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Developing Student Researchers - The Faculty Role (6 Unit Workshop)

A series of workshops for faculty on integration of information literacy into their instruction and assignments.

Follow the student narrative

Designing research assignments to meet research processes goals is not easy. It needs to recognize the boundaries of your discipline and the narrative of a typical research project. Above all, it needs to enable students to get on the quest.


Students need a firm foundation of research design as they begin their research. This involves:

  • A basic working knowledge of the topic
  • A stated research problem (question or thesis in one sentence)
  • A preliminary three or four point outline of the anticipated project

The student research project foundation must be based on the conventions and requirements of research in your discipline. It needs to understand some subject information. It needs to state a problem that is relevant to your discipline and which follows the normal conventions of your discipline. 

Having your students read one or two good research papers in your discipline is a helpful beginning. Have them identify the research problem, the ways in which evidence is enlisted, and the outline of the project.

Research problem statement formulation is the most challenging part of student research. Students tend to:

  • Assume that a research project is a "finding out" exercise - gather data about a subject so you can explain it. If there is a research question it is something you can look up to find the answer.
  • See information discovery and synthesis as the goal of the project.
  • Lack much sense of how a research project could be problem-based.


Be prepared to have students struggle to find a research problem statement that actually addresses a problem or issue. Watch out for:

  • Statements that merely call for the student to look up the answer and report it.
  • Statements that call for data compilation but no analysis or problem solving.
  • Statements that use vague language or are open-ended (for example, What are the implications of legalizing marijuana?)
  • Statements that are multi-part rather than singular. A research problem statement must have one goal.

You will need to be careful to troubleshoot student research problem statements. A poorly formulated statement will sabotage the whole research process.

Suggested Assignment Template

1. Present basic information about your topic (8-10 lines) using Wikipedia or an encyclopedia from one of our Research Guides (

2. Brainstorm 3 or 4 possible research questions for your topic. Be sure your questions deal with a problem to address rather than asking for an answer you could simply look up in a book or online.  List the questions you have thought of.

3. Choose one of those questions as the one you will use, and state it. (You will have opportunity to revise and improve your question in assignments that follow).

4. Drawing on your chosen question, create a preliminary outline of 3 or 4 points you will need to cover to respond to your chosen research question.  Be sure to include terminology from your question in your outline.

Suggested Rubric

A well done assignment will include the following features:

1. Possible research questions are narrowly focused, require analysis to answer (not just the compiling of existing information) and show promise to be researchable.

2. Chosen research question is the best of the questions in part 1.

3. Outline is logical and deals directly with the requirements of the research question.

Finding and Using Resources

Students tend to search on topics rather than research problems. Thus, instead of searching on "How can the Kingdom of God be both present and future?" they will search on Kingdom of God. I thus encourage them to draw their search terminology directly out of their research problem statement (question or thesis):

Today's academic databases are sophisticated and well able to focus student searches down to highly relevant results. Students need to optimize advanced search features. This is a good point to enlist the support of a librarian who can work with students to help them do more sophisticated searches.

TWU Library has a whole suite of short video guides to major databases: as well as to Library OneSearch: 

(Open in full screen)

Suggested Assignment Template

1.  In relation to your research question:

     a. Do a search for books and book chapters relevant to your research question (using the Books tab in Library OneSearch)

     b. List the search words you used. Include subject heading limiters if your first result list has more than 30 entries in it.

     c. List eight books that speak to your research question (use APA, MLA, or Turabian format). Put your citations in alphabetical order by author, and do not number them.

[Note: Books tend to be broad, so you may need to find books that cover your topic in only one chapter or section.  For example, if you have a research question like this – To what extent was Descartes a Deist though claiming to be a Roman Catholic? – you might find that a search on Descartes Deism gets you nothing.  I that case, look for works on Descartes and find information about Deism within them.]

2. In relation to your research question:

    a. Do a search for journal articles related to your research question (using the Articles tab in Library OneSearch or choosing a subject-relevant database from the Databases tab)

    b. Once you are on the results page, limit your search results, using one or more subject headings..

    c. List the search terms/subject headings you used.    
    d. Create a list of 8 citations in proper APA, MLA or Turabian format. Put them in alphabetical order and do not number them.  


Suggested Rubric

A well done assignment will include the following features:

1. Search terms that closely match the intention of your research question (keywords preferably drawn from your research questions and subject headings that at least cover the subject matter of your question).

2. Book and article citations that show promise of answering your research question (note that a book may cover your question in only a portion of its contents and still be useful).

3. Consistent bibliographic format.

Revising Research Design and Resources - Suggested Assignment Template

1. Have another look at your research question, revise it if necessary, and state your final research question.

2. State your final outline in point form, preferably with both main headings and subheadings.

3. Present a bibliography, based on your research question and outline, of 14 items, at least 6 of them being scholarly articles. You may have more than 6 articles if you wish, but you must have a minimum of 6.  You can use resources that you have identified from previous assignments. 

4. Conclude with a brief paragraph explaining why you believe the bibliography is of high quality and relevant to your research question.

Exercises and Readings


1. Read:

  • Teaching Research Processes: Chapter Seven
  • Research Strategies: Chapter Four to Six, and Appendix A

2. Identify the goals you wish students to achieve in a research project. 

3. Break a sample project down into component parts. A suggested pattern:

  • Have students e-mail you a suggested topic or have them choose from your list
  • Assign students to send you a 8 - 10 line summary of the subject matter of the project then brainstorm 3-4 possible research problem statements (thesis or research question), then choose the best of these. Students then develop a preliminary outline based on the elements in the problem statement.
  • Have students search for resources in academic databases, stating the keywords and subject headings they used. They should produce a list of a specified number of books/articles in a specified format.
  • Have students submit a final research problem statement, final expanded outline and final formatted bibliography.
  • Students submit final projects.


Badke, William. "Search Tips from a Seasoned Searcher.Online Searcher 42, no. 1 (January-February, 2018): 59-61.