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Short Learning Progamme: Part 2 - Advanced Information Literacy: Unit 1 Information retrieval


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Being information literate means that you are able to critically examine evidence and therefore your information need is constantly evolving as new information is added to what is known about the topic.

Scan information

The first step in starting research is to survey the existing information landscape to identify available sources of information and understand the information environment in which you are working.

Seek new information


Due to the extensive amount of information available, part of becoming more information literate is developing habits of mind and of practice that enable you to continually seek new information and to adapt your understanding of topics according to what you find.

New avenues of research

When searching for information on your current topic, always look for fresh research approaches that you have not yet considered. Often the information you found for your initial need will lead you to other richer information that can serve as raw material for many subsequent projects.

Identify what you do not know

Ask the following questions:

  • What is it that I do not understand about the topic?
  • What do I need to find out to understand the topic?
  • How can I express what I need to find out?

Example: You can’t explain why a plastic jug can't melt in boiling water. You know that it is plastic and that it is designed to remain solid when boiling water is poured into the jug, but can’t explain why this happens. You need to find out what kind of plastic the jug is made of and the chemistry or physics of that plastic and of water that makes the jug remain solid when boiling water is poured into it. (The terminology in your first explanation would get more specific once you did some research.)

Taking your lack of knowledge and turning it into a search topic or research question starts with being able to state what your lack of knowledge is.

Taking stock

Taking stock of what you already know can help you to identify any erroneous assumptions you might be making based on incomplete or biased information.

If you think you know something, make sure you find at least a couple of reliable sources to confirm that knowledge before taking it for granted.

Keep your research on track

  • Thinking about the gaps in your knowledge and how they might inform your research questions will help you to develop your research questions.
  • By stating what you do not know about your current information need will define the limits of what you are searching for and these limites will help you keep on track  as you proceed with your research.

Research question/Thesis statement/search terms

If none of the terms from your question and thesis/hypothesis lists overlap at all, you might want to take a closer look and see if your thesis/hypothesis really answers your research question. If not, you may have arrived at your first opportunity for revision.

Ask the following questions:

  • Does your question really ask what you’re trying to find out?
  • Does your proposed answer really answer that question?
  • You may find that you need to change one or both, or to add something to one or both to really get at what you’re interested in. This is part of the process, and you will likely discover that as you gather more information about your topic, you will find other ways that you want to change your question or thesis to align with the facts, even if they are different from what you hoped.

Wider view

Identifying an information need is the first step in the research process. However, many times the initial information need will change as you discover new information and make connections.

Ask the following questions:

  • Why are you doing things the way you are?
  • Is it really the best way for your current situation?
  • What other options are there?