Join Elsa Loftis for an in-depth discussion in this video Identifying your information needs, part of Information Literacy.
- The first thing you need to understand about research is that it's a process. Usually, you can't simply decide on a topic, and then go find the exact materials you need. The process may have dead ends, and sometimes you may even need to start over. Just remember that research is also a very creative process. It actually uses the same creative muscles that you use when you do your art and design projects. Try to relax into the process, and allow your mind to wander during the initial phase. Some professors expect that you will write a thesis statement first.
However, if the subject is new to you, it might be impossible for you to decide on a thesis until after you have done some preliminary research. What does that mean exactly? You could do a very broad search in an encyclopedia, such as Wikipedia, or Oxford Art Online. Read the articles you find. Encyclopedias give broad background, definitions, and history of subjects. You will begin to learn more. Or you could do a very broad search in Google, just to see what comes up. Follow a few links.
Stay aware and notice any synonyms, or names, or alternative terms that come up in these preliminary searches. As you go, keep a notebook handy, and make lists of potential related subjects or concepts that might help focus your research interests. Think about what you're discovering. Remember, it's a process. As you learn one thing, think about it. Is it the right direction you wish to go and explore further? Or is there something that you've read along the way that is a more appealing direction for your research? Stay flexible, don't be too quick to fixate on the very first thing you find.
Some students enjoy the process of concept mapping, or mind mapping. Mind mapping is a diagramming strategy to help you brainstorm and organize ideas. You start with a topic, and as you discover new ideas, terms, and information, you add branches to that central idea. Even your branches can have branches. By the end, you will have something that will assist you with knowing which direction your research should go. This can be drawn, or it can be done with free web-based software.
Lynda.com has a great course on this subject that will help you learn MindMeister. Once you finish your preliminary research, you can begin the actual research process that we will take you through in the rest of this chapter.
Artist or designer? Elsa explains how creative professionals can use informational searches for inspiration and professional development. Whatever your background, this course is designed to help you become a better, faster, and more thorough researcher.
- Understanding the information cycle
- Working with books, periodicals, databases, and web resources
- Identifying your information needs
- Choosing search terms
- Evaluating resources
- Citing sources