Readings on Developing Undergraduate Library Research Skills

Places to start

Bean, John C. Engaging Ideas: The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc., 1996. Highly recommended by Willamette University's writing program director, who calls it "the Dr. Spock of Writing-Across-the-Curriculum guides."

Lutzker, Marilyn. Research Projects for College Students: What to Write Across the Curriculum. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1988. A practical guide to creating assignments, with particular attention to using primary sources creatively.

Project Information Literacy - a national study under way "to understand how early adults conceptualize and operationalize research in the digital age."

Discussions of students' research processes and problems

Fister, Barbara. "The Research Processes of Undergraduate Students." Journal of Academic Librarianship 18.3 (July 1992): 163-169. Describes a small-scale study of strategies successful students used in their research. Concludes that successful students employ a variety of strategies to find a focus, use a process that integrates reading, writing and research recursively, and attend to rhetorical issues as they do their work.

Head, Alison J. "Information Literacy from the Trenches: How Do Humanites and Social Science Majors Conduct Academic Research?" College and Research Libraries 69.4 (September 2008): 427-445. A study of how students perceive the research process garnered through interviews and a survey. Though the common perception that students only use Internet sources was not borne out, students do have trouble gaining enough background knowledge to complete a task and have difficulty understanding assignment expectations.

Klein, Michael. "What is it We do when We Write Like This--And How can We Get Students to Join Us?" Writing Instructor (Spring/Summer 1987): 151-161. Describes research processes employed by scholars and constructs an interesting "hunting and gathering" duality for research strategies; opens with a hilarious dystopian vision of students working in "the night library."

Larson, Richard. "The 'Research Paper' in the Writing Course: A Non-Form of Writing." College English 44.8(December 1982): 811-816. A spirited critique of the "research paper" as a genre in the English composition classroom -- and a strong endorsement of authentic, discipline-based research experiences for undergraduates.

Schwegler, Robert A. and Linda K. Shamoon. "The Aims and Process of the Research Paper." College English 44.8 (December 1982): 817-824. A companion piece to Larson (above) that lays out four different approaches: review of research, application of a theory, response to prior research, or testing of a hypothesis. Points out that students and their teachers view the purpose of research differently: "Students view the research paper as close-ended, informative, skills-oriented exercise written for an expert audience by novices pretending to be experts."

Nelson, Jennie. "The Research Paper: A 'Rhetoric of Doing' or a 'Rhetoric of the Finished Word'?" Composition Studies: Freshman English News 22.2 (Fall 1994): 65-75. Surveyed over two hundred first year student researchers and found most used a "compiled information" approach, gathering material and writing about it without formulating a focus. Only five percent of students used a complex, recursive strategy.

Valentine, Barbara. "Undergraduate Research Behavior: Using Focus Groups to Generate Theory." Journal of Academic Librarianship 19.5 (1993): 300-304. A depressing but not surprising student-centered view, in which research strategies focus on avoiding effort and gaining a grade; useful as a reality check.

Descriptions of specific assignments

Aspaas, Helen R. "Integrating World-Views and the News Media into a Regional Geography Course." Journal of Geography in Higher Education 22.2 (July 1998): 211-27. Describes how she teaches students to gain insight in African world-views by analyzing what African media say. Provides a series of assignments, beginning with two in-class sessions and progressing to more independent research projects and a paper.

Capossela, Toni-Lee. "Students as Sociolinguists: Getting Real Research from Freshman Writers." College Composition and Communication 42 (1991): 75-79. Engaging students in applied field research with a more or less simulated library component (i.e., assigned text to all students). Very adaptable to real library research, however.

Coon, Anne. C. "Using Ethical Questions to Develop Autonomy in Student Researchers." College Composition and Communication 40 (1989): 85-89. Series of assignments for a first-year class beginning with library research and progressing to primary research in a way that builds in recursivity.

Gredel-Manuele, Zdenka. "The Study of Family History: Research Projects in a Senior Seminar." Teaching History 16.1 (Spring 1991): 27-32. Detailed description of a semester-long project in collecting, analyzing and evaluating primary documents in family history and relating them to library research on ethnic groups' immigration history, etc.

Krest, Margie and Daria O. Carle. "Teaching Scientific Writing: A Model for Integrating Research, Writing and Critical Thinking." The American Biology Teacher 61.3 (March 1999): 223-227. Detailed, even charted, description of assignments for a freshman course, Introduction to Scientific Writing. Moves students through a series of assignments from abstracts and sections of lab reports, to reviews and proposals, research articles -- all keyed to goals for writing, research, and critical thinking skills.


Compiled by Barbara Fister with recommendations from Gretchen Moon, Writing Program Director, Willamette University.

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