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COM116 Library Research Skills Guide: Identify

Identifying what you need

Planning an effective search strategy can save you time and retrieve more relevant results.

At this first stage, you need 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.

You will generally be given three key pieces of information:

  1. The key topic or concept words direct you in what to research.
  2. The limits or qualifiers tell you the specific focus of the topic or concept.
  3. The task or instruction terms tell how you are to deal with the content. CSU has a list of explanations for common instruction words.

From your Exploring PR essay:

Your task is to research one of the following theories that define the function of public relations:

Relationship management (Bruning & Ledingham, 2000);
Interpretive/Rhetorical (Grunig, 2009; Kim & Ni, 2010; Heath, 1992)
Critical (l’Etang, 2005); and
Excellence theory (Grunig, Grunig & Dozier, 2006).

Select one of the theories and explore and discuss how it has helped shape public relations with an emphasis on how the theory can be applied to contemporary practice.

If we break this question down into parts, we can identify the specific components:

Key concepts

The function of public relations
PR theory
Applying theory to contemporary practice


[Your selected PR theory]
Examples in contemporary practice

Instruction words

Explore, discuss

Before you start searching, you should analyse your topic a little further to identify search terms. 

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. For example:

The function of public relations

Public relations, image management, strategic communication

PR, PR strategy, public attitudes, reputation, exposure

Relationship management

Relationship management, stakeholder management, stakeholder engagement

Relationship management theory vs practice

Stakeholders, constituents, communities, market groups v non-market groups

While searching in Primo, you should try different combinations of your keywords, and use the filters to narrow down your results. You'll need to experiment with which combinations produce the best results.

See the Search Strategies page for search tips and tools.


Write down the key concepts from your topic and have a go at brainstorming as many alternative keywords and phrases as possible.

Thinking about your topic in this way forces you to describe your topic in "other words", which will provide you with some useful keyword alternatives as well as help you to cement your understanding of the topic.

Topic Analysis

Find additional keywords

Dictionaries and encyclopaedias can help you to find additional keywords and get an overview of the concept.

Oxford Reference Online is a huge repository of subject-specific dictionaries, encyclopaedias, and other reference-type material.

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