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CCI101 Research Skills Guide: Step 1: Analyse your task

Using topic analysis

Before you start researching for your assessment, you should carefully analyse your topic so you can plan an effective search strategy. This can save you time and help you to retrieve more relevant results. 

Topic analysis will help you to work out:

  • what the assessment is asking you to do
  • how you are going to search for answers to the question.

If you are confused or unsure about the assessment topic, ask your lecturer or tutor who will be happy to talk it through with you.

Topic Analysis

A topic analysis will help you to clarify and understand what your assessment question is asking you to do.

To start, you need to identify key concepts, limits, and instruction words

  1. The key concepts indicate exactly which topics you need to research.
  2. The limits or qualifiers tell you the specific focus within that topic or concept.
  3. The task or instruction terms tell how you are to deal with the content ie. how to write your assessment. There is a list of explanations for common instruction words.

Let's use an example question from a past assessment in CCI101:

Colour, as used by the Impressionists, was far more to do with creating psychological rather than actual space.

Discuss this statement, outlining how both colour and perspective have been used in past art, and the types of distance and atmosphere/mood they constructed. How are colour and perspective used in art and design today? Outline an informed attitude to an aspect of colour theory. Compare and contrast at least two bodies of works by different artists - either Impressionists, or from any period in art history - as part of your discussion.

Using our example, our preliminary topic analysis might look like this:

Key concepts

Colour and colour theory
The Impressionists and their use of colour and perspective
Psychology of colour
Perspective in art and design


[One aspect of colour theory]
The Impressionists and their use of colour and perspective
Two bodies of work, Impressionist or otherwise

Instruction words

Discuss, outline, compare and contrast

Finding synonyms for searching

It's important to brainstorm all possible aspects of the topic, to find key words and phrases to use in Primo or journal databases. You also need to think about synonyms and alternatives for words, as well, to broaden your search.

A few possible examples include:

Key concept Key search words and phrases
Colour and colour theory

Colour, color

Primary, secondary, tertiary
Tones, saturation, hues, tints, shades
High key vs low key, warm vs cool, complementary, achromatic, color harmony
Mood, meaning, symbolism
[Specific systems/theorists]

The Impressionists

Impressionist, impressionism, "impressionist art"
[Specific artists/paintings]
Impressionism AND colour, Impressioni* AND perspective

Psychology of colour Colour/color, colour AND psychology, colour science
Preferences, influences, perceptions

You should try different combinations of these words and phrases with other limiters while searching, to find relevant books and articles. You need to experiment with which combinations produce the best results.

See the Step 2: Preparing to search for more information about the search tips and tools I've used in the table above.

Topic analysis

Impression, Sunrise

Claude Monet's Impression, Sunrise was one of the first works to be labelled "impressionist".

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