Information research skills: getting started: Planning your search

The Research Cycle

A means of evaluating the information you find on the web. Adapted from the Tanglin Trust School Singapore

You already search for information every day! Whether trying to find a store with the latest shoes, a street name on google maps or the release date of your favourite TV show, information is everywhere and we have to learn to navigate it effectively to find what we want.

Searching for information at University is similar, but you need to find the right information. Use this guide to find search help, tips and starters to help you create the best assignment possible!

Define 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 & Plan before you search

  • What do you know?
  • What should you explore further?
  • What types of information do you need?
    • Define terms: use dictionaries
    • Get an overview: use course readings, handbooks, encyclopedias
    • Need facts/figures: use a reliable website, database
  • Does currency matter?
  • What relevant theories apply to your topic?
  • Which parts of your argument need references as evidence?

Plan your Search

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 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