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Defining an Information Problem. 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 ”. The problem. Imagine that your library…

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an information problem
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”
the problem
The problem

Imagine that your library…

  • Has the information sources requested by the MP
  • Has effective locating & finding tools
  • Has qualified and self motivated librarians, researchers, IT personnel etc…

Why does the MP fail to get the information she wants from the library?

articulating an information problem
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:

  • Understanding the topic
    • What are different aspects of the topic?
    • What terminology is used?
    • What are related topics?
  • Assessing information need
    • What is the information for?
    • What do I know already?
    • What do I need to know?
  • Formulating search strategy
    • Where will I look?
    • What keywords/search terms will I use?
why define an information problem
Why define an information problem?

What are the benefits of clearly defining the information problem before starting to search for information?

1 understanding the topic
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 question

1. Understanding the topic (cont.)

  • What sources can you use to familiarise yourself with a new topic?
reference sources
Reference sources
  • Web based/print reference tools
    • Encyclopaedias
    • Dictionaries
    • Thesauri
    • Directories
  • Online Catalogues – for titles or subject areas
  • Online abstract databases – for abstracts, titles or subject areas
    • Biological & environmental research abstract databases (
internet resources
Internet resources
  • Search Engines
    • Google
    • Alta-Vista
  • Information gateways
    • ELDIS (
    • Intute (
    • www virtual library general (
    • www virtual library – environment (
promotional materials
Promotional materials
  • Guides
  • Brochures
  • Newsletters (e.g. UNEP newsletters)
  • Fliers
  • Colleagues
  • Subject experts
  • Researchers
  • Consultants
  • Academics
  • Librarians
    • Reference librarians
    • Subject librarians
2 assessing information needed
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?
  • What sort of information are you looking for?
    • Specific information, e.g. a fact, figure or date
    • Quotation
  • Information already known
    • What do you know about this topic/question?
  • Information not known
    • What don’t you know about this topic/question?
assessing information need exercise
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 why!
  • 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.
3 developing a search strategy
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
identifying keywords search terms
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
mind mapping
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 terms




Mining residues






Solid Waste

exercise mind maps
Exercise: Mind maps
  • Create a mind map of one of the following topics:
    • Malaria
    • The World Cup
    • Reggae music
    • Africa
hints in developing concepts
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
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