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Information Retrieval: Preparing for information retrieval

Consider these questions

  • What topic do I need information about?
  • For what purpose; how vast is the task at hand? (Short fact check / working for a theses?)
  • What are the central issues in the topic?
  • What point of view do I approach the subject from?
  • How old information is needed?
  • Do I need sources from my native country or do international (English language) sources suffice?
  • What kind of information sources do I need (reference books / articles / electronic journals)?


Information seeking is a process during which you will learn extensively and at length with what has been written and studied about a certain subject.

  • define your topic and point of view
  • get to know the topic-related concepts and terminology
  • define the search terms (parsing the search terms is covered on the next page)
  • choose the information sources (use multiple sources)

Choosing the information sources

Search information from various sources, as using just one source is usually not enough to discover all relevant information.

Academic publication types include:

  • edited volumes
  • monographs; or scholarly books
  • journal articles
  • review articles
  • books in university publication series
  • thesis
  • reference works
  • conference articles (note, that authors often have an extended article published in a journal on the topic)

Electronic databases can include all publication types listed above. A database may include full-texts or just references to publications.

  • In electronic full-text databases you can use very specific search terms, because the search usually covers the full texts (sometimes the search might not cover the full text but the publication abstract at least)
  • In library online catalogues works usually only include the title and keywords, so the search terms need to be more general (sometimes the search might cover e.g. the publication abstract)

Choosing the correct information source is defined by your information need: do you quickly need a couple of sources to validate a fact or do you need to survey multiple sources more extensively.

Record your searches

It’s worthwhile to make things easier for yourself and record your searches.

Write down:

  • the source/database you made the searches in
  • the keywords you used
  • which databases and keywords were most relevant
  • keep a (simple) search diary

The more extensive the research, the more important it is to document your information seeking!

Save your references

Also remember to save the relevant documents right after you discover them. Save at least the name and authors, preferably also the publication data. You can use a reference management tool like RefWorks to facilitate this.

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