Research literacy (RL) training for higher degree research (HDR) students has been reduced to information technology focus by librarians and as writing practice in research supervision which is an ‘underdress’ for the issue. This paper argues that holistic research literacy training support should be provided to HDR students, especially those from Asia, being regarded as having serious plagiarism problem in their research study. A three-step framework that covers technological searching and locating, accurate understanding and interpretation, and critical evaluation and synthesis of information was developed and examined in this study. Two cohorts of Asian HDR students enrolled in an Australian university were involved through a parallel group, pre–post test design. One group progressed with ‘supervision-as-usual’ (SAU), whilst the other received SAU plus formal research literacy workshops. Supplementary data were also collected from the intervention cohort through focus group interviews. Data reveal that an early stage of intervention, using the holistic RL framework developed in this research, can largely improve students’ skills with technological searching and locating of information. Data also indicate that students also improved in the aspects of interpreting and synthesising information but this improvement was not as great. This is partly due to their use of English as the second language. This study suggests that language elements should be integrated into the RL framework for students with English as the second language.