First Year Writing Instructor Guide

Information Search Process

Carol Kuhlthau's 7-step model of the research process is a little old school, but pairs nicely with the idea of writing as a process when working with WRTG 121 students. Another thing that Kuhlthau did in creating the model was mapped out the affective, cognitive, and physical experiences students tended to have at each stage in the process. It is one of many models you could use in your course, but I have found that it really resonates with students in 121, because it explicitly points out how time-consuming and complicated doing research can be: 


Initiating a Research Assignment:    

This is the stage in the process where students have just gotten their research assignment from you. They will probably feel a little overwhelmed, apprehensive, and uncertain. 

Selecting a Topic:        

At this point, students have thought a bit about what they might want to research, in broad terms. They might have something general like vegetarianism, video games, baseball, or autism (these are typical in 121). Unless they're really motivated, they probably won't have a more specific focus at this point. They might still feel confused or anxious, or might instead be briefly elated or have feelings of anticipation. 

Exploring Information:        

Next, students begin trying to find background information on their topic, or start trying to hone in on one particular aspect of their topic. This can be really overwhelming, so students might again feel confused (as in, "hey, I already chose my topic"), uncertain, doubtful or even threatened. Generating a list of questions related to their larger topic is often helpful here, as is concept mapping or brainstorming. 

Formulating a Focus:          

Once students have done some preliminary brainstorming and background research, they will eventually select one of their questions or subtopics. Having a clearcut direction for their research will probably leave them feeling optimistic and confident. 

Collecting Information:         

When students begin searching for more specific information related to their focus or question, they usually begin to realize how much more work is involved in the process. This stage is usually the most intensive in terms of work, and students will probably feel more interested and excited about their topic. However, they will probably also feel overwhelmed about synthesizing all of the information they find, and lost about how to organize it and blend it with their own ideas and background knowledge about a topic.  

Preparing to Present:      

At this stage, students begin synthesizing the information they've gathered and actually begin writing or producing whatever project they are working on. They will often feel relieved when they have finished the paper, presentation, etc., but might also feel disappointed if they do not feel they spent enough time on the project or found enough relevant information.

Assessing the Process:          

After finishing a research assignment, it's good for students to be reflective about what they think they did well, and what they need to improve upon next time. They will often feel relieved at this point, but also either accomplished or disappointed with the work they produced. 

Research Basics Videos

These short videos contain over-simplified explanation of some of the most confusing aspects of doing college level research, especially if you're new to it.

**Note: They were created by two librarians at another university (Carolina Coastal in South Carolina), so just ignore the references to "Kimbel Library"--what they're saying applies here as well! 

First Year Experience & Children's Literature Librarian

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Sarah Fabian
I am on sabbatical for the 2023-2024 academic year. Please contact Bob Stevens ( for questions related to Children's Literature and Suzanne Gray ( for questions related to First Year Writing.