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Research Guides

Creating Effective Library Research Assignments: Assignment Pitfalls

Assignments to Avoid

When faculty want students to learn research skills, they may create assignments that are not as effective as they expected.  Assignments similar to the ones below can cause more frustration than learning.

Students often do not know as much about research, even online research, as faculty imagine. They also may not be as interested in browsing for information as a faculty member might be. 

1. The mob scene

A large class looking for one piece of information or researching one topic.

WHY? Resources will disappear quickly- either they will be taken off the shelf or checked out. Both scenarios prevent other students from completing the assignment and they will form the incorrect impression that they will never be able to find information in the Libraries.

2. The shot in the dark

Students working from incomplete, outdated or incorrect resource lists; assigned materials are not owned by the Libraries; vague topics are assigned or approved.

WHY? students will get frustrated and again assume incorrectly the Libraries do not have the information they need.

3. The needle in the haystack

Students are sent to the Libraries to find obscure facts.

WHY? A library scavenger hunt or treasure hunt, unless focused on the research process and the use of the information found, is usually an exercise in futility- and students will realize this quickly.

4. Browsing for serendipity in the haystack

Students are told to find any book or print journal article on a broad topic in order to encourage them to explore the stacks.


Students may not understand the organization of library information well enough and likely will not have the interest and patience to truly browse the shelves for a serendiptous find.  They will simply grab anything and may not have any interest in what they grabbed.

Credit: Virginia Tech University Libraries