Research Paper Alternatives

Research Paper Alternatives

Ask a question or assign a topic or, even better, ask the students to come up with their own relevant questions or topics. Then assign one or more of the following.

  • Describe the differences between primary and secondary sources, and identify why and when each type would be appropriate to use.
  • Identify key issues or scholars in a discipline (usually through Reference books).
  • Write a letter (or email message) to an expert, person from another culture, Congressman, etc. asking specific questions about the topic. (Have the student explain why they’re asking that particular person.)
  • Interview an expert on the topic, a person from another culture with a different perspective, etc. (Allow the student to find the interviewee and tell why s/he chose that person along with an evaluative response to the interview.)
  • Analyze a key publication in discipline.
  • Write an abstract of a journal article.

Paraphrasing=using different words to say the same idea;
Summarizing=using fewer, different words to say the same idea;
Abstracting=using fewer, but the same words (the “key” words) to say the same idea;
Indexing=listing the key/most important ideas alphabetically (do they use the same words as in the article, or work from a list/thesaurus, or come up with their own?)

Have students work in small groups on the same short article, and display their efforts to the whole class to see. Compare, contrast, discuss.  This exercise could lead to students better understanding what databases do, and how important it is to brainstorm keywords.  Compare the way two different disciplines handle the same topic.

  • Seek information in simulations of real-life projects (e.g.: business students evaluate a proposal to automate an office).
  • Keep a journal of questions they have as the class progresses and write down how they would go about finding answers to these questions “in real life.”
  • Go to the Library Reference Desk with their question and ask how to find answers, follow one or more suggestions of the librarian, and describe what they did, what they found, and how they felt about the experience.
  • Search a database to find references (or answers) to their question, tell how they chose a database, explain their searching process, explain why it was or was not satisfactory, and explain how they would improve this process in the future.
  • Find three good sources on their topic using three different research methods (e.g., use a database to find a full-text article; use an Internet search engine to find a web site; find an expert and interview in person, by phone, or in writing) and come to class prepared or use BlackBoard journaling or discussion board functions to discuss their research process. What problems and difficulties did they have? What did they learn about the research process that they didn’t know before? If they were to do this again, how would they do it differently?
  • Search a discipline-specific database and find articles which would update the information from their text or other required reading. (Define appropriate databases and the qualities which would make articles suitable for either the level of the students or for the professional level.)
  • Create an annotated, evaluative “bibliography” (that doesn’t necessarily include only books) of 5 sources of information on the topic.
  • Find a movie, video, documentary, etc. on the topic, watch it, and evaluate it, then tell what they learned about the topic from watching the movie.
  • After the instructor explains how to evaluate a web site (with examples, good and poor), students will find a web site on the topic and evaluate it according to relevant criteria.
  • Find two articles on their topic–one from a scholarly (or academic, professional, refereed, etc.) journal (using a specialized periodical database) and one from a popular periodical (using a general periodical index/database) . How are they different? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each? When would they want to use an academic journal? A popular magazine? Are they primary or secondary sources, and how do they know?
  • Learn how to use a Web search engine. Develop a lesson plan to teach a high school student how to use the search engine to find relevant information on the topic. This could be in the form of a written paper, presentation, PowerPoint project, web page, posters, video, etc.
  • Working in groups, prepare a guide that introduces other students to information sources in the subject field.
  • Write a reflective opinion paper: find information that supports both the student writer’s opinion and alternative opinions.  It is important to care about something, yet be open enough to discover why they care (reflection) and why others care (do the research, evaluate it, and analyze it).  Then write a good synthesis with some suggestions for possible solutions. There is no separating “library” research from writing (or completing a project) or critical and reflective thinking.
  • Read and evaluate a case study of an information search and suggest alternatives to faulty procedures portrayed in the study.
  • Write a research paper, complete a project, or do a presentation.
  • Complete a tutorial on information literacy.
  • Additional assignment examples are at: California State University, Library Services, Assignment Clearinghouse and San Jose State University Library, Assignments that Incorporate Information Literacy by College and American Historical Association: Engaging Students in the Game of Research (by Theresa Mudrock)


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