Los Angeles Valley College

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Term Paper Alternatives: A Few Ideas

If you would like your students to use the library, but don’t want to assign a research paper there are alternatives. There are many ways to incorporate the use of library resources into class assignments without requiring a full-blown research paper. Students may actually respond better to “alternative” assignments which enable them to focus on or master specific resources or aspects of the research process.

  • Students prepare an annotated bibliography of sources on a specific topic. (Hint: Provide a sample citation and annotation.)

  • Students write abstracts of journal articles on a specific topic. (Hint: Provide a sample citation and abstract.)

  • Students compare a popular magazine article with a scholarly article on the same topic.

  • Students compare two or more scholarly book reviews on an important book in the subject area of the course. (Hint: Provide a list of books and have each student choose a different book.)

  • Students compare different accounts of the same event.

  • Students research events from date of birth (verify that the information is available at the Library.)

  • Forecasting (what did articles written in the 1960s predict about the future of computers, etc.)

  • Students prepare a guide that introduces new majors to information sources in their subject field.

  • Students seek information in simulations of real-life projects (e.g.: Public relations students prepare a proposal to develop a web page for a non-profit organization.)

  • Ask students to browse the library stacks where the books in the discipline are shelved. Examine a volume of a relevant specialized encyclopedia and an index. Also examine the contents of several journals in the discipline. Students write an essay in response to these questions:
    • What is (discipline)? i.e. how might it be defined?

    • How might the resources consulted be utilized in other courses, especially in other disciplines?

    • From this exercise, what have the students learned about the scope of the discipline?

  • Identify significant people in your discipline. Have students consult a variety of biographical resources and subject encyclopedias to gain a broader appreciation for the context in which important accomplishments were achieved.

  • Contrast two editorials from recently published journals reflecting conservative and liberal tendencies. It might be interesting to carry out this exercise again using publications from the late 1960s.

  • Assign readings on a topic from both primary and secondary sources. Have students compare and contrast the sources and content.

  • An important component of research is critical evaluation of resources and their contents.

    • Provide students with a popular and scholarly article on the same topic. To encourage them to learn how to distinguish between these types of publications, have students analyze the articles using a prepared checklist of characteristics.

    • Ask students to find a short article in the popular press and the original research findings on which the popular article was based. Students should review related findings, discuss the relationship between the popular article and original research, and critique the popular article with regard to its accuracy.

  • Ask students to update a literature review done about five years ago on a topic in the discipline. They will have to utilize printed and electronic resources to identify pertinent information.

  • Compare entries in a general encyclopedia (i.e., Americana) and a specialized encyclopedia on the subject.

  • Write a personal reaction to a poem, short story or essay. Read a review or criticism of that piece. Then write an essay exploring how the additional information changed their perception of the story.