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Library Research E-Textbook - Instructor Version: Inquiry Process

Inquiry Process: Introduction & Goals


What is the Inquiry Process? Having an inquiry is like having a question, and the inquiry process includes the steps taken to answer that question.  Inquiry is a process that involves coming up with a topic or idea, searching for related information, revising the topic based on what you find, and returning to do more information searching. It refers to the steps we go through during research, and helps us to find information about some thing or some one.

We can usually describe the Inquiry Process as using the following components:

  • Explore

  • Investigate

  • Synthesize

  • Create


By the end of this module, you will be able to identify the steps involved in the Inquiry Process and apply them to your own research.

Identifying a Personal Need for Information

From Bobish & Jacobson's The Information Literacy User's Guide (pgs. 9-14)

The first step when beginning any research project is to identify your personal need for information, which is a process that is easy to bypass.  We may assume that we already know enough about our topic to proceed with our research, but such an assumption can be debilitating.  It may cause us to waste valuable time working with incomplete or outdated information. Therefore, it is important to start your inquiry process by identifying what you do and do not know.

Taking stock of what you do NOT know can help you turn your lack of knowledge into a search topic or research question. Also consider stating what you already know, which can help you identify any erroneous assumptions you might be making based on incomplete or biased information.

Start by completing this activity, which is the first page of the worksheet linked above:

Another useful way to think about all of this is to state both what you know and what you want to know, as well as providing a space where you can track your planning, searching, and evaluation process.  For now, just fill out the first column in the chart to your right (the second page of the linked worksheet below), but start thinking about the others in the following chart.  These questions may identify further gaps in your knowledge and can help you understand how they might inform your research questions.



Once you have identified your own lack of knowledge, you can begin exploring! In the next module, you'll start investigating the existing information that is already out there about your topic.

SLOs and IL Standards

Student Learning Outcomes:

  • Critical Thinking
  • Professional Competence
  • Communication Skills

Information Literacy Standards:

  • Standard 1

Instructor Notes

Activity options 1 and 2 work well at the beginning of the semester when students are just beginning to explore in their research. Select from these two activities based on how much time you want to devote to the module (activity option 2 is more robust).

Activity option 3 requires more research knowledge and works best later in the semester, after the Basic Research Module has been completed. It would work well as a way to revisit the research process.

    Activity Option 1: Share with your classmates

    The first step in the Inquiry Process is EXPLORE, which involves an interest inventory, brainstorming, free writing, finding background information, and developing a working knowledge of a topic. Write several paragraphs on the question: what do you usually do in the EXPLORE stage of the Inquiry Process?

    Please consider sharing your students' work with Rachel Santose ( for assessment purposes.

    Activity Option 2: Personal Process of Inquiry

    Imagine a question you might have and how your own personal process of inquiry happens. For example, you may have to buy a new/used car because yours finally bit the dust. Or you may have to learn about horned owls for a science course in which you are enrolled. Your personal process of inquiry may resemble the process described in the tutorial you viewed or it may not. But it should meet the following requirements:

    •  Answers all of the following questions:
      1. How do you decide what you need to research (or decide your topic)?   
      2. What do you typically do when going about gathering information? 
      3. Where do you look first? What do you do next? 
      4. How do you know when you've found what you need?
        • Describes your personal process of inquiry from beginning to end.
        • Contains either typed text or illustrations/graphics or a little of both
        • Length does not exceed one page. 
        • Is well-organized and well-written.

          Reflect on these questions and write out or map your inquiry process.  Use this map during the rest of your research assignment, or add to it (maybe in another color) if you decide something works better for you.

          The instructor should collect for completion.  Then, return to students for use and reflection on their creation as the continue their research.

          Please consider sharing your students' work with Rachel Santose ( for assessment purposes.

          Activity Option 3: Map your inquiry process

          What would your inquiry process look like if you mapped it out? For this activity you will brainstorm and visually map out your inquiry process using a free online tool:

          Here is a link to an example of an information search process from Elizabeth Dolinger from Mason Library at Keene State College:

          Now, make your own visual map for your inquiry process!

          Please consider sharing your students' work with Rachel Santose ( for assessment purposes.