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Library Instruction: 10 Ways to Improve Student Research

This guide provides assistance for faculty members who want to include library research tools in their courses.

10 Ways to Improve Student Research

The following tips for faculty to help students successfully complete research assignments are based on the results of studies conducted by Project Information Literacy (PIL), an ongoing national research project that examines undergraduate student research practices.

PIL’s methodologies have included a survey of over 8,000 students from 25 U.S. college campuses, including Temple; a content analysis of 191 course-related research assignment handouts from 28 campuses; and student discussion groups at 7 campuses.

Click on the link in each tip to see the research findings that support the recommendation.

1. Encourage students to consult with a librarian.

2. Direct students towards a variety of library resources including print, electronic, and multimedia.

3. Suggest specific databases or other library resources by name to students.

4. Discuss what constitutes plagiarism as well as the consequences.

5. Review criteria for evaluating sources.

6. Define research.

7. Embed a research guide in Blackboard or request one from your librarian.

8. Break the research assignment into manageable parts.

9. Explain how research will be evaluated.

10. Collaborate with a librarian to design a research assignment that employs critical thinking.

Suggest specific databases by name

Project Information Literacy (PIL) also studied the usefulness of research project handouts. They recommend including suggested databases in the handout or in your syllabi as the library has over 80 selections. 

See the article cited below.


Discuss What Constitutes Plagiairsm as well as its Consequences

 Project Information Literacy (PIL), also found that undergraduate students have trouble understanding what plagiarism is. They suggest taking the time to define plagiarism for your students, show them how to correctly paraphrase and attribute words and ideas, and refer them to Trexler's Research guide on Citing Sources and avoiding plagiarism.

You can also ask a librarian to come to your classroom and so a short session for your class!


Break the Research into Mangeable Parts

College students find many steps of the research process difficult.  Getting started is problematic, and defining a topic can be troublesome. Narrowing down a topic is also challenging for some students.  It can be a good idea to break your research assignment into manageable parts for students (also known as “scaffolding”.)  Require that students turn in a topic proposal, an annotated bibliography, or a draft along the way to the final product.  Students report that separate deadlines for parts of a paper are helpful, as are instructors’ review of paper drafts.


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