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English Library Instruction: 1. The Research Process

Research Process Steps

From Derek Stadler: 

  • I may have shared this but it was an idea I had from Charles whereby students need to arrange the steps of writing a research paper/research process.  Sometimes I break them down into groups or have them do it individually, depending on the class.
  • Ian and I had students search for Trump's travel ban and then have them search by its executive order number.  It helped students understand synonyms in searching for material as well as narrowing down a topic and seeing how information changes over time.
  • Ian and I also had students view a YouTube video of multiple statistics and ask them to find if they are valid.
  • I also have students read intros or the first few paragraphs of an encyclopedia article to get background information and then have them use those keywords in search of a scholarly article.

Library Resources vs. The Open Web

From Louise Fluk: 

I usually start ENG101 classes by saying that I will show them the Library's resources on their research topic using the Library's home page.  But, first, I want them to think about why I'm not suggesting that they start their research with Google.  I usually get answers about how Google results are not reliable.  I point out that there are also really good results available on the Web, so why not use it to start? It’s fast, easy to use, provides lots of information.


I suggest two reasons:
1.      I ask:  If you search for information about [whatever their topic is], how may items will you find?

[Answers: "a lot," "two million," "zillions"].
OK, then, of the first 20 items, say, how many will you have to evaluate to make sure they are useful for your research?

Answers vary, but eventually we get the right answer:
You will have to evaluate all of them to make sure that they are reliable, not trying to sell you something, not a copy of a ninth-grade paper, etc.
And, I tell them, you don’t have time to do all that before your paper is due.

Then I plug databases as collections of materials vetted for the use of college students writing research papers, not perfect or totally unbiased or totally comprehensive, but not a waste of their time.

 2.      Second question: How much of the Web does Google search? Roughly what percentage?

[Answers: usually: silence [never thought of that] or “all of it” or “90%”;
sometimes a discerning student will say “less than half” or “not most of it”]

I either praise the student who does not think Google searches everything or acknowledge that most people answer 90% or more.

Then I agree with the lower estimate.  I back it up with the Bright Planet White Paper on the Deep Web vs the Surface Web by Michael K. Bergman from the year 2000 which found that search engines searched only 16% of the web:

(I don’t actually give the full citation or discuss the Invisible Web as such)
I’m not aware of a later study, but I assume that, even if the number has increased today, 17 years later, it’s certainly less than 50%.

Then I ask the students: What doesn’t [can’t] Google search?

Eventual answer: the free web vs the fee-based web; password-protected sites
Well, can you access what Google can’t?  Have you paid for it?
Eventual answer: Yes, students pay for access to databases with tuition money, student activity fee, etc.
(and Google doesn’t)

Therefore, if you start with Google or only use Google, you are missing a large amount of vetted information.  

This entire exchange uses only Socratic questioning and takes maybe five minutes.  It would be enhanced with visuals such as Alex’s image of  the Invisible Web or a set of PowerPoint slides.  And it could be used as intro to larger modules about:           
* how to evaluate free web materials vs. database articles (reminding students that the latter also need to be evaluated but with different questions asked)
* the Invisible Web
* differential access to information depending on funding
* personalization of search

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