Skip to main content

Leading Students Beyond Google: Effective Research Assignments for the 21st Century

Some Relevant Data About Students and Research

Head & Eisenberg, 2010

  • Students are motivated by familiarity and habit and they use the same information sources for academic research and everyday life research.
  • One of the most popular routines used by students was turning to Wikipedia as a starting point.
  • For 84% of students surveyed, "the sheer act of just getting started on research assignments and defining a research inquiry was overwhelming for students -- more so than any of the subsequent steps in the research process."
  • Other steps students found challenging include defining a topic (61%), narrowing it down into a thesis (62%) and sifting through vast amounts of irrelevant information.
  • Overall, the challenge of the beginning steps of the research project was not due to a shortage of ideas; rather, it was intimidating because students see this step as fraught with risk. Students "were afraid to commit to a topic for fear the topic would fail them."
  • Nearly half of the students (48%) had trouble with concluding projects as well. Nagging questions include, Have I done a good job? How do I sort through all that I've found to find what I need? How do I know when to stop looking?
  • Although students consider themselves relatively skilled at finding information, they reported being "hobbled" by having to frame a research inquiry. That is, their biggest challenge lay in determining the nature and scope of a research assignment and what it demanded from them.
  • What matters most to students is finishing the research assignment (97%), getting a good grade on it (97%), and passing the course (99%). They care more about meeting citation requirements and required page length (88%) than conducting a comprehensive investigation of a topic or learning something new (78%).
  • A gap exists between "resource-focused training students often receive from librarians and instructors and their ability to control and manage the resulting infuriating overload so they can frame a research inquiry and get to work on the assignment with the confidence that they will do well."

For a much more comprehensive look at student research, access the actual study by following this link:

Some Local, Anecdotal Evidence About Students and Research

Some general observances about MJC students (from the trenches of the MJC Library). These are in no particular order.

  • 39% of past LIBR100 students have never written a research paper (including in high school)
  • Students almost never start research early enough. In fact, students often start even major research projects within days of the due date.
  • Students spend most of their "research time" retrieving information, and relatively little time reading that information and reflecting on it in a meaningful way.
  • There is a sometimes huge difference between what MJC instructors say in terms of research requirements, and what students hear.
  • Students are very literal-minded and fearful of interpreting anything their instructors say loosely.
  • Once students understand "The Rules" in terms of academically appropriate sources, they tend to follow them.
  • With a modicum of instruction, it is actually easier to evaluate a relevant Web document than it is to find a relevant article on a certain topic, published within the last 5 years, more than 1500 words, in a magazine a student can take to class.
  • Students often see research as something that is "happening to them." As a hoop they must jump through, not an opportunity to learn about something new, and develop reading, writing, and analyzing skills. This is a hard sell.
  • Often students fail to distinguish the finer points of information sources. To them the world is divided into print and the Internet. Everything digitized is "the Internet" even though it may really be a full-length published book, a peer-reviewed journal article, or the online publication of a government document. This leads to confusion in both what they believe they can and cannot use, as well as in terms of properly citing sources.
  • Many students think the library is just a big, weirdly book-laden building where they eat lunch and use computers. They have no idea of how research librarians function.
  • Once students know how librarians function, and are made to feel comfortable asking for help, they tend to be return customers.
  • Students LOVE the databases, especially the citation function and the 24/7 availability.
  • Students are incredibly happy and grateful to get help with research. Sometimes they hug us in relief. Really.