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Guides best practices: What is a guide?

After using this guide, Stanford Libraries staff will be able to build, assess, and maintain research guides that address specific information needs.

A guide addresses an information need

Cover of the book "Modern Pathfinders: Creating Better Research Guides"

"[Research guides] address an audience with a particular and specific information need. They contain instructions, links, and information meant to help users with a specific research context or task. Guides may exist to help library users complete a class assignment requiring research, accomplish a useful library procedure, carry out research on a given topic or in a subject area, or perhaps learn to use a particular research tool like Zotero,, or PsychINFO."

- Jason Puckett, Modern Pathfinders


Our patrons use guides when...

  • They're on their own, setting their own pace and their own path.
  • They have a specific question and a particular information need.
  • They're online and decide in seconds if a page has what they need.


Therefore, we create guides that...

  • Offer instructions that users can follow asynchronously.
  • Take users directly to the information they need.
  • Do not distract users with information they are not looking for.


A useful guide cannot address every information need

Cover of the book "Modern Pathfinders: Creating Better Research Guides"

"In order for real learning to take place, information is processed in short-term, or working, memory, and passed into long-term memory as it is understood. Cognitive capacity for learning is finite, and students can become lost if too much information is presented to them at one time: it overwhelms the short-term capacity and is never absorbed into long-term memory where it can be used." 

- Jason Puckett, Modern Pathfinders


Learning cannot take place if a user is overwhelmed. Thus, the most critical step in creating a useful research guide is establishing learning outcomes that will help you make decisions on what to leave out.