Information research skills: getting started: Your question

Defining your question

If your assignment requires you to decide on your assignment topic/question it is important to think of the following:

Think of a topic that interests you. 

Once you start searching the topic the research question you finally settle on may change.  You will begin to look at more specific elements of your topic. Watch the video Picking your topic IS research to help you understand this better.

Try using one of the following 'task' words to help you formulate the final question based on your topic. Light bulb [Manuel C. Piñeiro 2012, 'neon (classic) bulb', CC Licence: CC0 1.0 Universal,, Image Source: Open Clip Art Library,]

  • Analyse e.g. Analyse if...
  • Argue e.g. Argue whether...
  • Compare e.g. Compare the...
  • Describe e.g. Describe how...
  • Discuss e.g. Discuss the...
  • Explain e.g. Explain how...
  • Why e.g. Why are there....

Understand the background of your topic

You need to have a broad understanding of what you are going to write about.  Read a book or find some general information in sources such as:


Think and plan before you search

  • Students at Magill [Image source: MDU Image Library, UniSA]What do you already know about your topic? What do you need to explore further?
  • What types of information do you need? Does it need to be current?
  • Define terms and get an overview - use the course readings, handbooks, encyclopedias, dictionaries or introductory books.
  • What relevant theories apply to your topic?
  • Need facts and figures? Try a reliable website or a relevant database.
  • Which parts of your argument need references as supporting evidence?
  • Identify key concepts in your topic. These will help you decide which keywords to use when searching. Also, think of any synonyms (related keywords) you could use when searching.

Video icon ['video_icon', 西沙, CC Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0 (, Image source: flickr (]
Watch -
Think. Plan. Discover. Why Keywords Matter (1 min 30 secs) for tips about choosing keywords and searching for information

Define - Identify what you need

Brainstorming / writing down your ideas is useful when thinking about what exactly you are trying to find out.  This will help you search for information later on. 

Here is an example of a how a mindmap can be used to organise ideas:

Example Mind Map, Copyright University of South Australia

Created using

You can use one of the following tools to create a mind map or draw one by hand or even in a Word document.

> Mindomo
> MindNode
> FreeMind
> mindmeister

> Wise Mapping
> XMind