Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Teaching Research to Upper-Level Students: Approaches for Students

Useful Links for Students

The Library's website has a number of useful links about our services and spaces. We encourage you to share these with students.

Assessing Research Competencies

Assignment Suggestions

​​Here are some suggestions for getting students to think more about the scholarly conversation surrounding their topics. We've also included copies of assignments you can download and edit.

  • Bibliographic Trace Assignment:  Helps students enter the scholarly conversation by using one source to find works cited by that source as well as works that cite that source.  Encourages students to use discipline-specific databases and other resources.
  • Literature Review: Prepares students to find the major scholarship in a given topic and discuss the state of the scholarly conversation about their topic.  Encourages students to use discipline-specific databases and other resources. Assign them to complete an idea map prior to writing their literature review to identify how their sources inform their topic, as well as identify remaining gaps in their research.
  • Assign students to meet with a librarian to discuss their research: Acclimates students to asking for help, librarians can challenge students to find and use appropriate sources that they may not otherwise locate.  Students can come to the reference desk at their convenience; a librarian interview form can be found in the Research Assignments tab.

Help Students Avoid Plagiarism

One of the problems students have with scholarly forms of documentation is that they rarely understand its rhetorical power. They think of documentation defensively, to prevent being charged with theft - as opposed to thinking of sources as expert witnesses brought in to lend support to an argument. One approach to avoid plagiarism is to create plagiarism-proof assignments. Another is to engage students in using references in their research. The practice will make more sense once they've learned to read other's references as an effective research strategy.

Students have little experience reading or writing documented prose. They often view documentation as a meaningless chore and don't recognize its rhetorical power. On top of that, some students take shortcuts that are simply not acceptable. Be sure to encourage your students to use the excellent assitance provided at our Writing Center; they may also ask for help citing sources at the reference desk, where we keep copies of the major style manuals.

General tips

  • Develop a sense among the students of being part of a research community by having "swap meets" to share resources and insights. The more they feel comfortable being researchers (rather than transcribers) the less likely they will plagiarize accidentally-because of not really knowing what the problem is.
  • Develop critical reading skills by spending a class period or part of a period looking at resources together (Web sites, for example) and as a group looking for clues to assess its quality.
  • Develop research skills (and lighten your workload) by requiring students to bring their preliminary bibliography to the reference desk for a librarian to sign off on it.
  • Spend time discussing how sources are used in scholarly writing so that the purposes of citation are clearer-a well-chosen source can be brought into their papers as an expert witness to help them make their claims. Before they compose their footnotes, have students seek out sources used in a bibliography to recognize how they function, like hyperlinks, to connect similar threads of scholarly discourse.


1. Emphasize process by building a sequence of assignments


  • A "field report" on a topic: scan databases to see what kinds of questions researchers are asking. What areas seem hot right now? Are there areas that aren't getting attention?
  • A research proposal that proposes a question and a plan for answering it.
  • A preliminary bibliography-perhaps including some information on where and how they found the things they're using-or require annotations.
  • A formal paper, poster, or presentation that puts their knowledge to work.
  • A reflective essay-what was the process like? What did they learn? What would they have done differently?


Helps unpack the research process into a series of steps; provides scaffolding for organization and time management; shows work in progress rather than simply a finished product; helps students focus on research as process not product; helps you intervene earlier when a student has problems.


Logistically challenging in terms of processing the paperwork that results, may require more time than you have available.

2. Emphasize originality by asking students to do something they can't get "off the shelf"


  • Ask students to compare two things that have not been compared before; have them use secondary sources to inform their analysis-but let them know they won't be able to look up "the right answer."
  • Ask students to do analyze a primary source that hasn't been widely written about. Develop a set of questions the source gives rise to, seek answers, then write an introduction or analysis. Secondary sources are used to illuminate, not be the object of inquiry. This could be a joint project for a class, annotating an anthology of texts or developing an exhibit catalog for a set of images or artifacts.
  • Ask students to analyze something that happened within the last few weeks using secondary sources that provide background.
  • Give students primary material about a historical event. Ask them to describe what the primary material tells them. Then ask them to find secondary sources that comment on the event and compare them. Do they all tell the same story? Why or why not? What evidence do the secondary sources use and how effectively is it interpreted?
  • Have students develop a briefing or grant proposal for a particular individual or group on a topic relevant to your course.
  • Give students a quotation with dubious "facts" taken from the Web. Ask them to find the source, critique it, and check the facts for accuracy.


Gives students a sense of owning their work that they don't get when the paper is based entirely on interpreting other people's work.


Can be time-consuming to develop and test assignments to be disaster-proof. Also prevents wholesale copying of a text, but doesn't address problems of inappropriate paraphrase or failure to cite a source.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License