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Lloyd Sealy Library
John Jay College of Criminal Justice

* Teaching information literacy: Scaffolding Research Assignments

A guide for faculty at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

What is scaffolding?

Educational scaffolding refers to the process of providing temporary supports for learners to guide them towards achieving a goal or completing a complex task. 

Scaffolding can take many forms. One type of scaffolding is called process scaffolding, where a complex task, such as a research paper is broken down into smaller, more manageable parts. 


This page is modified from Columbia College, Vancouver's Designing Research Assignments Libguide.  With thanks to Krystyna Nowak.  Portions of this page were modified from Lehigh University Libraries' Information Literacy in ENG2: An Instructor Guide and Modesto Junior College's Designing Research Assignments Guide

Scaffolding a Research Assignment

Assignment Ideas for Each Stage
Selecting a topic
  • Identify a broad topic area
  • Proposal
  • Develop a research question
  • Develop a thesis statement
Finding background information/Presearch
  • Refine a broad topic area
  • Revise initial proposal, thesis or research question based on information gathered during presearch
  • Brainstorming
  • Concept mapping 
  • Class discussion to share findings on a topic, changes to research focus, questions that have arisen 
  • Annotated bibliography
  • Research log/journal
  • Analyze a single article in depth
Source evaluation
  • Compare and contrast discussion of a topic in different types of sources (scholarly vs. popular) 
  • Critique a source
  • Investigate a scholar/scholar biography
  • Outline 
  • First draft
  • Peer review 
Final Draft 
  • Final Draft with: self-assessment or research reflection 

Scaffolding Suggestions

Research Stage Support Provided
Selecting a topic

Students often have considerable difficulty selecting a topic and coming up with an appropriate research question.

  • Provide a list of broad topics for students to select from so that they do not feel overwhelmed and spend less time choosing between topics. 
  • Spend time working with students on coming up with researchable questions. Show examples of weak research questions, and work as a class to improve the research questions. 
  • Provide students with sources to use for their paper, and have them focus on evaluating and analyzing the sources rather than on searching for sources
  • Provide students with a single source with an extensive bibliography to use as a jumping off point. Demonstrate how one source can lead to many other sources.