Samples of Effective Library Assignments

The following assignments are ideas for projects that may be assigned in addition to, or in lieu of, a traditional research paper. It is suggested that students also be required keep track of their research process, possibly in a journal format. They should explain, for example, how and where they found each item, what search terms they used, and what they tried that did not work. Grades should take into consideration the process as well as the result.

Your librarians offer the following ideas for final projects that each incorporate various important elements of information literacy directly from our teaching modules. Most of these projects can be adapted to any subject or class.

Assignments Described Below

  • Science Biography Project
  • Research a Controversial Issue
  • Review of a Music Performance
  • Literature Review Update
  • Poster Session

Science Biography Project

(Adapted from David Crouch’s 2005 first-year seminar project on nanotechnology.)

Objectives: Students will identify, locate, retrieve at least one primary and four secondary sources related to scientist currently engaging in nanotechnology. Students will synthesize the information into a biographical study of the scientist.

One of the great challenges for scientists is communicating the results of their work to the general public. Unfortunately, chemistry and other sciences are filled with idiosyncratic language that accurately expresses research to others in the field but leaves those outside of the field feeling as though a foreign language is being used. In this assignment, you will select one area of research in a scientist’s lab and explain it in such a way that a person with no scientific training can understand.

Write a biographical study of a scientist that in at least 2000 words. Your biography should describe:

  • the scientist’s educational and professional background
  • the current work in which the scientist is engaging
  • the significance of his/her current work
  • any possible devices or innovations that may result from the successful completion of this person’s work, (i.e. explain the justification for this person’s work).

In order to accomplish this task, you should find and read primary materials written by your scientist. Your bibliography should include a minimum of five (5) sources. Of these five sources, you must include:

  • At least one primary resource/experiment written by your scientist and published in a scholarly journal.
  • At least one scholarly secondary source describing your scientist’s work. One magazine that may be helpful is Chemical & Engineering News.
  • Your scientist’s web site.

Select a scientist from the list below:

 Timothy Swager, MIT   Andrew Mayes, UEA
 James Tour, Rice  Robert Hamers, Wisconsin
 Arthur Ellis, Wisconsin  Jie Liu, Duke
 Fraser Stoddart, UCLA  James Landers, Virginia
 James McDevitt, Texas  Charles Lieber, Harvard
 David Steytler, UEA   Vicki Colvin, Rice
 Thomas Beebe, Delaware  George Flynn, Columbia
 Heather Maynard, UCLA  Lajos Balogh, Michigan
 Timothy Glass, Missouri  George Whitsides, Harvard
 Christine Keating, Penn State  Virgil Percec, Penn

Research a Controversial Issue

Objective: Students will compose an opinion paper include at least one opposing viewpoint and one source from a reference book or scholarly journal.

The CQ Researcher (REF H35. C67) on the Reference shelves is a great place to get ideas for a controversial topic. Each issue provides various viewpoints, detailed background information, chronologies, and bibliographies. If you have trouble choosing a topic, ask the librarian for assistance.

Forming an opinion or argument (choose one approach):

  • Take a stance: be for or against something. For example, “marijuana should be legalized because…”
  • Argue the pros or cons of an issue. For example, “The death penalty deters crime by…”
  • Argue what should be done about an issue. For example,” the government should do more to lower Medicare drug costs by….”

Choosing pro/con sources: what to look for in a good pro/con source:

  • Date: if you are looking for recent facts and statistics, your source of information should be current. You may need to put your topic within a historical context, in which case older material will be suitable.
  • Biases: Is this a reliable source of information? What is the agenda of the author?
  • Level of Scholarship: the quality of your research is important when articulating and defending an opinion or argument.

For this assignment you will need to:

  • Choose a controversial issue.
  • Form an opinion or argument concerning your topic.
  • Write a XX word paper that articulates your stance, supports your argument and explains the opposition’s viewpoint.

Your bibliography should have at least 7 resources. Of these resources, you must include:

  • At least two (2) resources expressing an opposing viewpoint.
  • At least five (5) scholarly source of information from a book or journal that support your viewpoint.

Suggested Topics:

  • Immigration Laws
  • Avian Flu Threat
  • Intelligent Design
  • Presidential Power
  • Future of Feminism
  • War on Iraq
  • Rebuilding New Orleans
  • Port Security
  • Stem Cell Research

Review of a Music Performance

Objectives: Students will write a performance review after locating, retrieving and sythesizing at least one biographical source on the author/composer and one source discussing the historical context of the piece performed.

Suggested Modules:

  • Development of information
  • Finding Books (and CDs and videos)
  • Finding contemporary reviews of historic performances
  • Popular vs scholarly (reviews of recordings and performances)
  • Using reference tools

Attend a concert on campus or conveniently nearby. Compose a concise but detailed review of the performance of no less than 1,500 words. Include commentary on the following:

  • The setting (the building, room, church, stage, outdoors)
  • The influence the setting may have had on the performance
  • The performers, their background, ages, experience, training, professional status
  • The printed program (quality of notes on the performers and the music)
  • The content of the program (the choice of pieces, styles, date ranges, themes)

Additionally, you should pay particular attention to one piece during the performance, and briefly include commentary on:

  • The background on the composer
  • The composition in the context of the composer’s works
  • At least one cited reference to a library resource (book or article) relevant to the piece
  • The interpretation of the piece at this concert
  • How the piece fit into the context of the program as a whole
  • The performance as a whole (beauty, accuracy, mood, clarity, expressiveness)
  • The audience (number, ages, responsiveness, receptivity, attentiveness, reactions)
  • Your personal reactions and opinions regarding the music and its performance

Literature Review Update Project

Objectives: Students will write a literature review by using a variety of research tools to learn how the inforamtion about a particular topic evolves over time. Students will analyze, synthesize, and integrate the ideas from at least 10 scholarly sources.

Your assignment is to write an update of a review article that was written a number of years ago. In order to do this, you will select a research topic related to this course, find a review article on that topic written at least 10 years ago, research recent developments on the topic, and update the information presented in the original review article.

A literature review is a survey of scholarly articles, books and other sources relevant to a particular issue or area of research. A literature review provides a description, summary, and critical evaluation of each work examined. The purpose is to offer an overview of significant literature published on a topic. It is not a book review. A literature review should include the following components:

  • An overview of the subject, issue or theory under consideration, along with the objectives of the literature review;
  • Division of works under review into categories (e.g. those in support of a particular position, those against, and those offering alternative theses entirely);
  • Explanation of how each work is similar to and how it varies from the others;
  • Conclusions as to which pieces are best considered in their argument, are most convincing of their opinions, and make the greatest contribution to the understanding and development of their area of research.

In order to complete this assignment successfully, you should:

  • Consult your professor on choosing an appropriate topic.
  • Use reference books or databases to identify one literature review article that is at least 10 years old.
  • Find at least ten (10) scholarly sources, including books and articles, tracing recent developments on your topic since the publication of the review article you found. These 10 sources should be cited in a stylistically correct bibliography and presented at the end of your paper.
  • Write a review article of no less than XX words that address the following questions:
  1. What is the research question that the original article addresses?
  2. How does the information reviewed in the original article compare and contrast with that in the more recent articles?
  3. What new major developments, information, or ideas evolved as the topic continued to be researched?
  4. How are the recent publications are related (How do they “talk” to each other? Do they agree or disagree on certain issues? Do they address the same issue from different perspectives? Which make the most convincing arguments and why?)
  5. Are the conclusions of the research discussed in the original review article significantly different from recent findings and how?

Poster Session

A poster session is a common form of scholarly communication at professional conferences. The researcher presents their research results in a visual display on a poster board. A poster session usually consists of a brief narrative paper, intermixed with tables, graphics, photos, and other visual aids. The researcher stands by their poster display at the assigned time slot while other conference participants can come, view the presentation, and interact with the author.

The Project: Create a poster session on a topic of your choice, in addition to a 1500-word paper that includes a stylistically correct bibliography (or an annotated bibliography, depending on the faculty member’s preference).


  • learn one new form of scholarly communication;
  • synthesize at least 5 main points of a research project and present them succinctly.

What you need to do:

  • Consult with your professor on a possible research topic;
  • Find at least three books and at least five journal articles on the topic;
  • Write a 1500-word paper with a stylistically correct bibliography (or an annotated bibliography) to report your findings (see separate instruction on the specific requirements for the paper or annotated bibliography);
  • Present your findings in a poster session to your class. The poster should include:
  1. Your name and the title of your paper
  2. At least 5 of the main points of your research. Your main points may be accompanied by tables, graphics & photos. The presentation should be clear and easy for the reader to follow.
  3. A conclusion - a summation of main ideas as well as an indication of new interpretations or possible future research directions on the topic.
  4. A brief abstract (summary) of your research. The abstract should not attempt to explain in detail the content of your paper. It should just highlight some main points in the meaning and organization of the paper including the purpose of the paper, an outline of the organization of the paper, 1-2 major conclusions and some idea of significance of the work.
  5. At least 5 main points of your research. includes an introduction that gives some background of the subject, a series of well developed research results, accompanied by references. (Key references only. You should include the comprehensive list of all your references in your paper’s bibliography.)