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Searching for information

In this article, you consider what information is needed in order to research more efficiently from all different sources available.
© University of Reading

You will need to search for information for your essay. If you are on a university course, you may be given a reading list with essential or recommended reading material including books, chapters in books, articles or webpages. You will also need to search for information from other sources.

Remember that when you are reading you need to bear in mind your purpose for reading, and what ideas you already have about the topic.

When looking for information, think about:

  • your purpose for reading: What is the title of your assignment?

  • your own ideas: What do you already know about the topic?

Before you start, it’s a good idea to spend five minutes just thinking about your topic. This will help you to search for information more efficiently.

  • What information do you already know?

  • What information do you want to know?

  • Where are the gaps in your understanding?

  • Do you need to find evidence, perhaps in the form of statistics, to support points you want to make?

For your essay question:

“Evaluate the success or failure of the World Bank’s approach to promoting water privatisation in the global south”

the questions could be:

  • What is water privatisation?

  • Why is water being privatised?

  • What is the World Bank’s role in water privatisation?

  • How successful has the World Bank’s approach been?

Do you have answers for these questions or do you need to do some reading to find answers and form your own viewpoint?

Here are some different sources of information you can use.

Information source Explanation
Books/ textbooks Books/ textbooks are often based on years of scholarly research, but can be difficult to access quickly.
Websites and search engines eg Wikipedia, Google Scholar Websites and search engines provide quick and easy access to a large amount of useful data, but the quality of this information is extremely variable, and it can often be time-consuming to identify useful sources from many results in a search engine.
Government or official documents Government or official documents are often on open access through websites and generally provide factual and reliable information.
Newspapers or magazine articles These can be a good starting point if you do not know about the topic, and want to build your knowledge, but not recommended as essay sources. However they sometimes include links to more authoritative and unbiased sources.
Academic journals Academic journals are also based on research, but unlike a book, an article does not take so long to publish, so academic articles are good resources for up-to-date research findings. Most academic articles have an abstract, which gives a short overview of the whole article. Reading abstracts is a useful way to identify if an article is useful or not for your purpose. For more information on abstracts download this revision guide.
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