Alyssa Archer McConnell Library, Radford University, Radford Virginia

RESEARCH 101: Research Assignments from Incoming First-Year Students’
Alyssa Archer
McConnell Library, Radford University, Radford Virginia
How much do you know about your incoming firstyear students experience with research projects?
How Students Conduct Research
Project Information Literacy
“I found that I couldn’t use just any source I wanted to because some of them were not reliable at
all. The only website we could not use was Wikipedia; all other sources were free game. We were
not required to use a print source so all of my sources were from the internet.”
The recently released research report by PIL
“Learning the Ropes: How Freshmen Conduct
Course Research Once They Enter College”
affirms many of the high-school research
patterns of the students in this study.
In high school, the experiences we had with research were not in the general area of my expertise.
Research is somewhat difficult, because even if you choose a topic and narrow it down as much as
you possibly can. The databases that you search on give you so many topics about anything you
search that it is hard to choose from.
•  Research is a mixture of Internet and book
•  Many students have only written one
research paper
How Students Feel About the Process
•  How many research projects did they work on in
high school?
The PIL report examines how students learn
to navigate college-level research. During indepth interviews that their team conducted
with 35 first-year students, who had
conducted at least two college research
projects, students pointed to many areas of
•  What kinds of sources were they expected to use?
•  How do they feel about the research process?
•  How will all of this prior experience affect their
products for your research assignments?
“Although using many quotes from other sources can be time consuming, they are also helpful
to adding useful information to the paper which also makes it easier to write more for the paper”
“We all spent forever writing those things, and some of us had to make up certain things, just to meet the
length requirement. Naturally that didn’t go well with our teacher either. Some of our essays had so many
“errors” on them, that the paper was saturated in red ink. We had worked our faces off on those essays
only to find that they were all sorts of messed up.”
“The one thing I learned from that project is that it really isn’t about how many sources you
get. It is about how good the information you are getting really is. When it comes to making a
persuasive speech it is really hard to find the right material because you have to find a
balance between being to bias and making a strong point.”
In this exploratory study,16 first-year students in a 1credit university orientation class were asked to write
a response to the prompt:
“Tell a story about an experience where you had
to research something for school. How did this
experience influence your current attitudes or
feelings about academic research? How do other
experiences you have had with research compare
with the one you chose to write about?"
This prompt is taken directly from an earlier qualitative
study in the field of information literacy research
(Detmering & Johnson, 2012, p. 11).
These narratives were coded qualitatively,
investigating the nature of high-school research
assignments, their feelings towards these
assignments, and their understanding of the research
The coding was compared to the students first
college-level research project in the university’s core
curriculum; an annotated bibliography. All students
entered the university with college credit, and so
began the core curriculum at the Second-Year/200
Head, 2014, p. 14
Success at College-Level Research
Many students found the most helpful resources were
their English-composition instructors and librarians (p.21).
Positive feelings
towards the research
process positively
correlated to better
success on their first
college research
Students who
expressed greater
levels of confidence in
their research skills did
slightly worse on their
research project than
most of their peers.
Based on gaps in the students’ information literacy skills,
the report offered four recommendations (pp. 31- 34):
#1: Strengthening communication between high school
and college
#2: All stakeholders in higher education working together
to provide meaningful research opportunities
#3: Stronger guidance from faculty on how to research
#4: Don’t assume that growing up a digital native doesn’t
mean students know how to research
While more analysis is needed, there were many students who
displayed low information literacy skills and a lack of
understanding regarding the purpose of research assignments.
Students who displayed higher positive feelings tended to have
high school teachers that worked through the process of
research in a scaffolded manner, with a lot of interventions.
Detmering, R., & Johnson, A. M. (2012). “Research papers have always
seemed very daunting": Information literacy narratives and the student
research experience. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 12(1), 5-22.
Head, A.J. (2014). Learning the ropes: How freshmen conduct course research
once they enter college. Project Information Literacy Report. Retrieved from