Defining an information problem

Defining an
Information Problem
Slide 1
An information problem
• An MP comes to the library with a problem…
Analysis of the domestic solid waste
management system in Sakubva - Mutare.
• But she only tells you “I want something
written about solid wastes”
Slide 2
The problem
Imagine that your library…
• Has the information sources
requested by the MP
• Has effective locating & finding
• Has qualified and self motivated
librarians, researchers, IT
personnel etc…
Why does the MP fail to get the information she wants
from the library?
Slide 3
Articulating an information problem
Before you can find information, you need to clearly understand the
problem you are seeking to solve. There are three steps to
articulating an information problem:
1. Understanding the topic
What are different aspects of the topic?
What terminology is used?
What are related topics?
2. Assessing information need
What is the information for?
What do I know already?
What do I need to know?
3. Formulating search strategy
Slide 4
Where will I look?
What keywords/search terms will I use?
Why define an information problem?
What are the
benefits of clearly
defining the
problem before
starting to search
for information?
Slide 5
1. Understanding the topic
• You need to start by finding general information about a topic
– Definitions
– General knowledge
• This assists you to shape, formulate the topic
– Title of your topic or research area
– Statements
– Questions
• This initial research can help you to create terms/words to
assist in developing search queries
• You can also find lists or links to sources relevant to answer the
Slide 6
1. Understanding the topic (cont.)
• What sources
can you use
to familiarise
yourself with
a new topic?
Slide 7
Reference sources
• Web based/print reference tools
Slide 8
• Online Catalogues – for titles or subject areas
• Online abstract databases – for abstracts,
titles or subject areas
– Biological & environmental research abstract
Slide 9
Internet resources
• Search Engines
– Google
– Alta-Vista
• Information gateways
– Intute (
– www virtual library general (
– www virtual library – environment
Slide 10
Promotional materials
Newsletters (e.g. UNEP newsletters)
Slide 11
Subject experts
– Reference
– Subject librarians
Slide 12
2. Assessing information needed
There are four steps to assessing information needed:
Determine the purpose of the information
– Is it for a specific purpose (such as making a case on a
certain issue)?
– Is it for a definition?
– Is it for answering a particular question?
2. What sort of information are you looking for?
Information already known
What do you know about this topic/question?
Information not known
Slide 13
Specific information, e.g. a fact, figure or date
What don’t you know about this topic/question?
Assessing information need exercise
• Work in pairs
• One of you is an MP who wants information on
universities in your country. You will need to use your
imagination to decide what information you need and
• The second person should interview the ‘MP’ to find
out specifically what information s/he needs
• Now swap roles- the new ‘MP’ wants information on
Saudi Arabia. Again use your imagination to decide
what information and why.
Slide 14
3. Developing a search strategy
• It makes it easier to search for information
from electronic sources
• It provides an understanding of a subject and
related disciplines
• Keywords/Search terms can be used to
search for information and later to categorise
information and sources
Slide 15
Identifying keywords/ search terms
• Categories
– Words which describe a group which your topic is
a member of
• Subtopics
– Words which subdivide the topic
• Synonyms
– Words with the same (or similar) meaning.
• Related terms
– Words related to the topic
Slide 16
Mind mapping
• A mind map is a special form of a web
diagram for exploring knowledge and
gathering and sharing information
• It is a process of writing down a central or
main idea and thinking up new and related
ideas which branch out from the central one
• It can be a useful way to develop search
Slide 17
Mining residues
Solid Waste
Slide 18
Exercise: Mind maps
• Create a mind map of one of the
following topics:
– Malaria
– The World Cup
– Reggae music
– Africa
Slide 19
Hints in developing concepts
• Brainstorm: this will aid to access prior knowledge
• Use information tools/sources to explore new
information and relationships: consult these
before developing your concept map
• Be creative: creativity helps your memory
• Don't get stuck in one area. If you dry up in one
area go to another branch
• Put ideas down as they occur, wherever they fit.
Don't judge or hold back
Slide 20
Slide 21
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