1. Help your students find appropriate topics. Give suggestions, require students to get approval for the topic, or instruct students how to find a good topic. Many times students get discouraged if their topic is too broad, too narrow, or too difficult to research.
2. Invite a librarian to your class. Instruction is most effective if the assignment has already been given and the students have started to realize that they don’t know how to complete the task! By providing the librarian with the assignment, the librarian will be able to focus the instruction so it is most relevant and helpful to the students. (There is no way we can cover everything there is to know about library research in a single 45 minute session!)
3. Test your assignment yourself, especially if you’ve given the students a fairly focused topic. GPC Libraries have a terrific collection of print and electronic resources, but we do not have the same types of resources as a large research institution. Pick a sample topic the students are likely to choose and try using the library resources to complete the assignment. If you can’t do it, neither will they!
4. Tell the students what kinds of resources are acceptable. Will you allow documents from the open web? What about if the students limit their web resources to .gov sites? Are you counting information databases as web resources? Without such guidance, students are likely to do all their research on Wikipedia or go to the opposite extreme and refuse to use electronic resources at all. With more and more scholarly sources and government statistics published in electronic-only format, it is no longer practical to limit students to print resources, but neither is Wikipedia an acceptable source in scholarly research. Depending on the topic and the seriousness of the scholarship required, students need guidance understanding what sources are appropriate and why.
5. Make your assignment plagiarism-resistant by requiring a particular combination of resources or by asking “what if” questions that are not likely to be found written about elsewhere.
6. Make sure students understand that research comes before writing the paper. Many students come to the library reference desk and announce they’re done writing the paper, now they just need some resources. While this may be better than the opposite extreme of just writing a report with no thoughts of their own, it defeats the point of doing research before reaching a conclusion!
7. Consider grading the process and not just the product. Students are more likely to actively engage in the research process (and less likely to plagiarize!) if you require them to turn in intermediate steps, such as their topics, a preliminary list of resources (along with the first page or abstracts of the resources), a rough draft, etc.