For many students new to the game of research papers, the task can appear overly daunting. And with ever shrinking budgets and increasing class sizes, teachers and instruction librarians find themselves hard pressed to properly guide each student through the process. Luckily, ProQuest’s new Research Companion serves as an effective introduction for those making their first attempts at conducting original research. A convenient step-by-step guide shepherds users through the process, allowing students to avoid many of the pitfalls of this critical exercise.
Grade level Gr 9 Up.
Cost Pricing, available for individual schools and for district purchases or statewide adoptions, is based on a number of factors, notably FTE and the number of schools included. An annual subscription for an 800 FTE high school is less than $1,500.
Overview This information literacy tool’s homepage is intuitively designed with conveniently laid out, self-guided learning modules under the headings “Find,” “Evaluate,” and “Use.” Each module includes a handful of questions that serve as gateways to the larger issues of conducting research. Under the heading “Find,” users encounter the questions “Where do I start?” “How do I choose a topic?” and “Where do I find information?” Clicking on “Where do I start?” brings up subheadings entitled “Feeling overwhelmed,” “Pep talk,” “Vocabulary lesson,” and “The basics.”
Each module is prefaced by comprehensive, easily obtainable learning objectives and the writing, while basic, presents the information in manageable, lucid chunks. In the “Where do I find information?” module, the topics of personal electronic devices, the library, subscription databases, remote access, and “everything else” are introduced, giving the student a good overview of related vocabulary and primary targets for intelligence gathering.
Content Tools in the “Find” module include a topic aid that allows users to enter one or more terms to get topic suggestions and links to overviews and assistance with formulating alternate search terms. A sample search for Wernher von Braun in the topic aid tool resulted in a rather random, loosely connected assortment of terms including International Space Station, Io, and SpaceX. Clicking on an individual result calls up an article drawn from ProQuest’s eLibrary. The results are again random with the result for von Braun linked to an eLibrary article on NASA’s budget under President George W. Bush’s administration. The same sample search of von Braun in the “search aid” tool resulted in the scientist and two misspellings of his name. Options once the terms are selected are a basic Google web search or a slightly more useful library catalog search.
“Evaluate” includes the important questions “How do I evaluate sources” and “What counts as evidence?” This module guides users through the world of primary and secondary sources, publications, periodicals, and scholarly journals, while advising them to avoid social media sources. The tools here are well intended but incredibly weak. Periodical, book, and website evaluators offer much, but deliver little in the way of usable critiques. For example, the website evaluator only discusses the value of .gov over .com suffixes.
A few of the subheadings included within each module offer useful “Tell me more” sidebars. Under the question of “What counts for evidence,” for example, is “What statistics can tell us” that includes a sidebar entitled “Using the wrong statistics as evidence.”
Putting It All Together The “Use” module helps students assemble the fruits of their fact-finding into a well-crafted finished product with the questions “How do I write a thesis statement?” “How do I organize my argument?” “How do I avoid plagiarism and find my own voice?” and “What do I look for when I revise?”, all questions that get at the very core of the writing process. For the thesis writing process, users are informed about the issues of “making debatable claims,” “provability,” “addressing competing claims,” and the “mechanics” of putting together a good thesis statement.
Avoiding plagiarism is a challenging issue for students. The “Use” section presents basic definitions of the term and discusses the proper use of citations, summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting. Also included in the module is a citation generator, which is useful but available elsewhere. Another tool, the “revision aid,” allows students to upload drafts of their writing for editorial assistance. The feature is novel but not overly useful. While it helps with eliminating passive voice, its main critiques are related to “long sentences,” “empty phrases,” and “frequently misused” words, but it lacks suggestions for improvements. Each module concludes with a checklist for steps users should take and terms they should consider, from “Boolean operators” to “debatable claim.”
The resource helpfully marks users’ progress with a “percentage complete” tracker that allows students to pick up where they left off if they exited before completion. Also included is useful “time left” estimator that can help both students and facilitators plan how much time should be devoted to each module.
While ProQuest Research Companion is no replacement for the one-on-one instruction provided in the classroom environment, it affords researchers sufficient guidance to begin their work or build upon a rudimentary skill set. For media centers supporting curriculums with large research components and public libraries catering to a routine influx of eager, but sometimes clueless, researchers, Research Companion is a valuable resource requiring little hand holding.