Basic Research Skills for EFL Students


Most university students in the developed world today have never used a typewriter and may never have to. Although it may be a stretch to say that they have also never used a library, basic research skills are in short supply. Often what we get when we ask our students to do research is a quotation from Wikipedia cut and pasted on a blank page. But good research means more than that. The following activity is designed to teach university students some basic research skills, making use of common resources found in most libraries.


Step 1:As a class, decide on a research topic. Some examples of topics can be found in the Appendix. Instruct your students to type a keyword into a search engine (such as Google or Yahoo), and click the “search” button.

Step 2:Next, have the students limit the amount of information they receive by adding the abbreviation “EFL” to the keyword or keywords.

Step 3:Have the students print out an interesting article.

Step 4:Have the students look for a book in the library by doing a search on the online catalogue system (OPAC at most libraries). The library computer will provide a list of the materials that are available on the students’ subjectsand willalso note the location of the materials within the library.

Step 5:If the students cannot find what they are looking for in their library, have them look for a book in a neighboring library by using something called the Union Catalog of Foreign Books (Shinshu Yosho Sougo Mokuroku). If your library has something called Webcat, and most libraries do, your students will be able to search the collections of hundreds of other libraries throughout Japan. Because Webcat functions just like your library’s online catalogue (OPAC), all the students have to do is type in a keyword of the subject or the title or the author’s last name, and they will be given a list of books and journals available in libraries from Okinawa to Hokkaido.

Step 6:Have the students go to the reference desk and arrange to borrow a book at a city, prefectural, national, or university library through interlibrary loan (Sougo Riyou). For information about this service and the fees involved, they should consult their librarian.

Step 7:Have the students look for a Japanese translation of a book written in English or another foreign language by consulting the Shoseki Somokuroku .

Step 8:Have the students find a journal or magazine article in English by using the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature. This information used to be published in book form every year. Now, however, it can be accessed online through your library’s homepage or the Reader’s Guide link .

To locate journal or magazine articles in Japanese, students can consult the Zasshi Kiji Sakuin, which is now available online using a library service called Nichigai Magazine Plus. If the students cannot find the journal that they are looking for in their own library, have them use a reference book called the Gakujutsu Zasshi Sougo Mokuroku to find out which libraries have the journal they are looking for.(This information may also be available online through the NACSIS link of your library’s homepage).

Step 9:Students can arrange to borrow a journal written in English or Japanese from a neighboring library by repeating Step 6.

Step 10:Have the students try using ProQuest and other library databases (see Appendix).


While search engines like Google and online encyclopedias like Wikipedia can save your students a lot of time when doing research, the Internet is still no substitute for the traditional and expanded source materials available in a library. Basic research skills for EFL students include knowing how to use keywords,how to use strategies for limiting information, how to use online catalogues and interlibrary loan systems, how to find journal, magazine, and newspaper articles, and how to usethe relevant databases available in their library. Until we teach our students how to do some basic research, we shouldn’t expect very much in their papers, presentations, and reports.


Canning, C. & Kitani, H. (2009). From the research paper to the graduation thesis: Researching and writing for university and graduate school.

“Basic research skills for EFL students.” Language Teacher 33.6 (2009): 19-20.

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