Students doing inquiry

Got another assignment?   How to avoid the Dark Night of the Soul!

There is a process you can follow every time you’ve got an assignment, which makes it easier and more meaningful for you.  Here it is:


Syba Digital. Guided Inquiry Design in action: Middle school downloadable resources. Adapted with permission from Guided Inquiry Design in action: Middle school/ Leslie K. Maniotes, LaDawna Harrington, and Patrice Lambusta: Foreword by Carol Kuhlthau, Libraries Unlimited, Copyright 2016.

It’s called the Guided Inquiry Design process and it mirrors the way that people of all ages do research, whether they are school or university students, or your mum and dad searching for the best holiday destination, or you wanting to buy a new mobile phone. How do we know it is the way people do research?  Because over 30 years of research studies were carried out on this topic by Professor Carol Kuhlthau, from the 1980’s to the present day.

Here is a great overview of the process, created by Diana Brien, Charles Sturt University student, 2021:   Guided Inquiry Design

It’s instinctive, it works, and it has the benefit of making what you are researching more interesting to you, because you have chosen the part of the topic you are interested in!  Sound good? There are a few things you might not already know about researching that will help you.

  • At the beginning of an assignment, keep your research really broad. Do not go deep at the Explore phase, or you will get lost in the detail.
  • Don’t take notes too early – use the early stages of GID to just browse and get curious, but keep a record of the sources  you’ve been to that you think you’ll go to again.
  • It takes quite a long time for you to get an idea of what the whole topic is about. It is not till then that you will know which part of the topic that will interest you, and it is only then that you can create an inquiry question.
  • It’s really important to find that part of the topic that’s interesting to you. Otherwise you will be BORED AS USUAL.

You’ll be pleased to know that there are only a few things you need to know about doing an assignment well, staying interested, and on track and being able to pull it all together at the end.

  • It is useful to think of your class as an inquiry community, setting about investigating your topic.  You can work together in inquiry circles at various stages of your research, and at the end of the task, you can share what you’ve learnt with your inquiry community, so that everyone shares in the knowledge, application and insights made during your research.  Inquiry circles can come together at Explore, to share the task of getting an overview of the topic; at Identify, when you are formulating an inquiry question; and at Create and Share, you can share the work of pulling together all the strands of your research, in order to present your findings.

On this blog, you can find many scaffolds to help you at each phase of the GID.   But the essential tools which you should use for every task you have are these:

1. Inquiry journal –  This is for taking notes, and for doing reflections.

Regarding notes:  DON’T take any at all until you have chosen the part of the topic you are going to explore.

Then, there are many ways of taking notes, and it’s up to you to choose what works for you. Make sure you keep them safely – whether in a print folder, or an electronic one.

Notetaking formats:

Regarding reflection:

Why do you have to do reflections?

  • Because it helps you to express  your understanding of the topic as it develops.
  • Because there are stages in GID that are harder than others, and if you reflect at these stages, and your teacher and TL read it, you will get some help and encouragement.
  • And because reflecting at the end of an assignment helps you know what to do better next time, and to consider the way you learnt during the task, so that you can improve that next time.

2.  Inquiry log

There’s no way around this one – it’s for keeping a bibliographic record of the sources you’ve used, in order to go back to those sources should you need to, and because you must present a bibliography with your assignment.  Why?  It’s all about academic honesty and acknowledging the author in the material you read.

There are not so many ways of keeping a record of your sources, but you should keep what’s needed for the type of referencing you do at your school. What is most important is keeping a record of your sources (useful ones) right from the beginning of your research! This way you avoid that sinking feeling the night before the task is due, oh bibliography, oh no!

Here are some suggestions:

  • Use the References tab in Microsoft Word to create your bibliography
  • Your school will probaby have an online bibliography creator, like Cite this for me or Easybib.
  • Create your own inquiry log – can be as simple as a Word table with sections for Author, Date, Title, Where published, Internet URL.  It is important to leave a column where you can make comments on whether or not you think the source is useful, and why.

3. Inquiry chart

This is for pulling all your ideas together for whatever it is you have to create at the end of all your research.   It can be butcher’s paper, or it can be a mind map, or a drawing.  You are asked to look at your notes, your inquiry question, and make a plan in detail.  There are online mind mapping tools, like

The three components  – Inquiry journal, log and chart – can all be in one document, or not; can be a Word document; can be a handwritten notebook; whatever suits you best. Using Google Classroom or whatever document sharing platform the school has, if you are working in inquiry circles, and for getting feedback during the process, is a good idea.

These ideas are all from Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, (2015) Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st century (2nd edition) Libraries Unlimited

The State Library of Victoria has an online course which contains very useful hints and tips for each stage of researching, such as:

Check it out!

The material is for students in Stage 4, 5 and 6, across the curriculum.


  • Kleon, A. (2012)   Steal like an artist: ten things  nobody told you about being creative. Workman
  • Kuhlthau, C. (1989) Information Search process: A summary of research and implications for school library media programs.  School Library Media Quarterly, 18:1 
  • Kuhlthau, C. (2004) Seeking meaning: A process approach to library and information services. Westport CT: Libraries Unlimited
  • Kuhlthau, C.C. Maniotes, L. K. and Caspari, A. K. (2012) Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Inquiry in Your School. Santa Barbara, California. Libraries Unlimited.
  • Kuhlthau, C., Maniotes, L. & Caspari, A. (2015) Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st century, 2nd edition. Santa Barbara, California: Libraries Unlimited
  • Maniotes, L., Harrington, L., & Lambusta, P. (2015) Guided Inquiry design in action: High school.  Santa Barbara, California: Libraries Unlimited. 
  • State Library of Victoria. (2020) ERGO: Research, resources, results
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Subscribe By Email

Get every new post delivered right to your inbox.

This form is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.