Skip to main content

Guide to information retrieval: Defining your topic

Plan ahead what you are doing

Information retrieval begins with defining the research topic or problem.  As an information-seeker, you will have to clarify to yourself what information you are looking for and where you may be able to find it. When planning your information retrieval, the following research questions may help you define your topic:
  • What is the topic you need information on?
  • What do you need the information for?
  • What is central to the topic?
  • What is your angle of approach to the topic?
  • What do you already know about the topic?
  • Is the information you need generic or scientific?
  • Do you need pictures?
  • How old should the information be?
  • What language do you need the information in?

Refining your topic is one of the most important decisions when you begin your work. If information on the topic can be found easily from many resources, you may want to consider narrowing down the topic to something more specified. Studying and reading basic literature on the topic field is key: you should know more about your topic than what you intend to include in your final work.

Mind map

Mind maps and concept maps offer ways of specifying and outlining the research problem. A mind map is a tree-like figure where the topic is divided into sections and further into their subsections. Concepts and their connections are easier to identify by using a concept map (you can use e.g. the CmapTools program to create a concept map).

  • Freemind - an easy-to-use and varied program for creating mind maps
  • CmapTools - a program for creating concept maps