CONTENT Questia, from Cengage Learning, is intended as the only research tool students need: on the Questia homepage, Cengage markets Questia as: “Your single source for academic research—no need to bounce around the Web.” The platform contains ebooks, scholarly journals, newspapers, magazines, research tutorials and writing tools (including project planning tools and citation management tools) aimed at helping students navigate the entire process of research and writing.
Although Questia markets itself as a multidisciplinary database, content coverage varies widely, with weaknesses in the physical sciences and strengths in the humanities. Topical coverage is strong in areas typically used in first-year writing classes (e.g., substance abuse, civil rights, biography, English literature, etc.), but students completing assignments on nonstandard topics may find resources lacking.
Questia contains over 75,000 ebooks, about 5,000 of which are public domain books published prior to 1923. The public domain books are available for non-subscribed users to read for free. A selection of newly added books are also available to read for free for a limited time. Unlike Google Books, but similar to other ebook platforms, the books do not retain the original typesetting. This can be an issue for texts with complicated formatting or unusual characters (such as math or chemistry), and some images didn’t load on the books I examined.
Periodicals on the platform include scholarly academic journals (1,213 at the time of review), magazines (404), and newspapers (53). Most of the newspapers are international (44), primarily from the United Kingdom and Australia. Magazines include a few trade publications, especially education-related titles. Questia includes magazines from the arts, economics, education, humanities, science, social science, and news, but only a few top-tier publications in these categories. Periodicals, like books, are transcribed versions, often lacking the accompanying pictures and graphics. Coverage dates for most academic journals extend into the 1990s.
The Questia library includes research tutorials in 10 categories guiding students through their projects. Students can start with a tutorial about creating a plan for completing a research paper, then look at instructions about conducting research, using the library, and evaluating sources. A group of tutorials help students to know when to paraphrase, summarize or quote a source, and other tips on avoiding plagiarism and integrating sources. Finally, tutorials demonstrate MLA and APA citation styles. Tutorials typically include a video, some written examples, and one or two self-check quizzes with immediate feedback. Videos are two to three minutes long and feature librarians and staff from community colleges or universities. The brief length and high production quality makes the videos easy to watch, and the downloadable examples provided help to reinforce the concepts introduced in the video. The tutorials on general subjects work better than those attempting to teach students to use the library, simply because of the variety of library websites and databases available.
Within Questia, students are able to add specific resources, articles, and quotations to a project file, similar to the “saved list” functions of other databases. In addition to saving specific item records, students can save notes they take on the books and articles within Questia. A bibliography can easily be created in MLA, APA, or Chicago style and exported as a Microsoft Word document.
USABILITY Book and journal content in Questia can be accessed by a basic search interface, browsing by subject category, or browsing specific content types. The website header contains a simple search box, but users can also select options via a dropdown menu allowing them to search by title, author, publisher or keyword. Boolean operators, quotation marks, and parentheses can be used in the query, but there isn’t a separate advanced search. The search-results page allows users multiple methods of accessing content. Links to relevant librarian-curated topic collections appear at the top of the page, and users can refine their search by adding additional search terms or selecting a data range using options on the left side of the screen. Search results are broken down by resource type, making things easy for students to fulfill assignment requirements asking for “2 books, 3 scholarly articles and 2 newspaper articles,” for example.
Books and articles are read within the browser. Passages can be highlighted and citations for quoted passages can be created. A built-in dictionary and a thesaurus allow students to quickly look up unfamiliar terms and phrases. Regrettably, PDF downloads of content are unavailable, and books and articles can only be printed one page at a time, although printouts can include highlighted sections and user notes.
In-text citation and reference-list creation tools are built in at multiple points within Questia. Students can create citations from passages while reading a book, as well as creating bibliographies by adding works to their “projects.”
Questia apps are available for iPad and iPhone but were not reviewed for this column.
PRICING Unlike most of the products reviewed in this column, the Questia online library and research support tool from Cengage Learning is not available for institutional subscribers. Instead, Questia is marketed directly to faculty and students. It is intended to be bundled with Cengage textbooks or purchased directly as part of a course requirement. Subscriptions for students are available monthly ($19.95), by semester ($49.95), or annually ($99.95). Costs may vary if a faculty member bundles Questia with a required textbook from Cengage. A separate companion product, Questia Schools, is available as an institutional subscription for high schools.
VERDICT Questia is not available for institutional subscribers. It would be useful for students in select introductory-level classes, but the content may already be held in the library collection or in other online databases. I would strongly recommend that faculty members considering requiring Questia speak with a librarian at their institution to see if existing resources would better meet their needs. Questia could be useful for distance learners or other students without access to a physical library or online article databases.
Bonnie J.M. Swoger is the Science and Technology Librarian at SUNY Geneseo’s Milne Library and the author of the Undergraduate Science Librarian blog, undergraduatesciencelibrarian.org. Readers can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org