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LIT107 Research Skills Guide: Identify

Identifying what you need to do

Your assessments in this subject include reflective writing, reading responses, and an essay. For each piece of assessment, the first step will be to carefully read the Subject Outline as well as any information from your lecturer, to identify exactly what you're being asked to do. 

Topic Analysis

A topic analysis will help you to clarify and understand what your assessment question is asking you to do. Use a highlighter or pen to underline key parts of your question. 

You will generally be given three key pieces of information:

  1. The task or instruction terms tell how you are to deal with the content. Check out this list of explanations for common instruction words.
  2. The key topic or concept words indicate the major subject area you need to address.
  3. The limits or qualifiers give you a specific focus within the topic or concept.

An example question is:

One critic has described Twelfth Night as "a festive comedy"

Discuss the "festive" nature of this play with reference to specific episodes.

What are the key concept words? What are the limits? What is this task asking you to do?

Instruction words Discuss
Key concepts Comedies, Twelfth Night
Limits Specific episodes, festive themes


According to the list of explanations for common instruction words, to discuss a topic, you need to consider it from more than one point of view, provide arguments for and against the main ideas, and draw your own conclusion. 

Once you feel you have a clear grasp of what you're being asked to do, you should plan your response and make sure everything you write answers the question - don't get off topic!

Finding background information

Finding background information on your topic might seem like doing more work when you could just jump straight into in-depth research, but it actually provides you with important context and can help you identify key concepts and keywords. 

There are a number of places to find background information:

  • Reference resources like encyclopedias and dictionaries
  • Reliable websites (from informed or authoritative sources; see the Evaluate tab for how to check)
  • Books, including manuals and textbooks

While you shouldn't use Wikipedia as a source in an academic paper, it can be a fairly reliable source for background information. Citations in Wikipedia articles can sometimes lead you to other good sources, especially on contemporary topics. 

Keyword analysis

Some of your assessment will involve searching for articles and books. Before you start searching, you should analyse your topic a little further to identify search terms.

For example, if you want to research the political period surrounding Le Morte d'Arthur, the first step is to look for background information about Thomas Malory and the period he lived in. A Google search might lead to information about The War of the Roses, and life in England in the 1400s.

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

Key concept Key search words and phrases
Thomas Malory's life Thomas Malory, England, 1400s, crime or criminal, prison, pardon
Politics York, Lancaster, Plantagenet, War of the Roses, Henry VI, Earl of Warwick

When searching, you can combine these words and concepts to find relevant books and articles. You need to experiment with which combinations produce the best results.

See the Find section for search tips, and more information about tools and resources.

Topic Analysis