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Online Learning for Information Literacy: Get Started with Research

A collection of online tutorials, videos, class exercises, and assessments for developing students' information literacy.

Get Started with Research

Help your students with...

  • Understanding the academic research process
  • Developing a research question
  • Creating a keyword search strategy
  • Distinguishing between databases and source types

Class Exercise - What is Your Research Process?

Having students articulate their research process can be helpful in identifying common stages in the process, where challenges are frequently met, that there is not one "right" way of approaching research, and that research is frequently messy and nonlinear -- requiring creativity, strategy, and persistence.  Begin by asking students to write down the steps in their research process in 5-7 steps on post-it notes or scraps of paper.  The steps should encompass the very start of their process (e.g., getting the assignment) to the end (e.g., submitting the finished paper/product).  Using a wall or whiteboard or table, have students add their post-its/paper to areas designated as “Step 1,” “Step 2,” etc.

Once everyone has completed this process, have students talk about where processes are similar among classmates and where they differ, which stages of the research process they find most challenging, which stage takes the most amount of time, etc.  This exercise helps to not only breakdown the research process into familiar steps even in the variety of responses, but also provides a birds-eye view of the process for help with time management.


Class Exercise - Concept Mapping

Concept maps help students consider how they want to approach or frame their topic while in the early stages of research. Begin by asking students to write down their topic and then brainstorm all the aspects, factors, concepts, etc. they anticipate needing to cover. This is is their opportunity to think about how they plan to approach the paper or project while creating a visual representation of how everything connects.

After students have had an opportunity to draft their own concept maps, get them to pair up or form small groups and share their work with each other. They should use this time to listen to their classmates' ideas and suggest other ways to approach or discuss each individual topic. For more information about concept mapping, please consult the BYU Center for Teaching and Learning's concept mapping page.


Class Exercise - Learning Centers

Get students familiar with the differences between searching in larger, interdisciplinary search tools and smaller, subject-specific databases. Divide the class into two or more groups and assign each group to explore one particular search tool. Along the way, they should ask themselves what kinds of sources they're finding, how the tool appears to structure and present results, and when and why that particular resource may be useful for their own research. Once the groups have had a few minutes to experiment with some sample searches and record some thoughts, bring everyone back together to either swap tools and repeat or share their notes with the rest of the class.

Example interdisciplinary databases librarians teach students:

  • MUSCAT Plus: the library's main search tool, which checks our catalog and a large amount of our online subscription content
  • Scopus: especially good for STEM disciplines
  • ProQuest Central: contains a rich amount of news content in addition to scholarly articles
  • Google Scholar: familiar interface and a massive amount of scholarly content


Think/Pair/Share Exercise - From Topic to Research Question

In the early stages of research, students frequently grapple with what is an appropriate topic and scope of topic for their paper/project. This exercise guides students through the stages of preliminary research to help with narrowing focus and providing peer-to-peer feedback. Start by asking students to write down their topic ideas and various related subtopics (a concept map exercise could be helpful here as well!). Next, have students explore their topic ideas using library databases, reference sources, Google, etc. As they learn more general information about the topic and begin to see common threads in the literature, have them jot down these ideas on their paper. 

Next, have students review what they have found and where they are most interested in exploring next, what questions they have related to that topic or what they want to learn more about, etc.  At this point, students should be asking more focused questions than where they first started. Next, have students pair up with a classmate to share what they are interested in researching, the questions they still have, challenges they may be having in identifying relevant sources, and where they think they may be heading. Feedback from their peers could include additional ideas for the topic, tips for searching, how to frame the research question, etc.  

Video: How Library Stuff Works - Scholarship as Conversation

How is scholarly understanding shaped by the contributions and publications of multiple people? How do students engage with and participate in larger scholarly discussions?

Length: 3 minutes

Created by McMaster University Library. This video is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

How do I use this?: Link directly to the YouTube video:

Video: Picking Your Topic IS Research

Why can't I find any sources for my topic?  Is it okay to adjust my research topic/question as I search? Is adjusting my research topic/question a normal part of the research process?

Length: 3 minutes

Created by NC State University Libraries. This video is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

How do I use this?  Link directly to YouTube video:  

Video: Selecting and Using Keywords

How do I get from a research topic to a set of keywords and search terms? How can I use existing keywords to brainstorm related terms and concepts?

Length: 4 minutes

Created by the Darrell W. Krueger Library at Winona State University.

How do I use this?: Link directly to the YouTube video at

Tutorial: Database Differences

What are the differences between interdisciplinary and subject-specific databases? When should you choose one search tool over another?

Length: 5–10 minutes

Database Differences tutorial

Created by Musselman Library, Gettysburg College. Unless indicated otherwise, this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

How do I use this?: Email and say you plan to use this tutorial with a specific class. At that point, your course's information will be added to the tutorial sign-in page. Finally, add the tutorial link in Moodle: