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Research Assignment Model

For more writing information, please visit our writing pages.

Recommended for mid- to late semester.
Adapted from John Bean’s Engaging Ideas.


Students build a research paper in stages, formulating a researchable thesis (not simply choosing a “topic area”) related to the course content, finding appropriate sources, analyzing information, and drafting a revising a report that follows a specific format.

Students may be asked to think of themselves as

  • Synthesizers of the current best thinking on a problem: What is the current thinking on the value of insulin pumps in managing Type I diabetes? According to recent experts, what genetic or environmental mechanisms enable salmon to return to their original spawning
  • Problem-solving detectives or critical analysts: What was it like to be an orphan in Indiana between 1875-1920? To what extent has the exclusionary rule handcuffed the police?
  • Original field or laboratory researcher: What is the value of a “ropes course” experience for improving team-building behaviors in work groups? What effect has the recent TV advertising campaign for “energy-boosting” drinks had on consumer buying patterns?
  • Reviewer of a controversy: What are the current arguments for and against a single-payer health care system? What are the arguments for and against Title IX funding levels for athletics?
  • Advocate in a controversy: Should we permit managed harvesting of old-growth forests? Should the United States privatize the Social Security system?
  • Analytical thinker positioned in a critical conversation: How does Hamlet change in the last act? What would be the effect on consumer credit card debt of switching from federal income taxes to federal consumption taxes?

Your Signature Course Consultancy Team includes a member of the General Libraries staff who can help you design assignments to teach research and information literacy skills. We recommend you contact your Consultancy Team if you are considering a research paper for your Signature Course.

Average Length: 8-12 pages. While Signature Course students may be capable of producing longer papers, they do not typically get the same benefits from such a project that an upper-division student would.

Providing Feedback and Guidance

Signature Course students writing a long research paper require plenty of guidance. It is very helpful to schedule the assignment as a series of steps. Dr. Mary Kay Hemenway in the Department of Astronomy has her Signature Course students focus on one task at a time, submitting elements of the paper over a two-month period.


Criteria for each stage of a research project should be carefully delineated. You do not have to assign a letter or number grade to each stage; for a thesis statement or list of sources, it is more important that you let the student know whether he or she is on the right track. Check, check-plus and check-minus, or other simple evaluation scales, can be used for these elements of the project.

For the final paper, you should use a grading sheet or rubric so students can see how they have performed on each of the various tasks. You may wish to adapt one of the rubrics on the Grading Rubrics page, such as Dr. Hemenway’s grading rubric. Dr. Hemenway’s assignment sheet also provides additional, assignment-specific criteria.