Research Skills Development

Willison & O’Regan (2007) believe that the development of research skills occurs on a continuum of knowledge production, from that which is new to the learner to fringe research that is new to everyone, or to move from “the commonly known, to the commonly not known, to the totally unknown" (p. 394). From this perspective, they developed a Research Skills Development Framework that outlines six facets of research and describes how each skill/activity manifests along a continuum based on the level of student autonomy.

Key Terms*:

  • Prescribed Research – highly structured directions and modeling from faculty
  • Bounded Research – boundaries set by and limited directions from faculty
  • Scaffolded Research – scaffolds placed by faculty shape the students’ research
  • Student-initiated Research – student-initiated research under the guidance of a faculty member
  • Open Research – independent student research that is guided by disciplinary standards

*Please see the RSD Framework for a full description.

The Research Skills Development Framework is useful as both a conceptual and planning tool as well as an assessment mechanism.  It can be used to develop course and program activities that are appropriate for the level of research being conducted, it can help clarify learning outcomes, develop assessment measurements, and track student progress and development.

Equipped with an understanding of student development and research skills development, one can begin to conceptualize and plan undergraduate research activities that best suit the characteristics of the student population you are working with and/or the students that you are targeting to conduct research with – whether it be in a course or extra-curricular activity.

Next – Strategies 


  • Willison, J.W. & O’Regan, K. (2007). Commonly known, commonly not known, totally unknown: A framework for students becoming researchers. Higher Education Research and Development, 26, 393-409.

Mentoring Undergraduate Research Directory