IDEAS FOR LIBRARY/RESEARCH ASSIGNMENTS
A traditional term paper is not necessarily the best assignment for teaching students the principles and concepts they need. Following are some ideas. Many of these could be used as either small group or entire class projects, with all students contributing.
1. Locate a popular magazine article, then a scholarly article on the same subject. Compare the two articles for content, style, bias, audience, etc.
2. Prepare an annotated bibliography of books, journal articles, and other sources on a subject.
3. Select a topic and compare how that topic is treated in two to five different sources.
4. Read an editorial and find facts to support it.
5. 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.
6. Create a web page on a narrow topic relevant to the course. Include meta sites, e-journals, discussion lists, and organization.
7. Select a scholar/researcher in a field of study and explore that person's career and ideas. In addition to biographical information, prepare a bibliography of the writings and find information that shows the impact the person had in the discipline.
8. Evaluate a web site based on specific criteria.
9. Compile an anthology of readings by one person or on one topic. Include an introduction with biographical information about the authors, and the rationale for including the works (justify with review or critical material). (The anthology could be used in the next semester's class.)
10. Conduct the research for a paper, but stop short of writing the paper. Through the semester, students are required to turn in 1) their choice of well-defined and narrowly focused topic, 2) an annotated bibliography, showing what each source would contribute to the paper, 3) an outline, 4) a thesis statement, and 5) an introduction and conclusion.
11. Pick a topic and research it in the literature from the 60s and 70s. Then research the same topic from the 80s and 90s. Compare and contrast the topic in a bibliographic essay.
12. Find a primary source document on some aspect of the course, and compare the document with the coverage of the topic in secondary sources, including their textbook.
13. Students follow a piece of legislation through Congress. Analyze not only the positions of various Senators and Representatives, but also the activity of different interest groups. See how lobbying and/or campaign contributions seem to affect the final decision. Have a class debate on the legislation.
14. Introduce multicultural perspectives by having students follow either a foreign policy issue, or a piece of legislation in another country in a way similar to the above
. 15. Have a student research the career of their choice. Include an interview with a person in that career.
16. Write a biography of a famous person, using a variety of sources and focusing on one specific aspect of the person's life.
17. Nominate someone for a Nobel Prize. Learn about the prize and how selections are made and justify the nominations. Focus on the prize most relevant to the course, and have the class choose the award winner.
18. Read a newspaper article and make a list of questions the reporter should have asked. Do the research to find the answers to these questions. (Trade questions, so students are researching the questions of others, not their own.)
19. Write a review of a musical performance, play, or art exhibit. Include some background on the composer, author, or artist and on the history of that person's work and its critical reception.
20. Write a grant proposal to address a problem on campus. Research the problem both on and off campus, and research possible solutions. Also find a possible funding source.
21. Provide a precise statement of a topic and do a search in two different Internet search engines. Compare and contrast the results. Read about how the search engines work and see if you can figure out how the results were achieved.
22. Provide a precise statement of a topic and do searches in an Internet search engine and a periodical database. Compare and contrast the results.
23. Develop a pathfinder for a topic: list important reference sources for background information, compile a bibliography of books and videos on the topic, list key databases to use, and find some meta-sites on the Internet which would be helpful to look at.
24. Choose a general topic and have students identify limiters of time, place, interest groups and issues (aspects of the topic or events) regarding the topic. Use the analysis to form a well-defined, narrowly focused research topic. Base the analysis on background reading, in an encyclopedia that you did not learn from the textbook. Follow one of the links from the encyclopedia to an Internet site and describe what was on the site that is not in the textbook or the encyclopedia. Compile bibliographies of the sources of information, and of other sources on the topic listed in the bibliographies in the textbook, encyclopedia, or on the Internet.
25. Identify significant people in the discipline and note their particular contributions to the field.
26. Choose a topic from the textbook and find 3-5 magazine articles that are relevant to the topic. (They must choose a very specific topic for this). Annotate the articles by noting what information they include that is not in the textbook.
27. Do a search in a printed index and in an electronic index. Compare the results and also compare indexes, noting coverage and ease of use.
28. Identify the major journals or trade publications in the discipline or career field.
29. Identify the major reference books in the discipline or career area. Write a brief annotation for each. See if the books, or comparable sources, are available on the Internet.
30. Assemble background information on an organization as though preparing for a job interview with the organization. Include a brief description of the organization, its mission, a timeline of major activities and accomplishments, any recent news stories and contact information.
31. Build a library collection of books and journals for a subject area or topic. Give students X amount of money to spend and let them choose what they would spend it on. Every selection should include a justification.
32. Create a Top Ten Web Sites list for a particular topic or discipline. Include an evaluation of each site, based on a specific criteria.
33. Contrast two recent periodical articles on a given topic which reflect differing viewpoints. Identify facts and opinions in each article. Verify facts to the extent possible. Decide which article does a better job of supporting opinions with facts.
34. Find a short article in a popular magazine and also the original research on which the article was based. Critique the popular article for its accuracy in reporting the research.
35. Choose a topic and locate an article containing statistics. Locate the primary source of the statistics and examine how they were used in the article. Were they interpreted correctly?
36. Write a critical review of a book related to the course. Include information about the credentials and point-of-view of the author. Read at least two reviews providing different opinions of the book, and respond to the questions raised in the reviews.
37. Examine the coverage of a controversial issue in various sources--newspapers, magazines, and Web sites. For each source, note the point of view and analyze coverage for vested interest, manipulation, or misinformation.
38. Draft a piece of state or federal legislation regarding an important issue. Show how the proposed legislation is supported by research relating to the issue.
For most assignments, it would be appropriate to ask students to keep a research log. A log would include the search methodology, tools used, subject headings and keywords used in the search, and search results. It would note failures as well as successes and what tools seemed most useful for the particular project.