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Virginia Rankin's book titled The Thoughtful Researcher: Teaching the Research Process to Middle School Students (Libraries Unlimited, 1999) continues to be popular with school library media specialists.


Virginia Rankin is best known for her approach to the Pre-search Process focusing on building a solid foundation prior to materials exploration.

Presearch Strategies

Rankin identified a number of effective pre-search strategies such as:

Generating Questions

Developing quality questions can be difficult for students. Rankin (1999, p. 31) recommends the following criteria for evaluating research questions:

Rankin's Research Steps and Strategies

Rankin has also identified a series of steps in the research process:

Student Assessment

Rankin (1992) stresses the importance of student assessment. Below is her criteria for judging student's pre-searches.

  1. Information from four different sources, with a bulk of the information not from a single source
  2. Four bibliography cards
  3. Note cards keyed to all four sources
  4. Notes help answer researcher's questions (no irrelevant information)
  5. Adequate information for all three questions
  6. Notes summarized
  7. Notes in own words
  8. One idea per note card
  9. Sufficient quantity (15-50 note cards)
  10. No glaring inaccuracies; double-check facts, especially numbers

eye means readRead Pre-search (From EBSCOhost, requires IUPUI login) by Virginia Rankin in School Library Journal (March 1992, 38(3), 168).

videoclipView Student-Generated Topics (0:30).

Virginia Rankin discusses the importance of student-generated topics and questions. - Excerpt from “The Pre-search”

Use of this video clip complies with the TEACH act and US copyright law. You should be a registered student to view the video.

Learn More

Rankin, Virginia (1992). Pre-search. School Library Journal (Vol. 38, Issue 3, p. 168-171).

Rankin, Virginia (1996). Get smart: the crucial link between media specialists and A+ student projects. School Library Journal (Vol. 42, Issue 8, p. 22-27).

Rankin, Virginia (1999). The Thoughtful Researcher: Teaching the Research Process to Middle School Students. Englewood: Libraries Unlimited.

Rankin, Virginia (1999). The thought that counts. School Library Journal (Vol. 45, Issue 8, p. 26-29).

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