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INF404 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.

Once you've broken your topic down into parts, it will be easier to work out what information you need to search for.

Here is an example of the topic analysis process, using a question adapted from Assessment 2:

Imagine that you have been working in your current position for three months in a State library. Your manager has asked you to prepare a report to bring to your probation meeting to demonstrate your understanding of the sector in which your organisation exists. Write your report introducing the sector, addressing:

Some of the keywords you might identify from this question include:

Instruction words Report
Demonstrate your understanding
Key concepts History of the sector
Current state of the sector
Role of information and knowledge within the sector
Professional roles and stakeholders
Limits State library sector

Keyword analysis

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.

A few possible examples include:

Key concept Key search words and phrases
State library sector State library, state libraries, state librar*
State government library, state library service, [names of specific libraries e.g. the State Library of NSW]
History of the sector History, origin, founding, foundation, development, change, cultural change, landmarks, milestones
Current state of the sector Recent OR current
Trend*, development*, technology, politics, change
Collections, research, projects

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 Search Strategies page for search tips and tools, and the Find section for more information about information resources.

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.

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