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Learn about an exercise you can use in a variety of Information Literacy session settings to teach Searching as Strategic Exploration and modify to include any of the Frames.

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Research Machine An Exercise in Visualizing your Research Process

Dylan M. Juhl

ACRL Frames

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Type: Individual activity with group discussion Frames: All (Searching as Strategic Exploration) Disciplines: All Library Type: School, Academic Time: Activity in one-shot or repeated and revised/expanded Materials:

  • Blank paper
  • Pen/pencil

Individual activity with group discusssion


Searching as Strategic Exploration+

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How to prepare students for the activity

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What is a Research Machine?

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My recomendations and further explanations

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Thank you!

Thanks to Dr. Mark Samples who created the original iteration of this activity for his Methods of Musical Research class and inspired me to better my own information literacy instruction.

ACRL Frames

The framework"depends on these core ideas of metaliteracy, with special focus on metacognition, or critical self-reflection."

Searching as Strategic Exploration

Research as Inquiry

Scholarship as Conversation

Information has Value

Authority is Constructed and Contextual

Information Creation as a Process

How do you move through each step? Is it linear or a wibbly-wobbly mess? What tools/resources do you use? What types of resources are they (scholarly, popular, primary, secondary, etc.) Are there only a few or does it depend on your question?

How do you develop your research question? Does it change over time? Why?

How do you communicate the information you have gathered? How do you find an overview of a topic? Do you look at citations of other's work? Why or why not?

How do you keep track of the information you gathered so you can credit the authors later? Do you take into account the format of the information or how you access it when evaluating information?

Do you trust some authors/creators more than others depending on your question? Why?

How do you create information? Where is that step in your research process? What is the peer-review or publishing process? How does that affect what information you search for or use?

Define Research


Ask: What do you consider research? What does it look like?Ask: Is looking up the location of the nearest Starbucks research? Why or why not?Introduce a Concept: Research is gathering information to solve a problem.Take this as a moment to empower your audience. Under this broad definition, emphasize that they perform research every day; those tools and skills can be applied, improved, and expanded on in academic or professional research.

Booth, W. C., Colomb, G. G., Williams, J. M., Bizup, J., & FitzGerald, W. T. (2016). The craft of research (4th ed). The University of Chicago Press. Booth's definition of research that I use for information literacy sessions. Part 1 Research, Researches, and Readers is extremely valuable in discussing the value of research with novice researchers and their place within the larger scholarly conversation.


A Research Machine is your own personal research system. It's called a machine because a machine has inputs (a need for information), a process with that input (research), and an output (your information creation).This is called version 0.1 because you are developing your concept for your Research Machine. Later, you can update and upgrade as you learn new skills and tools to use in your academic research.

  1. List the steps you take from the moment you develop a question to when you answer it within an academic context. Is this different than your informal, everyday research?
  2. List any tools you use at each step from asking your teacher to your class notes to a specific database.
  3. Create a visual representation of each step and the way you move through those steps. Is it linear or more of a wibbly-wobbly mess?
Give students 3 min or less for version 0.1. This is meant to get ideas out of their head and onto a page.If students are willing to share, use their machines to point out strong research techniques and ask questions about areas that may be lacking. This sets up a transition into the rest of your session.At the end of the session, ask how students would update and upgrade their Research Machines. Either allow time for an upgrade to version 0.2, discuss as a class, or let them revise and resubmit throughout the term.

Students will be uneasy with vague directions and may ask for an example. Reassure them there is no right or wrong answer. Start with what you do when you get assigned a research paper and end where you turn it in. Fill in the rest with your process.


  • Before starting the activity, make sure to emphasize that they already perform research daily. They have basic skills. You will help them build on those skills and apply them to an academic context
  • Create your own Research Machine to emphasize different Frames, research tools, concepts, etc. WAIT to show this after students completed version 0.1
  • If students ask for examples, reassure them there is no right or wrong answer. You want to see what they think of their research process. Get the process out of their heads and on to paper. AFTER their initial version, sharing examples can be helpful.
  • This can be used as an activity in a one-shot IL session or over the course of a whole term.
    • One-Shot: Open with creating version 0.1. Conclude the session with updating and upgrading their machines with some time to discuss their changes.
    • Extended IL Session: Open with creating version 0.1. Halfway through the term, have students update and upgrade to version 0.2. During the final weeks, have students update and upgrade to version 1.0 and add an accompanying explanation of the improvements they added throughout the term.


Download Examples

This is the Research Machine I show to college freshmen during an optional one-shot instruction session during orientation. It’s very simplified because we only have 50 min and to goal is to introduce them to university level research.

A student’s Research Machine. It is much more detailed than my example because it was part of a 10-week long course and shows how they visualize their research process as a repeating cycle.

A student’s Research Machine who visualizes their process as a web expanding as they gain information.