Locating relevant sources is only one step of the research process, but for many students, it’s the end goal. By shifting the focus away from sources as containers of information, the act of locating sources is reframed as one step in a process that changes constantly as more information is gathered and as you learn more about what you are writing. To the seasoned researcher, a source of information will provide details about the context in which the source was created, the process through which it was created, and whether or not the source is relevant to their work. In the eyes of students, however, most sources are created alike and their relevance is determined by whether or not they are academic or scholarly.

Although the process of learning from sources will vary from person to person and from situation to situation, situating a source of information within a certain context and disciplinary practice can provide the student a lens through which they’ll be able to see their own research. By focusing on learning from sources, rather than on just finding them, you can help encourage your students to think critically about which sources they are incorporating into their work and why those particular sources matter to their project.

Suggested Small Changes

  • Instead of talking about “using” sources, discuss how students can “learn from” sources or “incorporate” sources into their own work. Use examples from your own practice and research to facilitate this discussion.
  • Adopt the Transparent Assignment Template to help you clearly communicate the goals and tasks associated with any activity/assignment.
  • Describe the process of how you (as the instructor) chose the course materials. Why was a particular work or creator chosen? How does this work fit into the broader context of your discipline?
  • Instead of requiring certain “types” of sources, discuss with students the idea of authority and expertise in your discipline, and explain how that connects to their own research. (For example, why might peer-reviewed research studies be necessary for this work?)
    • Talk with students about who gets to be part of the scholarly conversation(s) in your discipline, and who is left out. (For example, women in STEM or #BlackintheIvory)
  • Discuss with your students the potential impact of one’s assumptions and biases on the research process. (For example, students may go into a project seeking to support one specific viewpoint rather than being open to multiple perspectives.)
  • Encourage students to recognize that while research is often conducted by individuals, that work relies on the work of others, and may also inform the work of future researchers.