How to Do Library Research

This set of pages has information on how to do library research. In all cases, once you have located sources, be sure to evaluate them, using the evaluation guides.

Designing Effective Research Assignments

Use this page as a guide to writing successful assignments and research projects that require the use of library resources.

Your subject or liaison librarian for assistance in creating assignments.

Real, relevant, content-based research.

Terms. Make sure assignments are understood. What is a summary? Abstract? Annotation? Essay? Paragraph? Analysis? Synthesis?

Many terms have different meanings.
For example, an "abstract" is

  • a brief non-judgmental summary of an article, book chapter, etc.,
  • a type of periodical index
  • a type of idea or concept (vs. concrete).

How many sources are required.

Recommended: A minimum with no set maximum.

Requirements--let students know exactly what you want them to include as resources:

Any kind of periodical article? Or only:

  • Scholarly/refereed journal articles?
  • Magazine articles?
  • Newspaper articles?
  • At least 2/3 of the articles be from scholarly journals?

Book chapters? (Note: these can resemble journal articles in anthologies.)
Web pages? See "Is it Information on the Web or a Journal/Magazine Article?"
Government Documents?

What types of resources are required.

For example:

  • magazines: Time, U.S. News & World Report, Business Week.
  • scholarly journals: Journal of Education, Journal of Bacteriology, Journal of Gender Studies.
  • newspapers: New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Denver Post.
  • See also, Popular Magazines VS Trade Magazines VS Scholarly Journals for general criteria.

Students to evaluate sources before they use them.

  • How to Evaluate Books
  • How to Evaluate Journal Articles
  • How to Evaluate a Web Page
  • How to Evaluate a Film/Video/Movie

Library assignments and allot them a percentage of students' final grades.


If an assignment isn't graded, students tend to take it less seriously.

Require students to use print, CD-ROM and online electronic indexes for their topics.

Why not?

The CONTENT of an index is more important than the format.
There are fewer and fewer print and CD-ROM indexes, and some indexes are only available in either print or online electronic format, depending on the year.

Assign "Scavenger Hunt" assignments.

Why not?

An entire class of students looking for one library (print) resource can lead to loss and destruction of the item.
Scavenger hunts are pseudo-research; they are less instructive than assignments that require problem solving and analysis.

Make library research on ongoing process.

For example:

Create assignments with sections due throughout the semester.
Repeat skills learned in earlier assignments to reinforce concepts.

  • A first assignment requires a search of the online catalog for books.
  • A second requires a list of citations to articles identified in a search of electronic indexes ("Databases").
  • A third asks for a gathering or bibliography of the best articles on a topic, based on an evaluation of citations.

[Notes to Instructors; has more details]

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