Recommendations for the Research Assignments

Step 1:  Organizing your group

Given the time you will be working in your groups and the efficiency you will want to achieve I recommend some organizing initially.

Step 2: Planning your research strategy

Conceptualizing the Research.  Your group should begin by just talking about what you want to accomplish, what you want to look for, and how you are going to proceed in looking for it. The specific web pages for the various research tasks should assist with this planning.  Generally, research is a matter of working from a broad conceptualization of your research target to a narrow one. So, think through what that journey might be. Then think chronologically about how it would be best to proceed. I would also make specific assignments for members of the group. By the way, don't divide up work by the questions being asked, at least not initially. Rather, divide up the plan you have devised. No member of the group should feel constrained by the plan, particularly when they hit a hot trail, but they should feel obligated to complete their assignment within the plan.

Be prepared to alter this plan, but have it in place to revise.

It will also help to think through how you will record your findings. My suggestions are as follows.

  1. Keep a good bibliography. Use full citations when you first encounter a source so you do not need to go back later as you are preparing the bibliography to hand-in. Even put things on the bibliography that turned out to be of no use, noting their uselessness. You will delete these before handing in your bibliography but as you work they will keep you and your fellow group members from duplicating efforts on a useless source.

  2. I recommend keeping notes on 3 by 5 cards. When you are doing research like this you find that primary sources often disagree. You will need to be able to compare accounts from source to source. This will be easier to do with easily manipulated order that is provided by cards. Include an index number for each item on your bibliography (for example, "A1" for the first source consulted by team member "A"), numbered consecutively as you look at sources, and just indicate the source on each card with this number.

Planning your time.  These are not going to be assignments you complete overnight.  You will have read somewhere between three and five hundred pages of material by the time you have finished.  So leave yourself plenty of time.  But also, don't overestimate what you will be able to do.  Have an intelligent strategy that allows you to do the assignment well within the time constraints.

General strategies for your reading.  What sorts of things are you going to spend your time reading?


I would encourage you to think in terms of starting with shallower sources, perhaps from the internet (with proper caution), moving quickly to articles from periodicals and essays from, or sections of, books before you take on whole books.  Thus, you will have built a kind of upside down pyramid, beginning with shallower material and working yourself toward more depth based on that early reading.  But think through this strategy before you begin.

Identifying search terms.  As you begin your research you need to find quality sources using data bases.  The first step in this is your making a list of search terms to put into the search engines you will use.  You should construct this list from the following:

Identifying Key Databases.  To complete your strategy, you need to decide which databases to consult and/or search using the key terms you have developed.

Setting Priorities. It is now time to make a first divide on the work of the group and to set some priorities. Effective research is always a matter of setting and following priorities and then revising them as you find new things. So, the last thing to do as a group at this stage is to set priorities for each member of the group.

Step 3:  Beginning your research

At this point, your group should have divided its work in some reasonable way and it is time to begin the research.

Building your Bibliography.  Don't do your bibliography last, begin it now. 

Don't expect everything you look at to be useful.  When it is not, indicate this on the bibliography entry so that you do not go back to sources you have already seen.

Step 4:  An interim assessment

Sometime, a few days into your research, the group should reassemble. As time goes on you will get a feel for how long this should be.

  1. Share your accumulating knowledge. Just talk about what you have learned. The secret to gaining from dividing up your work is making this step as thorough as possible. Everyone should be learning from everyone else's work and that will only happen from this discussion. Its a good idea for someone to make a list of the things you have learned to tell the class. Also note things you do not yet know that requires further research.
  2. Update your group bibliography. If you have not established a procedure for doing this, do it now and make certain you are avoiding duplication of effort.
  3. Update your plan to complete the research portion of the assignment. Divide up remaining work.
  4. Feel free to consult with the instructor at this point if he can be of assistance.

Step 5: Completing your research

After the group has identified additional needed research, complete that research as quickly as possible.

Step 6: Preparing your report

A note about "the internet"

Obviously electronic access makes the gathering of information easier for all of us.  But there are some things that you have to keep in mind when doing research through this easy method.

So, I offer the following advice to you:

I do not expect that all your research will have to take place in the library, but I suspect some of it will.  I will not penalize you for not entering the library.  But I will penalize you for having narrow bibliographies without depth in the areas I have asked for depth.  You may penalize yourself if you restrict yourself only to material available on the internet or through electronic sources.

Grading of Research Assignments

I will grade your oral reports using the following criteria:

An "A" report will be superior on all these criteria.

I will grade your group's annotated bibliography by the following criteria.

An "A" bibliography will be superior in all regards.