Digital Contexts: Studies of Online Research and Citation


These abstracts offer details about the edited collection, Digital Contexts: Studies of Online Research and Citation. Several of the authors who have contributed work for this special issue of Computers & Composition Online have also contributed to the edited collection.



section one
Spaces for Digital Scholarship: Creating, Using, and Improving

section two
Teaching, Training, Investigating: Understanding Student Research Behaviors

section three
Beyond the Academy: Understanding Digital Research Behaviors


The authors and editors of Digital Contexts: Studies of Online Research and Citation believe that the processes and procedures through which institutions and individuals search for, find, store, and use information are changing in ways that must be addressed by researchers in a range of related fields, including writing studies, library and information science, sociology, information management, and computer science, among others. Because the availability of digital resources has been the primary factor motivating, facilitating, and even requiring these changes, it is essential that we work to better understand how the design of digital information structures both shapes and is shaped by search and research behaviors. Doing so asks us to attend to how these behaviors have adapted and evolved through their transformation from primarily print-based resources; how libraries and other information repositories are changing as the result of the use of digital resources; how online research practices are connected to writing practices; and how educators can work with their students to better understand the evolving nature of knowledge-making in these digital environments.

The authors collaborating on the Digital Contexts project offer responses to these questions. They also respond to the need for research that crosses boundaries: the boundaries between academic disciplines, the boundaries between nations, and the boundaries between search and research behaviors in academic and non-academic settings. Studies that focus on these issues are often framed very differently by researchers in different fields, and people doing research in these different disciplines are often not reading research across disciplines. This book seeks to change that. The result is a more fully developed understanding of the multiple ways in which digital environments are influencing the way in which we gather, organize, and distribute information.

Although the book focuses generally on digital searching and research behaviors, the particular focus of each chapter comes from the author(s)’ interests in certain groups, individuals, activities, or digital environments. The essays in Digital Contexts seek to see the issue of digital research from multiple perspectives, within and outside of the academy, and to understand and consider how the perspective of other fields can contribute to our individual projects. The inter-disciplinarity of our subject – and of our collected essays – is both a challenge and an opportunity. Because we come from multiple disciplinary backgrounds, we talk about and approach our studies differently. In creating this volume, we have challenged ourselves to step outside of the perspectives with which we are most comfortable and familiar; however, the remaining differences in perspective presented in each article ultimately provide the reader with a richer understanding of the digital contexts in which we work and play.

As a whole, the chapters provide readers in multiple disciplines the opportunity to consider a wide range of issues from different perspectives. For example, scholars focusing on digital research from an educational perspective will find that the book provides discussion of how to teach search strategies effectively, as well as looking at how students acquire and use search strategies. Scholars approaching digital research with a concern for maintaining and archiving electronic sources will find discussions of managing digital resources as well as discussions of how these resources are designed to allow for searching. Scholars interested in the influence of digital resources on writing process will find discussions of the influence of digital resources on writing process will find discussions of the influence of digital searching on the construction of research identity as well as the ways in which electronic spaces shape public intellectualism and disciplinary identity.

These multiple disciplinary perspectives bring to light fruitful tensions. Contributing authors whose perspectives range from the management of digital resources to training scholars in the processes of research writing, offer intriguing conflicts. Other work in the collection – for example, those essays that focus on the development of “public intellectualism” and the rise of research knowledge outside of traditional academic boundaries – offer this same complexity of perspective. We feel these complexities and conflicts illustrate the potential for productive collaboration and the importance of stronger connections between colleagues who look at digital resources from different perspectives.

Not only does this collection look across disciplinary boundaries, but it also looks across national boundaries. This collection included contributions from teacher-scholars from around the world, including Australia, Canada, Finland, the Netherlands, and the United States. Such an interdisciplinary focus allows us to consider the issue of online research and citation from a more fully informed global perspective. As digital technologies cut across national boundaries, the international group of voices collected here provide invaluable insight into influences, applications, and studies of online research and citation.

It is, we believe, the strength of this text that it encourages readers to think beyond their disciplinary and national boundaries – as well as the boundaries that divide research and teaching perspectives on the use of digital resources, and the boundaries between professional and student researchers. This text offers that opportunity – to look at the different ways that our colleagues (and professional and student researchers) understand the processes of searching, finding, storing, and using digital information. By providing these inter-disciplinary perspectives, the text illustrates the ways that individual disciplines both hide and reveal certain kinds of information about these processes. The contrasting approaches and findings in these chapters demonstrate that there is no single ‘academic’ or ‘scholarly’ approach to new digital resources. This collection also illustrates that the institutional element, while significant, does not determine the uses of new online technologies. Similarly, the technologies themselves are not leading to one-size-fits-all practices for students, researchers, and information experts in different academic fields.

The chapters make the point, collectively, that technology does not over-determine the ways in which academics will incorporate technologies into their work. Rather, researchers – academic professionals and students alike – find ways to use and adapt digital resources to their purposes, even if this means using them in ways not intended and looking beyond disciplinary paradigms. As a result, we believe the text as a whole provides insight into the changing face of research in the digital age and will, therefore, be a valuable resource for scholars and teachers in a range of disciplines.