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Library Research E-Textbook - Student 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  It may cause us to waste valuable time working with incomplete or outdated information.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.

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