College students struggle with identifying an appropriate scope for their research and with matching their research strategies to the needs of their work or project. By spending time on determining their information needs, students can begin to see both when a focus is too broad or too narrow, and how to target their research efforts toward relevant information, rather than whatever appears first.

As expert researchers, we often determine our needs without necessarily writing them down, but by guiding students through this process, you can not only help them improve their own research process, but you can also gain some insight into their thought process and provide targeted feedback as needed.

Suggested Small Changes

  • Use phrases like “gathering sources” or “curating a list of sources” instead of “finding sources.”
  • Share with your students how you developed your own research focus.
    • How did you become interested in that particular area of inquiry, and what helped shape your focus?
    • How do you get started on a new project and what strategies are helpful for you?
    • What happens when you reach a dead end?
  • Build in more than one opportunity to explore potential sources, so students have time to read and learn from a few sources before identifying additional information needs.
  • Instead of assigning an annotated bibliography, ask students to develop an evaluative bibliography that explains why they selected each source, what they learned, and how they might incorporate that source into their own work.