Our Research Database Assignment

You may be required to find additional information resources for your assignment. The key steps include:

These steps are aimed at 1st and 2nd level students. For more advanced techniques see: Finding information on your research topic.

OU Library Services offers a regular online training session on How to find information for your assignment.

Planning your search

  • Check what you are being asked to do by looking at the guidance notes in your module materials.
  • Think about what you already know. Where are the gaps in your knowledge? What do you need to find out? Think about what you are really looking for and decide which words best describe your topic. Be focused and specific.
  • Think about synonyms, or alternative terms for your subject, for example, soccer or football; children or young people.
  • What sort of information are you looking for? For example, a basic introduction, a detailed explanation, a set of statistics providing evidence of research? Think about where you are most likely to find this: an online reference work might give you a basic introduction, a book may provide a more detailed explanation and a statistics database or journal article may be the place to find evidence.
  • Decide on the best place to look: Library Search, a Library database, Google Scholar...


To learn how to focus your search using targeted keywords explore the 5 minute choosing good keywords activity on Being Digital.

  • Have a go at searching using some of the keywords you’ve identified and adapt your search as you go along, depending on what you find.
  • If you don't find anything within a reasonable time period, e.g. 30 minutes, be prepared to change your strategy. For example, use different words to search or use a different resource.
  • You can add keywords to make your search more specific if you have too many results. If you find too few results, try removing words to make your search broader. 
  • Most search tools give you the option to filter your search results by subject or resource type. Try using these to increase the relevancy of your search results and reduce the number you need to look through.
  • Advanced search options allow you to look for your search terms within a particular part of the details associated with each item, e.g. author or subject. You can use these to hone your search so that it gives you the most relevant results. When you first start these can be tricky, try it with one search term first to build your skills.

To learn how to narrow your search results try the 10 minute filtering information quickly activity on Being Digital.

Where to look

Using Library Search

  • Searching for the title of the resource such as an ebook, database or journal, should bring up the item you are looking for at or near the top of the results. If not, you can limit your search by resource type under ‘Refine my results’.
  • You can find particular articles using Library Search, by searching for the article title, and get straight to all of our electronic resources by clicking on ‘view online’. 
  • Library Search also searches across a large number of our databases or collections which means you can search across a large number of resources at the same time. You can also limit by creation date; author; subject; journal title; language or collection, this will allow you to refine and focus your search.

Evaluating what you find

If you have a large number of results you will first want to filter them to weed out any that are not relevant. A quick way of judging the quality and relevance of a source, especially on the Internet is to ask:

  • Who is the author of the source? Who put the information there (who owns the site)? What authority or expertise do they have in this area?
  • Why was the source created?
  • When was the source last updated?

For journal articles, peer review can provide a guide to academic quality, but you should still carry out your own evaluation, to be sure the information meets your needs.

Evaluating in more depth

To thoroughly check the relevance of sources you find you can use the PROMPT mnemonic (Provenance, Relevance, Objectivity, Method, Presentation, Timeliness) which is detailed in the Evaluation using PROMPT activity on the Being Digital website.

Keeping track of what you find and acknowledging your sources

For any material you consult it is a good idea to record what you find, and where and when you found it. This will make it easier to acknowledge your sources correctly and retrace your steps if you need to.

For more guidance see Referencing and plagiarism.

Normandale Community College

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Designing Effective Assignments

We encourage you to:

  • Schedule a library instruction session. Library Instruction should be scheduled close to the time of need, when the student begins the research process. To be meaningful, the library session should be tied to an assignment that is relevant to the course so students have the opportunity to apply what they have learned during the session to their assignment. Contact Lacey Mamak (x8310) to schedule a session.
  • Include a link to one of our research tools such as our citation guides or our Assignment Calculator. Or have us create a Research Guide specifically for your class or assignment. These can give students a great head start on doing research.
  • Encourage students to get help from Normandale librarians in person, via email, or telephone.
  • Place limited resources on reserve. If there is a book or a chapter you want all the students in your class to read, place it on Reserve so everybody has access to it.
  • Check with the Library in advance of the assignment to assure availability of, and access to required resources. The online environment is especially fluid and can change from one day to the next.

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Suggestions for Designing Effective Research Assignments:

  • Topic selection. Students often choose "hot topic" when conducting research, and may have difficulty abstracting a research question from a current news event i.e., "I need to do a paper on animal rights." Before students select their topics, consider an exercise in which students define a research question for a number of news headlines.
  • Allow for incremental and continual improvement. Allow students to choose a topic early in the semester. Have them turn in a bibliography of initial sources. Check the appropriateness of the sources selected (this could also help prevent plagiarism). Have them turn in a revised topic statement based on consultation of initial sources. This emphasizes the process of incorporating new information into the student's knowledge base.
  • Provide examples. Many students may not understand the distinction between popular and scholarly sources. If you require students to use articles from peer reviewed journals, provide examples in the assigned readings, refer to them, and discuss the author's credentials, and elements of the research process.
  • Describe the specifics of the assignment. Length, format for references (MLA, APA), acceptable types of sources (books, journal articles, web).
  • Student use of the Web. The use of the web is expanding, and library materials are increasingly web-based. Students will come to the reference desk and state that they are not allowed to use web sources, yet many full text journals are available on the web through our library subscriptions. Be precise in your instructions for student use of the web for research, and reinforce the distinction between such reliable library sources and general "internet" searching.
  • Give citations not photocopies. If you would like students to read an article in a journal that is in our electronic collection, give them the article citation and have them go through the process of finding the article.
  • Don't assume that students know the basics. Many Normandale students have no prior experience using a library or library sources. The Web is most likely the first place they go to for information.
  • Compare scholarly and popular resources on a topic. Find a reference to a study from a newspaper or popular magazine, such as Time, Psychology Today, Popular Science, etc. Then have students find the actual study in a scholarly journal and write several paragraphs comparing the popular sources with the original research.
  • Evaluate and compare Websites. Using the criteria from Evaluating Internet Resources, have students evaluate a variety of web sites.
  • Offer extra credit. Offer extra credit to students who bring in scholarly articles that expand on classroom discussion topics. Create an online bibliography of these articles so students can benefit from the research of their classmates.
  • Create a reading packet. The model for this assignment is the annotated book of readings with which most students are familiar. In this case, however, rather than being given the anthology, they are asked to compile it themselves. The assignment can limit the acceptable content to scholarly articles written within the last ten years, or it can be broadened to include popular articles, chapters or excerpts from books, subject encyclopedia articles, web sites, or older materials of particular merit. Students should be asked to write an introduction to the anthology that would display an overall understanding of the subject. In addition, each item should be described, and an explanation given as to why it is included. The assignment could also require a bibliography of items considered for inclusion.
  • Explain (or ask a librarian to explain) what plagiarism is, how to avoid it, and how it relates to the Internet and full-text databases.

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