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Composing Tutorials for Navigating Databases

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Students write short manuals outlining how to use databases
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Brief Assignment Overview: 

RHE 306 group work: Students write short manuals outlining how to use databases (LexisNexis, Infotrac Newsstand, Academic One File, Opposing Viewpoints, Google/Wikipedia).

Type of Assignment: 
Assignment Length: 
Pedagogical Goals - Rhetoric: 
Pedagogical Goals - Writing: 
Additional Pedagogical Goals: 

Teach students how to use databases; students familiarize themselves with advanced search techniques

Required Materials: 

Each group needs at least one computer with internet access; probably will not work very well outside computer classrooms.

Timeline for Optimal Use: 
Full Assignment Description: 

We look at the UT library website to find opinion, editorial and viewpoint articles.

Then students work in groups of four or five; each group produces a guide (including screenshots) to one database to help their classmates use this database.  I usually make them them look at LexisNexis, Infotrac Newsstand, Academic Onefile, Opposing Viewpoints, (Factiva), Google/Wikipedia.

They basically write down (1) how to search the database most efficiently (2) how to find opinion articles as opposed to news reports (3) what kind of material this database offers. See below for detailed instructions.

They then present their findings to class and e-mail the completed manual to me. I put the .pdf on the wiki for students to use later on. We talk about strengths and weaknesses of each database (How to use texts from Opposing Viewpoints? Is it okay to use Wikipedia? etc.).

Suggestions for Instructor Preparation: 

Print out worksheets and familiarize yourself with databases enough to assist students.

Instructions For Students: 

This is the worksheet (needs a little adaptation to work with Google/Wikipedia).

Group X: Database X


Go to the University of Texas Libraries website, and access the databases                                    

Pick a topic you are interested in (or just use the "Texas textbooks" example) and search for material in this database.

1. Do you get useful results? How can you sort your results?

2. Does the database focus on a specific sort of text, e.g. scholarly articles, newspaper reports, editorials? Does it include other media such as videos?

3. Is it easy to tell opinion articles and news texts apart? What is the easiest way to find an opinion article?

4. Take screenshots* of the homepage and the results page, be prepared to show your classmates how to navigate the database.

5. Does the database have an “Advanced Search” feature? How can you filter your results? (For example, can you restrict the search to a text genre like “editorial” or a newspaper, e.g. “The New York Times”?).

6. Take a screenshot of the “Advanced Search” interface and be prepared to show your classmates how to use this feature.

7. What is good/bad about this database? Does it have any special features that seem helpful?

8. Is it a good place to find material for your research summary? Why (not)?

9. Put all the screenshots in a word document (one per group) and write a little manual on how to use this database. Present to class and email the document to the instructor. Make sure to put the names of all group members in the document.

*Taking a screenshot on a Mac: Press Command-Shift-3. The image will be saved to the desktop. In Word, click “Insert”, then choose “Picture”/”from file” in the drop down menu to insert the image into your word document.

Taking a screenshot in Windows: Press F14. Open “Paint”. Click paste. Save image to desktop. In Word, click “Insert” and then “Picture”.

Evaluation Suggestions: 

It was not graded.

Course Description: 

RHE 306:

This course is grounded in the rhetorical analysis of "controversies," broadly defined. It is divided into three units, each one requiring some sort of outside research. The first two units are devoted to rhetorical analysis; they are mostly descriptive and allow students to become familiar with what is being said and how. The third unit is devoted to advocacy; having become familiar with the controversy, students now take a position within it and produce an informed argument for that position.

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