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Embedding research skills: Effective assignments

This guide provides some discipline-specific examples of how academic research skills can be embedded in subjects & courses

Effective assignments

Assignments that have information literacy embedded typically include the following characteristics.


(Adapted from St John’s University. (2009). Characteristics of effective information literacy assignments


  1. Specify acceptable and unacceptable sources: Tell students what kind of sources they are expected to use, and help them make distinctions where ambiguities occur. For example, students recognise the difference between information on free Web found via Google, and online journal articles found via JCU databases.
  2. Encourage critical independent thought: Assignments that emphasise comparing, contrasting, and evaluating ideas are more likely to spur independent thought in students than assignments that emphasise processes such as comprehension and knowledge. You may wish to consult Bloom’s Taxonomy for words to use in the assignment description.
  3. Discourage plagiarism: This can be accomplished by giving students assignments that are unusual, engage the students’ imagination, and cannot be easily completed by copying and pasting off the web.
  4. Teach the preferred citation style for your discipline: Require students to cite sources properly, according to whatever format they have been assigned, and take advantage of resources such as EndNote which make it simple for students to keep track of sources and format their bibliographies.
  5. Grade the research, not just the paper: Make clear to students that you will pay close attention to the sources that they choose, and that their grade for the assignment will depend partly on the quality of their reference list. Discourage the indiscriminate use of the web resources, and encourage the use of peer-reviewed, scholarly journal articles. Assign tutorials to help your students through the process.
  6. Break longer assignments into steps: For research papers or presentations, have students first submit an outline with their research question, short outline of what will be covered, and an annotated bibliography. This helps students by giving feedback on their topic selection and preliminary research, and gives the instructor a chance to assist those students who may be struggling.
  7. Use an information literacy grading rubric: Share this rubric with your students, and make them aware that it will be used as the basis of their grade for the assignment. Some IL rubrics you might like to try: 

Assignment examples

Here are some possible teaching activities & assessment strategies from a variety of institutions:

Learning objectives

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Many information literacy skills are implicit in an essay or report assignment, but unless students realise that their lecturer values these skills and wants to see them demonstrated, they may focus their efforts elsewhere.

Information literacy should be embedded into a range of assessment tasks and made explicit in assessment criteria of relevant assessment items. 

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Effective assignments

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Make it meaningful

“It is argued that students engage in a more meaningful way in developing information literacy skills when these skills are directly pertinent to the courses they are studying and in particular when they have an imminent impact on their course assessment. Alternatively, it can also be argued that teaching and assessing the content of a discipline area is best achieved through methodologies that encourage students to become information-literate.” (Feast, 2003, p. 82)


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