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Introduction to library research in the arts: What is research?

An introduction to research concepts and techniques for University of Redlands students in fine, literary and performing arts, developed as an Open Educational Resource (OER)

Learning objective

  • Compare and contrast everyday research with academic research.

Questions to consider

  1. What does "research" mean to you? Who do you see as a "researcher" and why?
  2. What prior experiences with research have you had before coming to the University of Redlands?

Everyday research

Patrons completing an art project in a public library

Research is a situation where you have a question or problem and you need information to resolve it.

Research happens all the time in everyday life. Some common situations that usually involve research include:

  • getting a job
  • deciding who to vote for
  • learning how to care for someone we know (or ourselves) with a health condition
  • seeking deeper understanding of something we heard about in the news
  • exploring a hobby
  • finding out about our ancestry

Public libraries help many people in these situations every day.

Research in everyday life is open ended. You decide:

  • why you need information (what you're trying to do)
  • what kind of information you need
  • how you will get the information
  • how much you need to know, and
  • what you will do with what you learn

"Ridgewood Library Picture Day 2012 001" by NJLA: New Jersey Library Association is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Academic research

Photo of an assignment for class

Research in school settings is typically more structured than research for everyday life.

As a student researcher, some decisions are made for you through your research assignments. You might be asked to:

  • Write a paper using academic sources
  • Give an oral presentation, or
  • Apply what you're learning to help people solve a problem

The assignment structures your learning so you can focus on mastering one piece of the research process at a time. Your assignment might specify:

  • Why you need to do research ("this paper will be 25% of your grade for the class...")
  • What kind of information to use ("peer reviewed", "scholarly", or "academic sources", "books and journals", "no Wikipedia")
  • How much information to gather ("a minimum of three sources")
  • What you will do with the information ("write a paper," "give a presentation," "develop a bibliography")
  • What ethical principles should guide your work: "don't plagiarize!", "be sure to cite your sources!"

Often, assignments allow you to choose your own topic while still stating expectations about what kind of sources to include, what citation format to use, and so forth.

Opportunities to conduct independent research as an undergraduate or graduate student can be exhilarating and anxiety-producing. Capstone and thesis projects are often the first time you get to take responsibility for the full range of decisions about your research.

However structured your project, attributes of initiative, patience and openness to learning are key to your success as a researcher.

"P1110615" by technicolours is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

The ABCs of learning

When you learn new things, you are being changed in at least one of three ways:

Affective - what you feel

Behavioral - what you do

Cognitive - what you know

As you get more experience with research, you can expect to grow in each of these areas. You'll feel more confident, you'll be able to execute a variety of strategies, and you'll come to know more about your topics in less time.

Becoming a better researcher takes time and the road can get bumpy, but it's worth it.

Assignment: Information diary

Keep a diary for one week.

Try to write down all the times that you needed to find information to answer a question in everyday life or for school.

At the end of the week, look back over your journal. What kind of patterns can you observe? How often were you successful at finding what you needed?

Key points

  • Research is using outside information to solve a problem or answer a question.
  • Academic research assignments structure the research process to help you learn.