to be confused with what is freely available on the web.
    • When you limit students to "books", does that include e-books? What about online databases that reprint the content of reference books?
  • Avoid scavenger hunts. These assignments often lack a clear focus, are irrelevant to the students, frustrate them, and the librarian ends up doing most of the work.
  • Send us copy of your assignment. Reference librarians will be better prepared to help your students.
  • Schedule a library orientation for your class. Librarians can provide presentations, written materials, and online guides geared specifically to your course and assignments. For more information, please select the "Library Instruction" tab above.

Articles on designing effective research assignments

Books on library research