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The Strategic Guide to Quality Information in Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Mathematics, Medicine, Physics, and Psychology

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Information Strategy--Step 1: Define

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You may be working with a topic that has been assigned to you as part of a college or high school class project or a topic that you have chosen as part of an project.

Step 1 of the Strategy involves deciding what you actually want to find out about this topic, and how you will use any information that you eventually gather. Basically, you will be creating a question that you will answer, and you will back up your answer with evidence.

In order to do that, you need to take a few minutes and think about what you hope to accomplish.

For example, for a class project, you might ask yourself the following questions:
  • What kind of an assignment have I been given?
    • Is my paper expected to be of a certain approximate length (2-3 pages, 5-7 pages, 7-10 pages, 20-30 pages, etc.)?
    • Or, how long is my presentation expected to last (5 minutes, 15 minutes, 20-30 minutes, etc.)?
    • Has my teacher asked me to use certain types of information (for instance, research-oriented/scholarly or primary sources rather than popular press or secondary sources)?
    • What is the purpose of the assignment?
    • What is the expected audience?

  • Given the above, is the topic I have appropriate for the project? Do I need to make the topic more specific? Or, do I need to expand it?
    • To do that, do I need to learn more about the topic? Do I understand all the concepts involved?
    • Do I need to find out what is already known about my topic in order to best create a question that hasn't yet been asnwered; or, to find a question that has already been answered but which I can try to confirm? Yes, you will usually need to do this; this is important.
    • Will I need to gather different kinds and formats of information to answer my question (along with what my teacher asks me to use)? Statistical data, reviews, secondary information, primary information, audio files, video files, etc.?

Step 1 of the Strategy will decrease the amount of time you spend gathering information (by focusing your efforts) and help increase the amount of time you will have to evaluate and use the information you have gathered to answer your question--write your paper and prepare your presentation.

Questions? Please let me know.

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Updated September 2016
Kevin Engel (
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