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Information Seeking Tutorial

Find background information

Your topic is, for example, fantasy literature. What is fantasy literature? How is it defined? Where do you start your search?

To search for background information you can use a wide range of electronic reference works and handbooks offered by the Turku University Library. Most of these are not freely available online.

Use reference works to search for background information:

Key concepts

Often the most neglected part of an initial analysis of any research topic is identifying the key concepts.

You should consider all possible ways of expressing the central ideas (concepts) of your topic at this stage. You will be better prepared to search a variety of databases and search tools, and ask better questions about the topic, if you develop your search vocabulary early and keep expanding and refining your list of synonyms, related terms, broader terms, and more specific terms.

Make a mindmap

Once you have picked your topic, you can use a mind map to generate key concepts and words related to your topic and represent their connections.

At the same time, you refine your topic and identify useful keywords for your search.

You can think about:

  • what are the key concepts related to your search
  • are there more specific concepts to narrow your topic
  • are there more general concepts to broaden your topic

Programs for generating mind maps

Example 1: Identifying key concepts

Example topic: Trends and changes in the Pacific Northwest's natural environment brought about by economic development during the last 30 years.

1. Look at the research question and pick out the main ideas.

  • Pacific Northwest
  • environment
  • economic development

Words like "trends," "changes," "effects," etc. are pretty meaningless in the scheme of most topics. Often, you will get this information (the trends, changes, and effects) by finding information on the topic anyway. So, overlook these kind of abstract terms.

Concept 1
Concept 2
Concept 3
Pacific Northwest environment economic development

As you might anticipate, identifying the key concepts of a research topic is at least as much "art" as "science". There are more likely choices than others, however. If you identified other concepts than what is mentioned above, it doesn't necessarily mean that you are "wrong".

Sometimes, depending on what database you are searching, you can ignore some of the concepts. For example, if we were to do a search on this topic in the database "GreenFILE
", we wouldn't perhaps have to worry about specifying the concept "environment", because it's inherent in every search in the database.

For a reasonable handle on your research, your topic should probably contain somewhere between 2 and 4 concepts.


The 'Key concepts' and 'Example 1: Identifying key concepts'  boxes are based on the LibGuide created by Washington State University Library.