faculty members have lost confidence in the learning effectiveness of
the traditional research paper for undergraduates.
Concerns over ďcut-and-pasteĒ plagiarism and term paper
purchasing have created a need for different approaches towards
information-based assignments. Term
papers have been the most commonly used method of evaluating whether
students can successfully apply information skills, but there are other
ways to incorporate information resources into assignments without
requiring a full-scale research paper.
Students may actually respond better to alternative assignments
that enable them to focus on specific resources, aspects of the research
process or aspects of the discipline.
Students need to acquire
information skills. But the
skills required to find, evaluate and use the best information in the
most efficient manner must be taught and practiced in the context of a
skills are tools for fostering mastery of a subject and achieving course
Librarians are available
to discuss various information resources and term-paper alternatives
with you. A number of
handouts are available to help students with different types of
assignments such as writing annotated bibliographies, book reviews.
Consultation with librarians helps to clarify their understanding
of the assignment so that they can better assist your students.
When adapting any of the
ideas below, please note that the clarity of your directions, details
and examples contribute to the assignmentís and your studentsí
Anatomy of a Term Paper
Conduct the research for a term paper. Do everything except write it. At
various stages, students submit: 1) topic clearly defined, 2) annotated
bibliography of useful sources, 3) outline of paper, 4) thesis
statement, 5) opening paragraph and summary.
Focuses on the stages of research and the parts of a paper, rather than
on the writing of it.
Find a specified number of sources on a topic and write descriptive or
evaluative annotations for each source.
Sharpens the skills of literature searching and mastering a
bibliographic style. Students
learn to identify the essential details of a work and its relevance to
Abstracting an Article or Book
Read and prepare a summary of an article, chapter or book.
Learn to identify the basic information needed to determine if reading
the entire article or book is appropriate for a given project.
Students learn to summarize without evaluative comment while
giving potential readers as much pertinent information as possible in a
Compare Internet and Database Searches
Provide a precise statement of the search topic. Run the search on the
Web (try more than one search engine) and on a database (EBSCOhost,
, etc). Students will need
instruction in the basic concepts of database searching, such as using
Boolean operators and selecting effective search terms. Present some
representation of the search results and compare the findings. Was one
source better than the other? If so why and how? Justify the choice of
Demonstrates the differences between these searches with respect to
content and search strategy. Teaches students that Internet access is
not just one thing and that Web searching is not the same as database
Review the literature on a specific topic for a given time period.
Reveals the purpose of a literature review, and provides experience
doing one. Students must
identify appropriate articles and use them to describe the current
thinking or research on a topic.
Update a Bibliography or Review Article
Assignment: Select (or assign) a bibliography or review article
written a number of years ago and update that bibliography or review
explain briefly why the new publications were chosen.
Purpose: Introduces students to literature reviews, subject
indexes and reference sources. Provides
practice in searching for up-to-date information from a variety of
the evolution of a particular topic and the scholarly communication
surrounding it. Requires students to analyze, synthesize and integrate
the ideas they find utilizing critical thinking and evaluative skills.
Compile an anthology of readings by one person or on one topic. A model
for this format is an annotated book of readings, like those frequently
used for college courses. Include an introduction that displays an
overall understanding of the subject and gives biographical information
about the authors. Explain the rationale for including the works.
Include reviews or critical materials to justify the choices.
Encourages critical reading and evaluation. Requires the student to
identify similarities and differences between articles and to relate
various writings to a common theme.
Research a topic and present it as a poster that other students will use
to learn about the topic.
Gives the opportunity to conduct a search and requires students to
express the important points succinctly.
the Structure of "the Literature"
Understanding "The Literature" of a Discipline
What does "the literature" of a discipline look like?
What comprises it? How
is it produced, disseminated and accessed in a given discipline?
How is the knowledge produced?
By whom? In which
media is it presented? What
is the publishing cycle? How
important is informal communication in the field?
Demystifies the elusive term "the literature" and provides
students with an understanding of the mechanisms, organization and
structure of the literature in a given field.
Examining a Classical Work
Explore through book reviews, biographical information, and indexes how
and why a work becomes a "classic."
What effect does a classical work have on a discipline?
Demonstrates the evolution of ideas and identifies factors that make a
Following Research Trends
Select a present day issue or concern. Search the past literature at 5
or 10-year intervals. How
have theories or attitudes toward the issue changed?
Demonstrates that the problems and concerns of humankind have not really
changed through the years. What
have changed are our attitudes and understandings of these concerns.
Illustrates the explosion of research and how its issues, content and
Forecasting in retrospect, what did articles written in the [1960s]
predict about the future of [computers].
Did the forecasts come true or not?
Demonstrates the importance of historical perspective and how unexamined
assumptions and other variables can produce unexpected results.
Tracing a Scholar's Career
Students choose (or are assigned) a scholar/researcher. Explore that
person's career and ideas by locating biographical information,
preparing a bibliography of the scholarís writings, analyzing the
reaction of the scholarly community to the researcher's work, and
examining the scholarly network in which the scholar works.
Introduces students to the use of biographical and bibliographical
tools, and exposes them to examples of scholarly dialogue.
Identifying Major Journals
Identify (with professor's help) major journals in the discipline.
Compare and contrast them. Analyze their content, tone, audience and
Emphasizes the importance of journal literature. Makes the point that
journals differ in approach and perspective.
Understanding Primary Sources
Compare and contrast primary and secondary sources on the same topic.
Contrast the sources, their content and treatment of the topic.
Teaches students to differentiate between primary/secondary sources in a
discipline. Shows when and why to use each.
Find a short article in the popular press and the original research
findings on which the popular article was based.
Review related findings, discuss the relationship between the
popular article and the original research, and critique the accuracy of
the popular article.
Helps students to critically evaluate resources and their contents.
and Contrast Sources
Assignment: Locate a popular magazine
article; then find a scholarly article on the same subject. Compare the
two articles for content, style, bias, audience, etc.
Assignment: Select a topic and compare how
that topic is treated in 2 to 5 different types of sources.
Purpose: Demonstrates the
characteristics of various types of sources and develops evaluative
Assignment: Choose an autobiography of
someone related to the course content. Find secondary sources which deal
with an idea or event described in the autobiography. Compare and
contrast the sources.
Purpose: Demonstrates how secondary
sources include interpretation and analysis of events described in a
Simulations of Real-Life Projects
Prepare a grant or research proposal, marketing or business plan, or
solution to a tax, accounting, or financial problem.
State the specific problem to be solved or task to be
background on the problem. How
have these issues been dealt with in the past?
What is the current thinking on this issue?
How do you propose to solve the problem or what are the questions
you need to ask to solve the problem?
What support can you offer for your solution?
Simulates for students how they will apply their information skills in
the context of problems they will encounter in their discipline or
a Company, Organization, or Prospective Professor
Assignment: Assemble background
information on a company or organization in preparation for a
hypothetical interview. For those continuing in academia, research
prospective colleagues' or professors' backgrounds, publications,
current research, etc.
Purpose: Develops critical
thinking and skill in using resources to research companies or
individuals and their contributions.
Create an Interview
Assignment: Have the class prepare an
interviewóeither one to be actually carried out or one that they
canít because the subject is long dead or otherwise unavailable. To
generate useful questions they would have to become familiar with the
personís life and work and understand its significance. They could
either write up results of a real interview or write their own imaginary
responses based on available evidence.
Purpose: Develops the studentís ability
to search for information about an individual in a chosen discipline,
and requires that the student think critically about the personís work
and contribution to the field.
of a Disease and Prescribed Treatment
Assignment: In biology or health classes,
assign each student a 'diagnosis'. Have them act as responsible patients
by investigating both the diagnosis and the prescribed treatment.
Results presented in a two-page paper should cover: a description of the
condition and its symptoms; its etiology; its prognosis; the
effectiveness of the prescribed treatment, its side effects and
contradictions, along with the evidence; and, finally, a comparison of
the relative effectiveness of alternate treatments. This can also be
accompanied by oral or visual presentations, slideshow, poster session,
Purpose: Teaches the application of
information in print to real-life situations. Acquaints students with
Look Behind the Book
Examine the credibility of a major monograph in the field. Who wrote it?
What are the author's credentials? What is the point of view of the
book? Find three reviews of it and compare them. Suggest comparable
works (with reasons).
Emphasizes that ideas and people have contexts.
Analyze the Argument
Assignment: Read an editorial and find
facts to support or refute it. Cite sources.
Purpose: Encourages critical reading
and develops research skills. Provides practice in applying principles
of citation style.
Identify and examine the assumptions implicit in an article. Identify
the author's thesis. Outline the theoretical framework used to account
for the results. [Professor may want to hand out specific questions, in
order to focus on different aspects of the article].
Provides practice in reading what is implicit, rather than explicit, in
Examine the experimental design, data, and interpretation of the data in
a research paper for adequacy and consistency. [Professor may want to
hand out questions, to pinpoint specific aspects of the article].
Focuses on the critical evaluation of research.
Compare Book Reviews
Locate and read [three, four, etc.] reviews of a work.
Do the reviews vary? If
so, why? What viewpoints,
biases or assumptions do the reviewers exhibit?
provides insight to the importance of critical reception.
Contrast Journal Articles
Use an index to locate two articles that present differing viewpoints
Reveals that most journals appeal to a defined constituency and that
their reporting and editorial policies reflect the attitudes of that
Read several articles that appear to address the same question but reach
different conclusions. Account for the differences by examining the
methods used, the experimental design, and the interpretation of the
results. [Professor would select the articles].
Encourages students to approach research with a healthy skepticism, and
develops evaluative skills.
a Book or Film Review
Review a book/film (either of the students' choice or one assigned to
them). What is the authorís thesis?
Identify the authorís main ideas and how they are developed?
Discuss the author's credentials. Compare the book/film to
similar works in the field. A film can also be compared to its source
e.g. a book, a play.
To place a book/film in its intellectual context.
Read the References
Read the articles cited in a research paper. Explain how each is related
to the paper. In what circumstances is it appropriate to cite other
papers? What different purposes do the citations serve?
Shows when it is appropriate to recognize the contributions of previous
authors in the development of new work.
Examine Coverage of a Controversial Issue or Event
Examine the treatment of a controversial issue or event in several
sources [newspapers, editorials, magazines, scholarly journal, journals
from different disciplines, etc.].
Emphasizes that there are multiple perspectives on any issue or event.
and Summarize a Significant Year
Assignment: Have the class develop a snapshot of a year
that is significant for your course. Starting with a chronology (such as
Timetables of History) have groups report on politics, the arts,
science and technology, or whatever categories make sense for the
Purpose: Develops the studentís ability
to use a variety of sources to obtain information about a period of
Write a Newspaper
Assignment: Write a newspaper story
describing an event (political, social, cultural, whatever suits the
objectives) based on their research. The assignment can be limited to
one or two articles, or it can be more extensive. The assignment gains
interest if several people research the same event in different sources
and compare the newspaper stories that result.
Purpose: Develops skills in researching,
reading critically, and summarizing.
Finding Additional Information
Give students an article to critique.
Have them locate two Internet sources that support their response
to the topic. Have them cite the URLs and highlight the points that show
support of their response.
Gives students an opportunity to appreciate that information can come
from a variety of sources.
Finding Suitable Information
Give the students a set of Web pages to look at. Have them note any
reasons why these pages are or are not appropriate for college level
student research or for in-class use.
A source that is useful in one instance may not be useful in all
instances. Either scholarly or popular sites might be appropriate
depending on the requirements of the class assignment.
Locating and Evaluating Internet Sites
Have the students find a Web page or site of interest to them, or one
that is appropriate to a project they are working on. Have them cite
this page using a style manual and write 2-3 paragraphs evaluating the
site they have chosen. Ask
them to include a print copy of the first page of the Web site and to
present a log of the search strategy that they used to locate the site.
Helps students learn to use appropriate criteria when evaluating Web
Comparing Print and Web Resources
In groups of 3-5, have students examine pairs of items (books, articles,
web sites) to determine indicators of quality in each item, where
exactly they found those indicators, and the appropriate use for each
item. Have them report their findings to the class after the class has
also had a chance to evaluate the sites.
Students learn that the Web has not replaced print resources, but it
should be used as a complement to them.