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INF461 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 your assessments are 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 can 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. The University 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, adapted from a question from assessment in a previous session:

Demonstrate your understanding of at least three (3) of the issues and challenges in data management for academic researchers at present and in the near future. Issues you could explore include research data standards, research data ethics, publishing and licensing, and challenges imposed by the legal and regulatory framework around these issues. 

Your initial topic analysis might look like this:

Instruction words

Demonstrate your understanding

Key concept/s Research data management
Limits Academics/researchers
(3 selected issues)

This question involves choosing 3 areas to focus on, and once you've made your selection, you can start developing keywords. You might like to review background information about your topic e.g. Wikipedia articles, non-scholarly articles, to find keywords. (You wouldn't use these sources in your essay.)

Key concept Key search words and phrases
Research data ethics

Human research ethics, data sharing ethics, sensitive data
Privacy, security, anonymity, consent

Open access Open data, open research data


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.

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
Keyword suggestions
Data Management
Data Governance
Data Curation

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