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Div III Library Toolkit: The Research Process

The Big Ideas of Research

No matter what form your Div III will ultimately take, you will become intimately familiar with the ways information is created, categorized, commodified, and distributed in your discipline(s). You will learn how professionals, activists, artists, and storytellers are navigating their worlds. You will stand on the shoulders of those who have come before and add your own voice to this body of knowledge. Easy peasy, right?

We wanted to share some concepts that can help you get into the mindset, see the "big picture," of what it means to be doing research, however you define it. These 6 ideas are loosely based on the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, fyi.


  1. There is no one way to become an authority.
    • There's always something to learn by seeking out an expert with first-hand knowledge of your topic. The criteria for being considered an authority depends entirely on the context of that person's community. Think about structural barriers to academic communities as you learn about your topic, and expand your definition of what an authority can be. You can make a difference by choosing carefully who you cite, and whose influence you seek out, as you progress with your Div III.
  2. The way information is created always influences the content of that information.
    • As Marshall McLuhan put it, "The Medium is the Message." So, an oral history will contain a much different type of content than, say, the website of an organization devoted to the same topic. An artist's monograph has a very different point of view than a newspaper review of that same artist's most recent exhibition. You can find all these types of information useful (or not), depending on the context.
  3. Information has value.
    • Knowledge costs money, time, and labor to produce. It is bought and sold in ways that sometimes can seem invisible, especially on the open web. Think about the ways you access information and the economics behind it. Take full advantage of libraries and ask your librarians for help (trust me, our entire purpose in life is to make sure YOU can have free access to what you need), and make sure to bring a wide-ranging background of ideas and knowledge back to your community. Find ways to support the voices that will benefit most from increased attention.
  4. Research is a way of asking questions.
    • There are hundreds of methodologies that help researchers structure this inquiry, and many different ways of presenting what you've discovered. Curiosity is really the only requirement, as is an open mind. You can choose which research methodology or potential output (book, exhibition, film) would be the best way to explore the questions you want to ask. But don't start your Div III already knowing exactly what you will discover, because what would be the point?
  5. Scholarship is just a web of ongoing conversations.
    • It is just a bunch of folks trying to figure stuff out, sometimes collaborating, sometimes disagreeing, but always building on each other's work, past and present. It can be useful to think of yourself as part of a continuum of past, present, and future researchers, trying to move your topic forward. Take what is useful from the work others have done, leave behind what is outdated, try to add what is missing, and combine perspectives in new ways. Make sure to give others credit where it's due. Hopefully your contribution to the conversation that means the most to you is just getting started.
  6. Searching for information can be strategic.
    • Finding the right sources is hard. Databases and search engines aren't always intuitive, and the process is time-consuming. You will hit some dead ends. But you can learn how to become more efficient: tips and tricks for searching databases (and, yes, Google) in advanced ways, and find out what works best for you in terms of staying organized. Allow plenty of time to build your own knowledge base and learn who you can ask for help.
    • You will need different types of information when you're starting your project (books that give a broad overview or history, specialized encyclopedias, & other background info), and later on you'll be ready for more focused types of sources (such as super-specific academic journal articles, reports, archival sources, etc.). Get to know your librarian and make sure to check in a few times throughout the year!