Bibliographic instruction is the process of teaching a more
sophisticated and advanced level of literature search by integrating
all levels of library orientation and instruction. The process
whereby graduate students search for information from a whole
range of bibliographic tools such as card catalogues, references,
abstracts, indexes, bibliographies, search engines and electronic
databases is ‘bibliographic inquiry’.
This paper deals with one crucial but frequently overlooked
aspect of bibliographic instruction for graduate students
in education—the ‘how’ and ‘what’
of information access commonly termed search strategy. In
this paper, the context in which ‘search strategy’
is discussed is the field of Education.
Search strategy is an organised and systematic plan of gathering
information to locate relevant sources that can be used immediately
for research or dissertation preparation (see Figure 1 for
the search strategy flowchart). While searches are usually
focused on a specific subject, search activities include the
following range of actions: looking up a research topic, consulting
all types of sources, accessing information through the Internet,
using indexes or abstracts with their accompanying thesauruses
to choose the best words for effective subject access, evaluating
the retrieved sources, compiling and formatting bibliography,
footnotes, quotations, figures and tables.
Fig 1. Search Strategy Flowchart for Research in Education (Yeap)
|The flowchart is a guide for graduate students to locate specific information sources on Education. It maps the sequence of the search process and the types of useful sources applicable at each step. Institutional libraries usually subscribe to so many databases and materials that graduate students may not know what and where the sources are, or how to use the sources. However, with some idea on a research topic, students need to translate their queries such that they can be met by different reference sources in their different forms like prints, microforms and electronic databases.
It is a ritual for graduate students at all levels of experience
to search for relevant information during their dissertation
writing. The ability to find information is as important as
the information itself. However, search strategy is usually
excluded from formal instruction because it is assumed that
graduate students already have the prerequisite skills. Thus,
when graduate students do not know how to search, is it their
fault or the responsibility of those who did not provide the
education and training in research? As far as search strategy
skills are concerned, there is just too much to know for all
to be taught; individuals may want the skills but not necessarily
want to be taught. Students who have yet to acquire essential
search competencies have a major shortcoming in their education.
The knowledge-based economy requires students to learn how
to explore the body of knowledge in their academic preparations
for any job. Search strategy skills, applicable to all information
access situations, also help individuals in life-long learning—an
important characteristic of the knowledge-based economy.
A ‘Must Have’ Reference List for Research
The concept of a reference source being only a book isolated
as a special collection in the library is no longer relevant.
A reference source is any source that can provide the necessary
information regardless of form or location.
However, users’ biggest nightmare is the unavailability
of the resources within their own libraries. The libraries
at the Nanyang Technological University and National Institute
of Education have adequate resources for users interested
in the field of education. The following is a very minimum
but useful list of specific reference sources for research
1. To find background information for research
A user may have specific sources in mind but is unsure of
their existence or location. A bibliography is an indispensable
map that directs the user to sources of information. Below
is a list of some basic but excellent bibliographies for researchers
- Finding information on reference books
A guide to reference materials provides general and
specific reference sources for research. The sources will
be useful even to those unfamiliar with the subject. The
sources place the context of the subject in the mainstream
of knowledge. The following are two basic and excellent
guides to references:
- Kieft, Robert. (2000). Guide to Reference Sources
(GRB12). 12th edition. Chicago: American Library
- Day, A. & Walsh, M. (eds.). (2000). Walford’s
Guide to Reference Material. 8th edition. London:
Library Association Publishing.
- Finding information on books
This can be found from trade bibliographies that list
books that are in print by authors, titles and subjects.
The information can be useful to graduate students who
would like to look up titles available in their research
- (1948 to present). Books in Print. New Jersey:
Bowker. It is also is available online at http://www.globalbooksinprint.com/.
- (1957 to present). Subject Guide to Books in
Print, New York: Bowker.
- Finding information on serial/magazines/journals
- (1953 to present). New Serial Titles. Washington:
Library of Congress.
Besides listing periodicals available in the United
States and Canadian libraries, this publication provides
title and subject approaches as well. Users also can
refer to this publication to find the libraries where
serials (magazines or journals) are available for inter-library
- (1932 to present). Ulrich’s Periodicals
Directory. New Jersey: Bowker.
This Directory lists a whole range of journals. Users
can access the journals by subject. It is useful for
users who would like to look up journals available in
their research area. The online version at http://www.ulrichsweb.com/ is updated weekly.
- Finding extensive information on all branches
Encyclopaedias are literary works of retrospective research
containing extensive information on all branches of knowledge.
Subject encyclopaedias are specialised, narrower in scope
and more in-depth.
- (1992). Encyclopaedia of Educational Research.
6th edition. Alkin, M. (Ed.). New York: American Educational
- (1994). The International Encyclopaedia of Education.
2nd edition. Husen, T. & Postlethwaite, T. (Eds.).
- (2001). Handbook of Research on Teaching.
Richardson, V. (Ed.). Washington: American Educational
Research Association (AERA).
- (2002). Encyclopaedia of Education. 2nd
edition. Deighton, L.C. (Ed.). Michigan: Thomson Gale.
A listing of useful specialised encyclopaedias for education
can be found on www.google.com or www.yahoo.com.
2. Finding information on the review of the literature
Literature reviews present critical essays synthesising
research in a particular area. All graduate students have
to go through the review of literature. The following periodicals
are annual publications by the American Educational Research
Association (AERA) that contain critical review of research
on a variety of educational topics:
- Review of Educational Research.
- Review of Research in Education.
3. Finding information on general and current affairs
- (1999). The Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature is a database containing comprehensive indexing of the general-interest
periodicals and magazines.
- Dow Jones is a full text database that covers
selected worldwide newspapers and major regional papers.
- LexisNexis Scholastic Universe (LNSU) is a full
text database that provides access to vital source materials
like international newspapers, magazines, newsletters and
4. Finding information on tests
- (1999). Tests in Print V consists of descriptive
listings and references to commercially published tests
that are in print and available for purchase.
- (1985 to present). Mental Measurements Yearbook is a valuable resource to locate and evaluate commercially
- http://ericae.net is an Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) database
that includes test review information in the web site ‘assessment
5. Finding information on dissertation and thesis
- ProQuest Digital Dissertation (http://wwwlib.umi.com/dissertations) contains information about doctoral dissertations and masters’
theses in American and Canadian universities. A 24-page
review is available for titles published since 1997.
- British Education Index (BEI) lists articles
of educational interest in periodicals published in the
British Isles. It also includes the microfiche British
Education Thesis Index (BETI) which records all thesis
related to education but deposited in the United Kingdom
and Irish universities and polytechnics.
6. Finding information on research articles
Indexes and abstracts are the heart of any information retrieval
system. They are useful in locating specific pieces or bits
of information in a larger unit like articles in journals
and periodicals. Abstracts are an extension of indexes. They
locate, record the contents of periodicals and include a summary
of the materials indexed. Indexes and abstracts are updated
- Education Index provides access to educational
- Current Index to Journals in Education (CIJE*),
ERIC is an online journal article bibliographic database.
* Both the CIJE and RIE have an accompanying
reference, the Thesaurus of ERIC Descriptors, 14th edition
(2001), that contains permitted terms/vocabulary/descriptors
for use in the subject search of articles/studies in the ERIC