Here are the basic steps behind finding information. The process is focused on assignments such as literature reviews, research reports, and essays, however these steps can help you for any information seeking task.
Depending on your assignment or research type you may be asked to find different sources of evidence from existing literature or supporting publications.
Based around the assignment you are working on what information do you need?
These are things such as:
Some assignments or reports may require you to look for either a single type or multiple types of evidence.
e.g. A lab report may require you to:
Look at the assignment brief and rubrics to guide you.
Once you've identified that you need to find information to support your assignment or topic we need to take apart your question and extract your content words and limiting words.
What are the words that define your question (i.e. content)?
What are the limitations that the questions is asking you to use (e.g. look only for Australian information)?
Expand on your content words by creating a logic grid. You can use this method to keep track of your terminology and help you set up your search strategy.
See Keyword Searching in Study Essentials to learn more about content words and the Logic Grid.
See Starting Assignments in Academic Skills Essentials to learn how to identify these words in your topic question.
Use the Search Strategy Planner to help identify your content or topic terms
Begin by exploring the keywords and concepts that you have identified and use these to find new keywords and related concepts.
Not everyone will speak the same way so you will need to expand on the keywords that you have.
You can explore by:
As you explore add new concepts and related terms to your logic grid.
Once you have the basic understanding behind your research topic you now want to have a look around for (or scope) what research is available for you to use as evidence to support your own work.
Using the concepts that you have found try doing a basic search on one or two concepts to see what information exists. Look for:
What research is happening?
Have a look to see what active research is happening around one of your concepts.
What subject fields are they coming from?
e.g. "plastic pollution" is being researched in:
environmental science, pharmacology, social sciences, agriculture, and chemical engineering
What types of information is out there for you to use?
e.g. "plastic pollution" has data from:
For an overview of types of resources see Types of Information on Study Essentials
To learn to use the search tools mentioned in this section please see Using Information Sources.
Academic sources are considered to be the top tier of evidence for research. This is information that has been produced by experts in the field. Commonly commercially published through an academic publishing body, these sources undergo a scholarly review process by other experts or "peers" in the subject known as peer-review.
"Academic sources" or "scholarly sources" commonly means:
Use academic sources when you need evidence of recent research that has been done and reviewed in your subject. They are great sources of credible information for research.
Academic books are good for theories and structured overviews of a subject or topic. Use these to give some background information to your work.
Academic journal articles and research papers are good for exploring current research and the specific developments of a narrow topic.
Access to academic sources are usually controlled by the publisher, either via a single academic journal or an academic publisher who publish a range of journals and books. As a lot of academic resources will require payment to access you can use services that purchase access such as libraries or workplace subscriptions using your student membership.
To access these resources you can use:
See Academic Sources on Using Information Source for more guidance.
See our Search Engines and Library Databases guide to learn more about how search engines and databases work and to find out which search engine or database is right for you.
See Study Essentials: Types of Information for further information about resource types.
For specific databases that might be useful for your subject see the Academic Resources page.
As these works are published by the company or organisation that produced it the review process for these works are usually done by the organisation itself at varying degrees (from none to extensive review and editing).
If you are working on something that needs to look at a particular company or group and their business grey literature might be the best source to find this information.
Information on their day to day functions such as meteorological measurements, wildlife tracking, financial records, or incident tracking are not academically published but rather published in reports that can be found through the websites of whoever is tracking and reporting on it.
For some information they will only be published directly to an online webpage.
Online sources can include:
Information about a company may only be produced on their about webpage, recent incidents may not have had enough time to receive a formal report, and public opinion may not be officially published but rather be presented online through blog posts or forum discussions. Use websites to find this information where needed.
When using online sources these are not (most of the time) reviewed by other experts. As these can be produced and published by a single person or organisation they will require additional checking for quality. See our Evaluating Information section to find out how to judge the reliability of online sources.
A lot of factual information on websites will also be secondary or tertiary sources. Ideally when doing research you want to use primary or academically published research when providing evidence to your statements.
When using websites you can at times identify the purpose of the site by its domain. Some domains are restricted to a certain type of service.
.com - are for commercial websites (anyone can register for this domain)
.edu - are for educational institutions (e.g. ecu.edu.au)
.gov - are for government organisations (e.g. wa.gov.au)
For country based websites these may use their respective country code as the next level domain in the web address. If you want to find something from Australia look for .au in the domain name for Australian based websites.
When looking for government or education information you can do a site search for these domains to restrict your results to just educational (.edu) or Australian (.au) websites.
Be aware that not all government or educational institutions may have registered for a .gov or .edu domain so remember to search broadly as well.
See the Google Scholar section for how to restrict these using Google.
See Industry Resources for a selection of websites and organisations that are related to your subject area.
Based on the information you have gotten through exploring and scoping out the topic concepts you can now decide what types of resources you will need to look for.
Here are some topics for a quick example:
Looking at an essay on an aspect of Physics or Chemistry the information may come from:
Information sources can be:
For a topic on a recent malware attack on a company the information would be:
Information sources can be:
Once you've identified what concepts you are looking for and where you're going to get your evidence from you will need to structure it in a way to match the medium that you are going to be searching in.
Academic sources and grey literature may require you to structure your search so that it can be done on a database.
You can prepare your search based around the concept terms that you have found through exploring your topic.
As powerful as search engines are, there are ways to improve your use of them.
Most Search engines (including Google and Bing) allow you to use similar search syntax as Library Databases use. This gives you advanced search tools such as: Boolean operators (AND / OR / NOT), Phrase search (using "quote marks"), Grouped searches (using (parentheses)), Wildcards (*), etc.
Search engines and databases may also come with an advanced search function. This will allow you to control your input and specify where to search for the information in the source.
Different Search engines offer different options, and may use different symbols or functions for the same functions.
Use these to link search terms together. These will make your search result return results with a combination of key words.
These are to link two or more words in your search:
Cyber Bullying = Will search for Cyber AND Bullying
"Cyber Bullying" = Will search for the phrase Cyber Bullying
This symbol tells the search engine or database to look for anything as long as it starts with or ends with these letters. Usually indicated with an * (asterisk). This may be different depending on your search engine or database
Environment* = Environmental, Environment, Environments, Environmentalist etc..
See the Search Engines and Library Databases: Advanced Search for more details.
If you are not getting a lot of results for your topic or if you are getting too many try broadening or narrowing your search.
Broad searching is useful if you want to look at your whole concept and identify related ideas. It is useful to search broadly if:
Narrow searching is when you need to the opposite and look at a specific range of subjects. It is useful if:
You can use your search strategy to narrow or broaden your search. Here are how to use the basic elements to broaden or narrow your results:
|Keywords||General Terms||Specific Terms|
Your search string is never perfect the first time that you've created it. Keep updating the search based around what new information you have found.
If you aren't getting relevant results
Revisit your exploration of your topic. Try using new keywords and concepts. Based around the results in your current search that you think are relevant have a look at what keywords stand out to you as being "relevant".
If your results aren't going into enough depth
Try a different source. Try seeing if the topic has publications in industry reports (Grey Literature) if you can't find any information in Academic articles.
You also may be searching too broadly. Try using more specific keywords.
Depending on the depth, topic, subject, and audience of the research you will need to assess each source for both its reliability and its usefulness to you in your research.
To do this here we'll introduce you to two tests of critical evaluation:
The CRAAP test for academic and general information sources.
The AACODS test for grey literature and ambiguous works.
By no means are these a pass/fail test for information. As the usability of a source is subjective to your project or assignment what you would consider "good to use" may be different between doing a scientific report (factually checked academic works) versus doing a report on an incident or event (news reports, company statements, and public reactions).
The CRAAP test can be used to assess most academic and general information sources that you would encounter. Here are a couple of questions on each of the aspects that the test looks into that you should ask yourself when assessing a source of information for use in your assignment or research project.
Be aware of filter bubbles and fake news. Use this page to learn more about how to identify online bias and bubbles:
For more questions in the CRAAP test as well as an example assessment see the following document
The AACODS test is designed to assess Grey Literature which can undergo a different publication and review process to academically published literature.
The focus of the AACODS test therefore includes assessment of the organisations and structure of the information as it can come in various forms from Executive Reports to Datasets.
(Adapted from Tyndall, 2010)
Keep track of what you find as you look for information. Articles that you find that are not useful right now may be useful in the future. As you read more into your research topic you may find that something you have found in the past might now contribute to your discussion.
Know how to properly track your readings. You can write them down, bookmark them, note them down as you are taking notes, or save them to a reference manager such as EndNote.
For guides on how to read and take notes effectively see: Academic Skills Essentials - Reading and Notetaking.
For guides on how to save a record of your reading as well as organise your research using EndNote see: EndNote
Here are some resources and reading that you can do to help with your searching and research process. If you would like more information than what is provided here you can take advantage of these resources.
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