Research Guide for English 100: Globalization

Iris Jastram, Carleton College
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This material was developed as part of the Carleton Teaching Activity Collection and is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


Students build sufficient context to determine an interesting and researchable topic within the course's theme of globalization, gather evidence that will help them make a compelling argument to an academic audience, and then use that evidence responsibly and effectively in their writing.

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Learning Goals

Basic searching skills, reading carefully to gather useful names and vocabulary that will aid in future searches, capitalizing on the intellectual work of other scholars by mining bibliographies for relevant sources, evaluating the credibility of sources they find.

Context for Use

This research guide is aimed at first year students who are embarking on their first research assignment at the end of their first term of the academic year. It serves as a reminder of the things we covered in a full class of direct instruction and active learning, and it also serves to expand on some of the options and skills that the class session introduced. It focuses on a few basic resources that will be useful to students doing a broad range of topics and that will help to make what often feels like a paralyzingly large project feel manageable. It therefore leaves out many useful sources and strategies that would be more appropriate for higher level research.

Prior to encountering this assignment, students do shorter writing assignments that teach them to express an opinion, take a stand, and incorporate non-textual evidence, and incorporating evidence from sources provided in class. They have also read and discussed rhetorical moves outlined in Graff and Birkenstein's book _They Say / I Say_.

The class session that accompanies this research guide falls one month before the paper is due, and on the same week that the students receive the assignment.

This is easily adaptable not only to classes that have a research assignment, but also to classes that have non-research assignments that would benefit from independent or guided context-building on the part of the students. It is also easily adaptable to other institutions which may have different basic research resources since the primary goal is to develop the critical thinking skills associated with the use of the sources rather than to develop deep knowledge of the sources themselves.

Description and Teaching Materials

Teaching Notes and Tips

First year students are usually unaware that academic writing functions much more as an ongoing conversation than as a one-time declaration of truth. We emphasize that they are participating in this conversation, that conversations work best when new voices add new content rather than simply parroting back other people's content, and that conversations also work best when interlocutors acknowledge each other's positions. And as in a conversation, matching tone and evidence and argument to the audience is key -- evidence is not universally applicable to every audience, just as rhetorical structures change depending on audience.

First year students are also ill-equipped with the kinds of sophisticated, disciplinary vocabulary that makes for good search terms. We have to emphasize that "impact on" and "globalization" are not a good search phrase, and neither is their topic sentence. Rather, we have to work very hard on dividing their topic up into concepts (typically nouns), identifying useful synonyms or related terms for those concepts, and then constructing searches that include these more useful terms. We also emphasize reading abstracts, articles, books, web pages, and encyclopedia entries to find useful terms and phrases that we can then incorporate into future searches. Imagining useful search terms that would appear in an ideal source but not in less relevant sources is one of the more unfamiliar tasks facing a novice searcher.

First year students also don't have much of a framework for evaluating the credibility or relevance of what they find. We talk with them about determining the source of the material (author and publisher) and about how the amount of work they have to do often varies by publication format (so that peer reviewed articles have already been vetted on several levels while a web page may or may not have been and must therefore be evaluated more carefully by the student). And we talk with them about how they may not find sources that are exactly on their topics, but that this is find and often even preferable. They are nearly always unsure that it is acceptable for them use sources that support analogous arguments, or only one aspect of an argument, and that it is then the student's job to build the connections between those sources and the topic at hand.

One of the major sticking points of this project is the sheer scope of the course's theme. "Globalization" often provokes paralysis when it comes time to topic selection, and we have to work hard to help students narrow the topics down to manageable sizes.


I do not do direct assessment of the students. I evaluate their progress through individual and group interactions in class and through individual consultations as the students progress through the research process. After the course, I often talk to the faculty member to determine whether the papers were successful, what remained confusing for the students, what worked well, and how we might change things the next time around.

References and Resources
The research guide is meant to accompany a class session on the skills and habits necessary for accomplishing the research project for this English class, and many of the topics covered in that class session, as well as some specific ways of teaching those skills and habits, are outlined in the posts linked here.