Research & Writing Assignment Ideas
When a student asks for help with their research, we often refer to their assignment for guidance. What are they being asked to do, and what is the learning goal? What kinds of sources do they need? Based on our experience, here are a few research assignments that have helped students engage with research in a meaningful and productive way.
Understanding differences between publication types
- Analyze coverage of a topic by investigating different types of materials-e.g. popular & scholarly, primary and secondary. Describe the goals of each form of writing and/or what is learned from each form of writing.
- Have the students read a scholarly article. Afterward, ask students to identify the elements of a scholarly article vs. a magazine article and discuss the peer-review process with them.
- Find a popular article in a magazine or newspaper article that is based on scholarly research (e.g., a health or policy topic). Have students track down the sources that are used and describe how well the facts and arguments are presented, and whether important findings in these studies or other research on the topic were omitted or misrepresented.
Observing how knowledge changes over time
- Trace the development of a medical treatment or scientific process. Include a discussion of how current research has changed earlier medical practice or scientific understanding.
Learning to see information creation as a process
- How is an event or literary work written about over time? Trace the progression from newspapers to magazines to scholarly articles.
- Give students a dissertation by a well-known scholar and have them find related articles and books by the author that have been published. Include a discussion of how the author has revised or expanded the topic and /or discuss how the writing has changed for different content types (books, journal articles, popular sources).
Using background sources
- Wikipedia assignment: have your students edit and improve an existing Wikipedia article by adding additional information that cites scholarly research. See instructor resources at Wikiedu.org for guidance.
- Structured “treasure hunt” type assignment–where students have a list of questions to be answered and are given a list of resources to check. They find the answer and cite the source.
- Research and write about historical events or circumstances that provide the setting for a literary work.
- Write a persuasive editorial that cites facts from outside research. Or, find a persuasive editorial that does not cite sources for its claims, and have students find evidence, then rewrite their own version of the editorial with sources acknowledged.
- Choose one book from your course reading list. Have students find and read 2-3 reviews of the work, then write a response to one of the reviews.
- Choose a controversial article or one that has been heavily critiqued by scholars. First, have students read the article and write and submit their own critique (no outside sources). Then have students research the article to discover what others have said and write a response to that criticism and what they learned about evaluating articles, even scholarly ones.
- Assign an article to read that had industry-funded research (ex. smoking, obesity, health effects of particular drugs or products). Have students check the author’s affiliations and note the funding source for the research. For background, have students read articles that discuss industry-funded research. Example: Coca-Cola Funds Scientists Who Shift Blame for Obesity Away From Bad Diets.
Learning how to research and write within a genre
- Literature Review: have students read the literature review section of an assigned journal article or Annual Reviews article. Then have them write a literature review with bibliography on another topic for the course.
- Have the students read a critical analysis of a theatrical performance. Have students describe the types of sources cited and how the sources are used.
Tip: If including an annotated bibliography, direct students to the Annotated Bibliographies Guide (go/annotate/) for help with how to write one. Also see the Citation Guide (go/citations/)