When beginning a research project, where do you typically look for resources first? Do you start with a quick search online, a stroll to the college library? Do your students do the same?

We recently surveyed over 5,000 college students to discover that only 11% of them begin their research in the school library.

Non-library resources

From our pool of respondents, one student explained, “I love the simplicity and ease of using basic search engines such as Google, they also do a pretty great job of helping you find necessary information.”

Many students also admitted they feel using non-library sources are much faster and more convenient. One honest student said they prefer using non-library sources because, “I can do it by myself, on my own time, in the comfort of by bed.”

Yet, some unique responses also came through to share that, “More out of the box ideas are presented” outside of the library. Another said that non-library sources are, “fast and many times more accurate and up to date on information.”

And another mentioned that, “I like using non-library resources when I’m researching about common facts and basic understanding to help me develop my assignment. They are quick tools.” But when should students use which resource?

According to author Susan Miller-Cochran in her book, The Wadsworth Guide to Research, 2nd Edition:

One of the best methods for finding the most reliable perspectives on a specific topic is to search through and compare a variety of types of resources. […] You should not limit your research to an online search of a few terms.

Yes, you can find some very valid and useful resources on the Internet; however, you should also search more traditional resources found in your school or public library. Consider looking through and/or using the various media and digital resources described in the next sections to help you find resources on your topic. (81)

Which source is best?

Author Susan Miller-Cochran also explains that:

Books can be useful because they compile a great deal of information into one publication. However, books can also take a long time to publish, so they are not always the best place to start looking for cutting-edge research on a current issue.

On the other hand, books are generally more extensive, in-depth treatments of a topic, so they often have excellent bibliographies and can give a researcher a good sense of the background and context of an issue. Depending on what your topic is and how important it is for you to find timely information about it, books might or might not be the best place to start. (81)

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

Where do you anticipate your students in your specific discipline begin their research tasks? Share your insights with us below.