It's Okay to Use "I": The I-Search Process

This site was developed by Hickory's library-media teacher, Catherine Trinkle. Not content with simply handing students reference material to complete research assignments, her mission is to help students articulate their information needs, locate the best print and electronic resources to meet those needs, and use information intelligently and creatively. This research approach will be implemented by the library-media teacher in collaboration with teachers.

"Copy from one source and it's called plagiarism; copy from several sources and it's called a research paper."

~~ (I think I plagiarized this from Jamie McKenzie, but I can't remember.)

Brief Overview

1. Students choose a topic based upon their own interests. The team or teacher may choose a theme, of course, but students are encouraged to explore topics which tie-in to their own personal interests. Students then complete a KWL chart in order to draw upon prior knowledge of the subject (What I Know) and articulate their research questions (What I want to know). The L section is different than what you are used to; here, it is designated for student brainstorming about what resources may be beneficial in the search for information (Where I can Look). WARNING to teachers: Students will become upset, frustrated, and confused when confronted with having to ask questions about their topic. They really want to go get the book and begin copying notes, without any thought to what they are writing down and why. The I-Search process aims to help students climb up Bloom's Taxonomy ladder by teaching them to think through their topic and come up with original questions and insights, rather than copying someone else's work. For wonderful information about Questioning Techniques, visit Jamie McKenzie's online journal, FromNowOn (


2. After students brainstorm possible topics, they investigate resources (presearch) within the library-media center which will help them meet their research needs/answer their research questions. The library-media teacher will even help students find resources available outside the walls of the library. Books through Interlibrary loan and interviews with knowledgeable people are two such examples. Students who are unable to find helpful information are urged to rethink their topic because it may be too narrow in scope.

3. Students do not just copy notes; rather, they answer their questions. Ever see a student take notes without actually plagiarizing? (Ever spell plagiarize without doing a spell check?) There is a way for students to gather information without copying out of a book or from a computer screen. Students who read a source and then answer the questions they posed are less likely to copy straight from a source. Of course, asking open-ended, rather than factual questions, is necessary. Teachers who ask students to simply find the properties of gold in an encyclopedia are not requiring them to do any research. Click here for notetaking strategies, found by scrolling half-way down the "Research Techniques" page at TIPS for Teachers.


4. Students are encouraged to ask additional questions as their search becomes interesting, evaluate resources to choose the best ones to meet their research needs, and to use information to critically think about a topic. The teacher acts as "guide on the side" by holding individual and group conferences, taking notes about student work while she assesses daily performance, and directing students toward useful sources of information. Students keep a journal which becomes the basis of their final paper.


5. Students may use a variety of resources including: books, magazines, newspapers, videos, CD-Roms, the Internet, interviews of experts, museum trips, debates, and experiments. In addition to completing the Inquiry-Based Research Paper, students completing this I-Search process may construct a variety of projects, including: oral reports, skits, posters, an experiment, video, and a web site. Thus the I-Search process is excellent for special needs students.

Tie-in with Teaching in a Brain Compatible Environment
  • Students choose own topic and pursue individual interests (inquiry-based learning)
  • Students work at own pace
  • Students have options for presentations
  • Time for reflection (journaling)
  • Build on prior knowledge (KWL)
  • Cooperation amongst students
  • Authentic Assessment = Rubric
Education Development Center, Inc. "Make It Happen!" Created 1995. Available April 19, 2004.
Harriet Eddy Middle School. "I-Search." Last modified April 12, 1999. Available: January 16, 2000.
Joyce, Marilyn Z. and Tallman, Julie I. Making the Writing and research Connection with the I-Search Process. New York: Neal-Schuman, 1997.
Macrorie, K. The I-Search Paper. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers, 1988.
McKenzie, Jamie. "The question is the answer: Creating Research Programs for An Age of Information." FromNowOn. Vol 7|No 2|October|1997. Available: January 16, 2000.
Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. Teaching Information Processing Skills (TIPS). Copyright 1998. Available: April 19, 2004
Rankin, Virginia. The Thoughtful Researcher: Teaching the Research Process to Middle School Students. Chicago: ALA. 1999.
Tallman, Julie. "Connecting Writing and Research Through the I-Search Paper: A Teaching Partnership Between the Library program and Classroom." Emergency Librarian 23 no. 1 (September-October 1995): 20-23.
Want more information about I-Search?
Contact Catherine Trinkle