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InfoSkills1: Defining Your Topic

Analysing the topic

Once you have identified what you need to research, the next step is to think about what you already know about the topic and do some general background reading. This will help you expand your knowledge of the topic and generate additional terms to use in your search.


Brainstorming can be used for many purposes:

  • to find out what you know and what you want to know
  • to generate similar and related terms for your keywords
  • to summarise your notes
  • to plan your assignment

Brainstorming can also take many forms, such as:

  • Asking questions - breaking down the topic into its basic elements so that you can better understand it
  • Brain dump - writing down all the thoughts you have on a topic in a short period of time, without filtering or judgement. This is explained more fully in the video below.
  • Mind map or concept map - a visual representation of ideas which shows connections and relationships between them. This is a useful way to organise your thoughts after a brain dump.

Background reading

Before starting your assignment research, you will usually need to do some background reading to clarify relevant concepts, define important terms, and gain an understanding of your topic. As you read, look out for references to potentially useful material for later investigation, and for key words and phrases which you might want to use as search terms. The more you read, the more potential keywords you will discover.

Some useful sources for background reading include:

  • Lecture notes
  • Readings
  • Textbooks
  • Credo - a database of general and subject specific reference works, including dictionaries, encyclopedias and handbooks
  • Reputable websites, eg. government, educational
Toolkit Home | Defining Your Topic | Searching for Resources | Evaluating Resources | Referencing

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