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Ten Tips for a Better Research/Library Assignment

Advice from the Library on how faculty can create better assignments for their students.

  1. Consult with a Librarian. Library faculty know which resources are available to the York College community and are happy to work with faculty as you craft research assignments. We can help you avoid some common assignment pitfalls. To contact us:
  2. Assume minimal library knowledge. Keep in mind that being computer-literate does not equal being information-literate. Most students do not understand the intricacies of information retrieval and access, and few know what is available to them or how to effectively search for high-quality information.
  3. Always check to see if we own needed resources / Keep your assignment current. Our electronic resources are constantly changing so it is essential that you keep up-to-date with new and old databases. Familiarize yourself with the library's resources.
  4. Explain the assignment clearly and in writing. Provide as much detail as possible. It is helpful to include what types of sources are required (popular or scholarly, primary or secondary, etc.), the due date, what citation style the students should use, etc.
  5. Use correct and unambiguous terminology. Assignments that prohibit the use of Internet resources confuse students because many scholarly resources are available electronically through the library’s website. For example, when you say that students cannot use the Internet, does that exclude our full-text periodical or e-book databases? Students tend to take instruction literally.
  6. Explain the purpose of the assignment. Tell your students why they are doing the assignment and what purpose it serves. Make sure your assignment is directly applicable to course content so students find it relevant and worthy of their time.
  7. Try your own assignment. Put yourself in your students’ shoes and do a test run of your assignment. Is the assignment researchable at their level? Is the time frame reasonable for the amount of work? Are the sources available? If you provide citations, are they accurate so students can locate the materials?
  8. Consider scheduling an information literacy class. Information literacy classes provide assignment-specific library instruction to your students. Schedule a class at: <> whenever your students must write a research paper, complete an assignment, or give an oral presentation.
  9. Give the Library a copy of the assignment, preferably via email Many students approach the reference help with the same assignment and we can provide better service to your students if we know about an assignment ahead of time.
  10. Encourage students to ask for help—from you and from librarians. Library faculty are professional researchers, so please encourage your students to ask for help. Many students tell us that they have been searching unsuccessfully for hours before they approach us. We can save them valuable time by directing them to appropriate resources and suggesting specific research strategies.There are two communication channels available:

    via email
    via LibChat

Prepared by S. Urban, York College Library, March 2011Revised by D. Su, August 17, 2020

Modified from