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First Year Seminar - Research Strategies (via WebEx)

The Principle of Least Effort

"... most researchers (even "serious" scholars) will tend to choose easily available information sources, even when they are objectively of low quality, and, further, will tend to be satisfied with whatever can be found easily in preference to pursuing higher-quality sources whose use would require a greater expenditure of effort."

           --Thomas Mann (general reference librarian at the Library of Congress)
                         from his 1993 book Library Research Models

Preliminary questions we are obliged to answer before we can, maybe, devise a truly original research question.

1) Is there evidence that what Mann is describing actually happens in the real world?

2) Why is this important?  Why should anyone care?

3) Is this actually happening most of the time with most people?

His words, "most researchers" implies a percentage.  Which is > 50%.  Putting something forward as "a principle" implies a percentage closer to 100% than to 50%.

A genuine research question has to have an underlying theory

  • theory (proven and accepted)
  • hypothesis (unproven and still being actively debated)

For example:

"All volcanoes are the product of plate tectonics"


"This particular volcano that I am studying has its own unique structure and history, but it is all still explained by the theory of plate tectonics"




You have a brain tumor that needs to be removed or you will die. 

Your head is shaved, clamped in place and you are anaesthetized, and they have already drilled a hole in your skull.

It is at this point in time when your surgeon is struggling to remember a key piece of information relating to the surgical procedure.

Your surgeon will spend no more than 5 minutes to seek verification. 

After that it is back your brain!

Which information source do you want your surgeon to use?

Online Poll!







1) The Principle of Least Effort, if true, is terrifying!

2) The selection of a starting point for research is profoundly important.

So now you could create new knowledge by pursuing this question.


Using an appropriate methodology (interview, direct observation, et al) I will attempt to determine what percentage of a population's information seeking can be determined to be for disposable information and what percentage can be determined to be for reusable information.