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Information Literacy Faculty Toolkit: Scoping


"Scoping (or defining an information need) is the activity students engage in when they select or narrow their topic by asking questions, by taking a stance on the issue at hand, and/or by identifying and selecting stances to explore. This may occur simultaneously with the Finding and Evaluating elements, as students explore the available information and refine their research question(s)."

Student Struggles

Students struggle with understanding where their research questions fit in the scope of a research field.

Students struggle with distinguishing between relevant and trivial search results.

Students struggle with understanding what type of information is needed to answer their research questions.

Students struggle with understanding that scholarship is a conversation and just because it is scholarly that it may not represent the only view of a topic.

How Instructors Can Help

Provide students with the context they need to complete the assignment (Head & Eisenberg, 2009) including why are they being given this assignment and the learning goals.

Connect the research topic to course content. Include suggestions for topic keywords; major ideas covered in class; and authors covered in class.

Help students select a manageable research topic by providing examples of moving from a broad to a narrow topic, exploring two sides of a topic, and sample results from search queries of library databases.

Assignment Ideas

Scholarly Conversations

*Students look into a blog and identify key scholars and issues.

*Students compare editorial comments and comments on a similar topic from a scholarly listserv or blog.

*Students trace and examine a controversial topic from the newspapers back to the scholarly literature.


*Students compare a scholarly article and a chapter from an encyclopedia for such things as scope, terminology, level of background information, reference to other work in the field, author expertise, etc.


*To accommodate future researchers, students compile a relevant list of subject headings, names of experts, relevant library databases, and key books/articles for a research guide