When beginning a research project, where do you think your students typically look for resources first?

We recently surveyed over 5,000 college students to discover that 41% of them begin their research in their textbook or course materials. Another 40% start with a Google search.

After this, 11% use the library, 5% use Google Scholar, and 1% start with Wikipedia.

college student research resources

Each of the resources listed above have their merits at various stages in the research process. Given that “Textbook/course materials” and “Google” comprise 81% of students’ starting points, are your student utilizing these two effectively?

Google for research

Searching online has become second nature instinct for most of us, but it comes with its pros and cons. According to author Susan Miller-Cochran in her book, The Wadsworth Guide to Research, 2nd Edition:

“You have an abundance of information about nearly any topic available at your finger-tips, so it is critical to carefully plan how you will conduct your research. An Internet search engine such as Google is probably not the best place to begin. Searching for the key terms from your research question in Google will probably give you thousands ( if not millions) of potential sources and websites, and that can be quite overwhelming ( not to mention inefficient).

A better plan is to reflect on what you already know about your topic, decide what kind of information you need about your topic, narrow your research results by developing specific search terms, and plan where to look for that information.” (69)

Textbook for research

If your students start their search within the course materials, ask them to first reflect on what they already know about the topic.

If students are unsure where to take their topic, skimming through the relevant classroom readings can be a terrific start. They may just rediscover a gem of information that they want to research more extensively.

If starting with the required reading, have them list out several viable topics. Next, have them brainstorm a few possibilities for directions to take those topics. This is what they’ll use to begin looking for sources.

Reference: Miller-Cochran, Susan K; Rochelle L Rodrigo. 2014. The Wadsworth Guide to Research, 2nd Edition. Cengage Learning: Boston.

Where do you advise students in your specific discipline to begin their research tasks? Share your thoughts below.