In our first year writing course, we're required* to teach the same basic course, with four modules, the third of which is basically a lit review sort of module, where students read in an area to understand "the conversation" (a metaphor most seem to find incomprehensible), and then write an essay talking about their research.
The materials for the module suggest that research works like this:
You think of a question, and spend some time thinking of what you know and don't know, keywords, and so on.
You go to a database (or Google), and type in some key words, look, and find a source that seems appropriate. You read the source, take notes, and then rethink things, and follow things in a slightly new direction.
You go back to a database, type in key words, look, find a source that seems appropriate. Then you read that source, take notes, and then rethink things, and follow things in a slightly new direction.
Rinse and repeat. So the idea is that the narrative thinks students read a source carefully, and use what they learn to figure out something newish about their question, and then follow along that.
But that's not the way I look for/at articles. And while students pretty much obediently repeat this narrative in their essays about their research, it's not what they're doing when I observe them during our library sessions.
Here's what I do.
If I want to know what's up in a newish area, I start by asking around to see who knows, and who can suggest someone/something good. Then I read that, and ask some more. And then I start looking around more independently.
Or, I try to figure out some basic key words, then I go to the database, find a bunch of articles, like five or more, and save them in some way (usually emailing them to myself, or requesting them through the interlibrary loan program). When I get to my office, I print out the articles, and start reading. I take some marginal notes, and mostly, try to get a sense of who they've talked about as important, make some bibliographic notes for who to look for. Maybe make a list for the library. At this point, I'm treating these articles like the person I know who can suggest some basic readings, and looking for sorts of foundational pieces, the pieces that everyone knows and has in the back of their mind for the field.
When I'm through that five, I probably have a good sense of some foundational readings, and then I go looking for those, especially if I can find one of those overview anthologies, Foundational Readings in This Topic sorts of anthologies. And then I sort of start over.
Here's what my students do. Google search (unless I can convince them to start with an academic database, if appropriate). Find three articles that are instantly available, save links somehow (only to find that those links won't work off campus, often). Promise to read them later.
When they do read their articles later, they take them all at basically the same level. So while I look for foundational articles, and then work forward to more recent, specific, work, they read the first articles and assume they've got the "conversation."
I'm sure my way of starting something new isn't the most efficient or even effective. I don't think anyone ever "taught" me strategies. But I also don't think the strategy we try to teach our students with our narrative is actually one they can use well.
Tell me some of your strategies for learning new or newish stuff.
For example, if I want to follow up on the research about how students research, and what research strategies might be most useful, how should I do it?