Apr 6, 2015

Research: Process Matters

I am by training and vocation a librarian. Depending on the industry and employer needs my title has varied, but acquiring, verifying, and sharing information have been central to every position. Perhaps because of this I am slightly passionate about the importance of process in research practices.

Defining Research
Research pertains to much more than the typical full-blown formal research paper. Research includes all information seeking behaviors. Even students listening to a lecture are engaged in research, albeit passive and single-sourced. They are gathering and organizing information to develop new understandings.

Content vs. Process as Primary Goal
Putting the primary focus on content leads to students grabbing information from the top three hits in a Google results list. Based on student search strategies this will likely include Wikipedia, Ask.com, and a popular news article tangentially related to the topic. Each of these will have something the student can connect to their already determined opinion on the topic. You will notice that nowhere in this scenario did students:
  • grapple with what they really want to know about this topic
  • compare their current understandings to the newly found information
  • consider all of the information sources available to them -- not just the top 3 Google hits
  • evaluate sources for credibility, authority, currency, and relevancy
  • take relevant notes, including citations
  • take ownership and pride in the learning experience
  • grow their knowledge and understanding

Research Processes and Models
Process matters. If students (information seekers) learn the process of good research, they can't help but locate and make use of good information. There are several research based models for students (Big 6/Super 3, IIM, Simple 4, I SearchInformation Search Process). Each involves some form of pre-search, search, and post-search. In fact, they all include these nonlinear steps:
  • Wonder: Establish the topic of research. This will be refined, and perhaps completely altered in future steps.
  • Explore: Quickly and superficially begin to look for information about this topic to gain a better understanding and begin to formulate deeper questions.
  • Plan: Consider all information resources, keywords and search phrasing, information format and media.
  • Collect: This is the biggest and most time consuming task. This is where all of the planning in previous steps is acted upon. Sometimes researchers need to go back to Wonder and reevaluate the entire project based on new findings. 
  • Present: Gather found information and new understandings into some sort of presentation or product. It may be a written paper, a multimedia presentation, a verbal discussion, notes for personal edification, or as simple as a satisfied curiosity.
  • Review: Go back and evaluate the final result. Ensure that the primary question has been answered.

In the coming weeks I will share strategies and tools to use when guiding students through the research process.