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Information Literacy and Instruction: Assignment Design

Resources and tips about information literacy, critical thinking, and how faculty can incorporate these concepts into their courses.

Creating Effective Research Assignments

If you're requiring students to use library resources for an assignment, consider the following as you design the assignment:

  • Assume minimal library knowledge. Students may equate information technology skills with information literacy skills. They may not understand what is meant by "peer-reviewed," "primary source," or "journal article." They may be unaware that the library's resources are in any way different from what can be found on the Internet. (This is something we always emphasize in instruction classes.)
  • Be specific. Call databases, the library catalog, and other information sources by name: ProQuest, Bentley Library Catalog, Harvard Business Review, American FactFinder, etc.
  • Have students explain their choice of resources. Creating a limit on resources like "no websites" can be confusing to students (who may not differentiate between electronic sources on the library's website and the free Web), and can cut them off from useful information. This is often done through a preliminary annotated bibliography. (We can help students learn how to better evaluate sources.)
  • Check availability of resources. If all students need to get access to the same book, place it on reserve. A few of our databases have simultaneous user limits or require additional passwords. Our collections are changing and improving all the time - if you suggest sources to students, make sure they are up-to-date with the libraries' holdings (or are easily accessible elsewhere).
  • Encourage students to use reference services. Reference librarians are available to help students several hours a day in person and by phone, e-mail, and chat. Find our hours, along with online library research guides on the library homepage.


For more ideas, read these articles: 

"Assignments: Being Clear About What Matters" by Barbara Fister (in Inside Higher Ed)

"What Happens to Your Research Assignment at the Library?" by Dennis Isbell (in College Teaching)



Jenkins, B. (2007, February). Guidelines for Effective Library Assignments. Retrieved from

Queen's University. (2008, October). Designing Research Assignments.

Example Assignments