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Information Literacy Research Skill Building: Question Analysis

This guide contains information literacy instructional materials based on the ACRL Information Literacy Standards.


Question Analysis



In this module, you will begin to consider the more practical agenda of accessing information. We have had a glimpse of the overall concept of the information landscape and have seen how scholars communicate with each other, and what kinds of information sources they use and produce.

Examine your own research scenario, and think about how your library-based research should proceed. With an eye to various perspectives and possibilities, you will begin to identify all the promising and relevant information sources.

Developing a Research Strategy

One of the natural tendencies we all have when we receive an assignment calling for research is to immediately rush to the library or our personal computer, search the library catalog with a few obvious key words describing the topic, and then wonder why we find too much information, none at all, or a strange mix of relevant and irrelevant sources.

Both research and experience show that experts in any area spend more time initially representing a problem and developing a high-level "mental sketch" of it before plunging into the specifics of solving the problem itself.

Learn to develop the skills to help you form a "mental sketch" of your project so that you can conduct research in a more expert-like manner -- and with more confidence.

Research Scenario

Let's say you are interested in researching, "the major trends and changes in the Pacific Northwest's natural environment brought about by economic development over the last 30 years."

How many disciplines can you think of that might be interested in this still timely issue? information producers? time frame? information types? main concepts?

Make some notes before you proceed to the next sections to compare your ideas to the possible answers presented on the following pages:

Academic Disciplines

Producers, Information Types, Formal / Informal

Time Frame


Summary (see below)




Question analysis, as its name suggests, is a schema for analyzing any research topic by applying certain high-level frames to the topic so that specific information resources can be identified.

You do not need to remember large numbers of titles of databases, reference books, directories, or other sources from this course; but you do need to remember this schema because it applies, over and over, to most topics that you might be researching in your course work.

As you begin your own research, reflect on how question analysis can assist you in framing the context for your project.
  1. Disciplines likely to be interested in the topic
  2. Producers of the information
  3. Time frame - current, retrospective, specific year, specific decade or other span of time
  4. Types of information needed-bibliographic, full text, statistics, graphical
  5. Main Concepts and search terms
  6. Formal and/or informal sources
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