Sometimes, a metaphor helps us understand a process. Ruth Palmquist suggests that how people think about the Internet (i.e., is it an information highway, a prairie, or an ocean?) influences how they search and what they find, and how satisfied they are with their findings. In a different setting, Ursula K. Le Guin, in her essay "The Carrier-Bag Theory of Fiction," quoted by John Parks, suggests that there are two major forms of fiction:
• The hunter-hero story, which is progressive and linear, involves killing large animals or enemies or overcoming one large but surmountable problem, and produces a hero.
• The other form, the life-story or carrier bag type, involves one or more people carrying and containing or preserving whatever is valued for the current work and for the future. The characters support each others' efforts, or cooperate, and the progress is more web-like than linear. The story produces no heroes, although some self-sacrifice may be required. It is full of quirks, twists and surprises; some people suffer, but many grow and thrive (Parks, 1996).
This distinction between a great effort that yields immediate and large results or treasure (finding the "one source" for a topic), and the slower gathering of small pieces to make a larger, lively whole (finding many good sources and then integrating the information from them) is a good metaphor for the research process. Many students aim for the large "kill," to get all that they need in one fell swoop, when they would be more successful and gain more understanding from picking the best bits from many places.
Palmquist, Ruth A. "Cognitive Style and Users' Metaphors for the Web: An Exploratory Study." Journal of Academic Librarianship (2001) 27, 1: 24-32.
Parks, John G. "The Teacher as Bag Lady: Images and Metaphors of Teaching." College Teaching (Fall 1996) 44, 4:132-6.