Examples of Alternative Research Assignments
Compiled by Linda Shoemake, ARC Librarian

This index features assignments by American River College professors as well as those found online at other colleges and universities.

Original Subject
 Most can be adapted to any discipline.



Will Davis, ARC Biology instructor and MESA Director: "Change the World" Biology 300 research & writing assignment



Theresa Mudrock, University of Washington: Engaging Students in the Game of Research


Early Childhood Education

Dixie Thomas, ARC Early Childhood Education: A Magazine/Journal/Textbook Comparison



Red Wassenich, Austin Community College: Developmental Writing Students Take a Stand

Jane Hemmerling, ARC English: Composition Assignment Part I: Social Movement Assignment - Primary and Secondary Sources

Jane Hemmerling, ARC English: Composition Assignment Part II: Research Presentations

Kathy Rodgers, ARC English & Tim Sturm, ARC Library: Class Wiki - A Research Guide to Resources


Literary Criticism

Anon.: A Work of Literature and its Criticism History


Political Science

Kirsten Corbin, ARC English: Analyzing Political Rhetoric


English as a Second Language

Connie Ferrara, ARC Librarian, Possible ESL Library Research Assignments



An article by Patrick Beeson, University of Alabama: Bringing Blogs into the Classroom,



Sarah Burns Feyl, Pace University Librarian: Research Assignment Ideas


Assignments - Some of the above assignments are written out below for easier browsing.

Will Davis, Biology instructor and MESA Director: Change the World BIO 300 assignment

So, you learned something.  Now what?  For students in my Foundations of Biology class, hopefully the “now what” is they are going to change the world.  Realistically, they can at least voice their opinion to someone who may make a change. 

Throughout much of the semester, students individually investigate a biological topic of interest to them, and then apply their knowledge by writing a convincing and knowledgeable letter to a decision maker.  Who receives the letter depends upon the issue, but common choices are local or regional elected officials, government agency representatives, an advocacy organization such as the American Cancer Society or Sierra Club, or a private organization such a Procter and Gamble or Exxon Oil Co. 

The assignment has three parts.  First they gather the information and compile it into a draft report that addresses the biological topic only and does not include personal opinion or recommendations for action.  As a class we attend a library orientation in which the reference librarian focuses specifically on this project, so they have knowledge of the library and its resources.  They receive feedback from fellow students and from me on their report draft, then they revise the draft to produce a final report.  Finally, based on the expertise developed while producing the report, they craft a persuasive letter.  The letter provides a reasoned and accurate explanation of the biology involved and includes their personal position and specific recommendation(s) for action.  A response to their letter is requested.

When students turn in a copy for me to grade, they also turn in a signed original in an addressed envelope. I tell them that it will be mailed, but when I return the graded letter, I leave the stack of envelopes on my desk and announce that if they do not want it mailed, just take back their letter.  Seldom do students not want their letter mailed. 

Many students have reported to me about a received response. Most are simple acknowledgement letters, but there have been a good number of students who have contacted me, amazed that they received substantive responses.  One student was invited to attend a conference, another promised a copy of a soon to be issued report, and several have been told their comments would be considered in the development of future reports.

The November/December issue of the Journal of College Science Teaching landed in my mail this morning, and it includes an article titled “Civic Engagement in the Science Classroom”.  Letter writing, voting, and volunteering with civic organizations are identified as ways students can engage. Margaret Mead is quoted as saying “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”  Too many student assignments eventually end up in the student’s trash can.  Why not have them end up as a letter in someone else’s trash can?  Or, just maybe, they end up changing the world.

Thank you Will Davis for sharing this assignment.

Dixie Thomas (ARC ECE Department.) sharing a Magazine/Journal/Textbook Reading Comparison Assignment                                                                                                                          

Assignment Goal:
To do research on one topic of interest in child development. Compare and contrast textbook findings to research from a magazine and a journal article.

Topic Choices:

  • Infants Exposed to Drugs
  • Brain Development and Stimulation
  • The Quality of Child Care
  • Effects of Television Watching
  • Child Abuse
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
  • Teen Sexual Activity/Pregnancy
  • Adolescent Drug Use

Choose one of the topics. Read the section in the textbook that relates to this topic. Next, visit the library and research the same topic in the periodical databases. Find one a professional journal article  and one magazine article on your topic. These articles should be no older than 5 years.

Your paper will have seven sections-

  1. Summary of the textbook section
  2. Summary of the popular magazine article
  3. Summary of the professional journal article (Summaries should include the main idea and quote facts and examples.)
  4. Paragraph telling what information and point of view is the same in all three sources
  5. Paragraph telling what information and point of view is different between all three sources
  6. Conclusion paragraph, include your opinion
  7. Works cited page -  APA format

Be thorough, presenting information in depth, supported by quotes or examples. Present the sections in the order they are listed. Make sure your paper is free from spelling and typing errors.

This paper must be typed in a font size similar to this one, double spaced, with one inch margins. The body of the paper should be 2-3 pages long, and stapled together. No late papers will be accepted.

APA Citation for journals:
         Author, A. A., Author, B. B., & Author, C. C. (1997). Title of Article. Title of Periodical. iv, xx-xx.

         Kernis, M. H., Corness, D. P., Sun, C. R. , & Harlow, T. (1997). The Importance of self-esteem. Journal of Personality, 65 , 1190-1204.


Thank you Dixie Thomas for sharing this assignment.

Red Wassenich, Austin Community College: Students Take a Stand

A Developmental Writing instructor came to me with this assignment. This would arguably only be good for introductory students, although I wonder.

- Students are given a topic or topics to do free writing about in class. We used a lot of the typical suspects (gun control, legalization of marijuana, etc.) because we wanted ones the students would probably have thought about. They were to take a stand on the issue.

- The next step was to revise the paper incorporating research to back up their stance. The instructor asked me to put together a packaged set of research on each topic. I countered that they would learn no research skills. He said that's true but they aren't capable of doing that well enough yet to get good stuff. So I put together packets on reserve that had the sort of stuff we tell them they should be using: background, stats, mix of opinions, etc.

- The students were much more motivated to think about the research since they had already taken a stand. It seemed to decrease the tendency to just take the first sources they came across and use them.

- Since there was no way the packets would match everyone's views, they asked if it was OK to find other stuff on their own. Then they asked if it was OK to change their stance after they researched it.

That's when I was sold.

 Red Wassenich
Austin Community College
Austin, TX

Thank you Red Wassenich for sharing this assignment on a discussion listserve.

Jane Hemmerling, ARC English Composition, Social Movements Assignment, from Primary & Secondary Sources

College Composition Research Paper: Language and Rhetoric of an American Social Movement

 Assignment: Write a research paper that analyzes primary texts from an American social movement that organized to achieve some social change. The focus of your paper should be to analyze primary sources from the movement and make an argument about these sources and their relevance to the movement. Your paper should also provide adequate background to understand these sources, so be sure to include social, cultural and historical contexts that are relevant to your focus. Your paper should identify an appropriate focus and attempt to persuade the reader to your point of view.

The paper needs to analyze its primary sources and argue your position. You are free to choose the focus of your research paper, but choose carefully: you MUST be able to do research on this topic in the library. Further, this assignment does NOT ask for a simple historical report but asks you to analyze your topic, to focus on some aspect of the social movement you select and explain its significance to an audience who will have little knowledge of the issues.

Annotated Bibliography: To help pace and organize your research, you are required to submit an annotated bibliography the day that you give your research presentation. The annotated bibliography is simply a list of sources that you have consulted with a quick summary of its usefulness, relevance (or irrelevance) to your project; you will not necessarily use all of the sources in your annotated bibliography for your final paper. (over for sample)

You should plan to include at least fifteen references in your annotated bibliography. The sources can include full-length books, articles from periodicals and journals, newspapers, and internet sites—sources you can use to establish the social, historic, and cultural contexts that will provide information about your focus. You must include at least ten non-internet sites (such as scholarly journals or books) in your annotated bibliography. Also, must include at least two primary sources which should provide the most important material for analysis in your paper; the rest may be secondary sources. This shouldn't be difficult if you spend time with the research librarian.

MLA format requirement: Make sure that you cite your sources, using MLA-style citations, and that you include a works-cited page for your paper. Your works cited must contain at least ten items, including scholarly sources and at least two must be primary sources; the rest may be secondary sources.

Length: Your finished text should be at least eight full pages (2,000 words), not including the works cited page.

Here are some ideas for social movements that you may be interested in researching. However, this list is not exhaustive, so you may choose another movement not on the list. If you do want to choose a topic that does not appear on this list, please talk to me ahead of time to make sure it is acceptable for this assignment.

Animal Rights; Anti-War/Peace Movement; Anti-Globalization; Civil Rights Movement; Disability Rights; Free-Software Movements; Environmentalism; Health Care Movements; Gay Rights; Immigrant Rights; Labor Movement (Farm Workers, etc.); Prison Reform; Prohibition/Temperance; Women’s Movement

**Please note: no papers on abortion or gun ownership: I want this to be a creative and explorative research paper based on new critical analysis on your part, not a regurgitation of a high school debate class.

Sample Entries from Annotated Bibliography


Cawardine, William H. The Pullman Strike. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr and Company, 1973. This book is my first primary source because it was written by Reverend William H. Cawardine, who was the Reverend of Pullman City at the time of the Pullman Strike. William wrote this book as the Pullman Strike was coming to an end and he gave a sense of feeling to his audience reading his book. This also contained many facts that internet sites and other books don’t give because its one of the few that was written during its time and goes into great detail of the happening of the strike.


Hirsch, Susan E. After the Strike:  A Century of Labor Struggle at Pullman. Chicago, University of Illinois Press, 2003.  This source gave me an idea of what happened after the strike. It explained clearly what when this matter was taken to the courts, the workers of the Pullman Company obtained equal and fair wages. The book also talked about contemporary labor problems and how we are affected by the events of the Pullman Strike as it has been used as precedence in many court cases.

Thank you Jane Hemmerling for sharing this assignment.

Jane Hemmerling, ARC English, Research Presentations

College Composition Assignment Part II - Research Presentation Instructions

In preparation for your research paper on an American social movement, you will do a short, 10-15 minute presentation of your research to the class. The purpose of this assignment is to give you practice presenting academic material in an organized, collegiate fashion, and to share your knowledge of the social movement you have chosen to research along with useful sources you have found.  You may also prepare a short one-page handout for the class if you think it would be helpful to your presentation. Your research presentation should include at least the following elements:

-- Define for the class what your social movement is – what was its cause specifically.

-- Why did you choose this topic? Was there something in particular that you felt connected to or interested by? How did you first hear about this movement?

-- Are there many different groups or factions within this movement, or is it relatively cohesive group?

--What are primary texts from the movement that you will be analyzing?

Thank you Jane Hemmerling for sharing this second assignment.

A Work of Literature and its Criticism History

Select a well known, classic novel that is at least fifty years old. Review the criticism available and identify what the critics were saying about the work over the years. How did the perspective change? What were the social issues that had an impact on the criticism? What were the qualities of the book that made it endure over the years? (What makes it a classic?)

 Author unknown.

Kirsten Corbin, ARC English, shares an assignment on Analyzing Political Rhetoric


So far this semester, you have expanded your sense of community by looking critically at your place in college as well as within a consumer-driven economy.  In this unit, you investigate the world around, focusing on the political sphere and specifically political language. We are surrounded by persuasive language—propaganda—meant to make us feel, believe, and act in certain ways.  As the election looms, the rhetoric intensifies and it can be difficult to sort the fact from the fiction, and the issues from the emotions.

Your Task

Choose a political speech given to the people of the United States* and argue the ways in which the speaker attempts to manipulate or influence his or her audience and why.  Using the library as a main source of information, research the context of the speech as well as views on the speech.  Using the articles on rhetorical techniques, analyze the speech, looking at what issues are addressed and how the speaker addresses them.  In your five to seven page essay, analyze your findings to argue why the speaker would take such an approach.

Note: Your audience is knowledgeable, but also would like to further understand the effect of language, so be sure to explain the rhetorical techniques as you understand them and cite the appropriate authors.

Minimum Requirements - Your essay will need:

A controlling thesis statement: a clear, direct statement of the point of your essay.

Focused sentences and paragraphs.

An organized presentation of your ideas.

Recognition of alternate points of view.

Thorough development and explanation of your ideas (Remember: specific examples can help you here.  Don’t be afraid to give your reader plenty of supportive information.).

Sentence structures discussed in previous units and this unit—adjective clauses and punctuating quotes.

Cite at least eight sources

  • I want you to make use of the library, and therefore, I will only accept no more than two (2) sources from the internet (excluding library database sources).

  • You must make use of journals and magazines as well as books, with significantly more sources coming from journals and books than magazines.

  • The texts handed in class count towards the minimum of 8 only if used.

Proper citation of your sources using MLA documentation style with a Works Cited page.

At least five full pages, well-proofread, and formatted as described in the workbook.

Due Dates:  Rough draft: ________   Final paper: _______                                                                                  

*Choose ONE of the speeches from the list provided or you may choose another speech, if you like, but please clear it with me first before begin your research and turn in a copy of the speech in your essay packet.

Thank you Kirsten Corbin for sharing this assignment.

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