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College Level Research: Understanding Challenging Material

Build on your high school research experiences and adjust to the higher standards recommended for college research projects with these tips and guidelines.

Reading to Understand

As a college student, much of the information you will need to read is challenging and difficult to understand.  That is because it is new to you! Texts, research articles and lectures present new and advanced material that is important to understand to be a successful student. You will need to make extra effort to understand the new concepts, vocabulary and express what you comprehend to others. This is a process many students are not ready for, because the education system leading to college has focused on simplifying the material so students can understand.  Now, it is your responsibility to break up the elements so you can understand the concepts.

The following website describes a useful strategy to reading challenging material, especially for college-level learning.

Taking Notes

Take Notes

  • As you read your sources of information and interview experts:
    • take notes
    • paraphrase or quote main ideas and evidence related to your research
    • several notes from one source can be on the same page
    • numbering, grammar and abbreviations are your choice--make them work for you!
  • Document the source (author, year, title of work, page number OR person interviewed and date) 


Lyons & Evans  (2013).  Blended Learning to Increase Student SatisfactionInternet Reference    Services Quarterly 18:1, 43-53. 

Students appreciated “the practical application of the facilitators’ replies, especially the chance for one-on-one time with the librarian.” p47

“Students were able to continue their research during the week, at their convenience, without having to wait until the next in-person meeting” p48

“Participation in both semesters was at a highest when students were  asked about their search strategies and the librarian assisted with selecting library databases and subject headings for their search terms” p48

“Students felt distant from the activity when there was a lack of immediate responses to posts” p48

Students “were surprised by how passionate people became about their projects” p48

Unexpected benefit: the level “students learned from each other in this venue, including finding motivation, focus, insight, and understanding from their peers’ feedback”” p49-50

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