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Using reflective journals to assess the research process

Claire McGuinness (School of Information and Library Studies, University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland)
Michelle Brien (School of Information and Library Studies, University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 20 February 2007



The purpose of this paper is to show how the use of reflective research journals to assess students on a Stage One information literacy (IL) module can offer unparalleled insight into the complex information research processes and subjective learning experiences that lie behind the production of an academic essay.


Research journals created by 109 students over the course of a Stage One IL module were analysed qualitatively to reveal an iterative, problem‐strewn process, mostly culminating in deep satisfaction at the eventual production of an acceptable academic essay. Quotations from the journals are included to bring the students' experiences vividly to life.


Students' experiences of research are discussed under three key themes: Problems and Challenges; Enjoyment and Pride; and Learning Experience. Analysis showed that while problems were inevitable, students mostly considered the process to have been a useful and worthwhile learning experience.

Practical implications

Research journals offer an alternative mode of assessment which may be adopted by IL instructors wishing to focus on the students' subjective experience of “becoming information literate”. Traditional, quantitative forms of assessment do not offer the same insight into the actual process of doing research, instead focusing on what the students say they know, rather than demonstrate it performatively.


To date, few papers have reported the use of research journals to assess an IL programme, and it remains a novel assessment method in this context. This paper describes the advantages and pitfalls of using the method with Stage One students, and places its use within the general context of assessment practices for IL.



McGuinness, C. and Brien, M. (2007), "Using reflective journals to assess the research process", Reference Services Review, Vol. 35 No. 1, pp. 21-40.



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