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ENM109 Research Skills Guide: Topic Analysis

Topic Analysis

A topic analysis will help you 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. There is a list of explanations for common instruction words.

Let's say you have been given an assessment that involves reporting on a natural resource management issue in Australia.

For this example we have chosen the theme of (Australian) marine conservation

Provide an overview of your selected natural resource theme, and describe key management challenges, conservation issues and any other relevant historical dimensions

A topic analysis of this question might look like this:

Instruction words Provide an overview; Describe
Qualifying words & phrases Management challenges; conservation; historical dimensions
Key concepts Marine conservation in Australia


Here are some synonyms that might be used in searching. Note that using synonyms will broaden your search and increase the chances of retrieving information:

management challenges management, administration
historical dimensions history, past, background
"marine conservation" "marine parks"


In fact, the terms we have are probably quite good search terms, so here are some suggested searches:

  • "marine conservation" AND australia*
  • "marine conservation" AND australia* and manag*
  • "marine conservation" AND australia* AND manag* and issue*
  • "marine conservation" AND australia* AND histor*.

For more on search techniques, see the next page (Search techniques).

Topic Analysis

Find additional keywords

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

In the Oxford Reference search box below, enter some of the keywords you've identified from your assessment question and note down any alternate keywords that you find.

Find your definitions by searching Oxford Reference Online


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.