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Research skills tutorial

Step 1 - Analyse the task

Recognise the need for information

We all have information gaps; holes in our knowledge about a particular topic.

These gaps inspire us to:

  • ask questions
  • seek accurate information or answers
  • become a lifelong learner

Once you know that you need information, you need to ask yourself, what information do I need? 

Analyse your topic to identify keywords

Image of instruction words, keywords, and limiting wordsLook at your assessment task and find the keywords; the significant words in the question (usually only two or three words or phrases).

To work out if it is a keyword, look at the word in the context of the topic. Words like 'advantages', 'influence' or 'relationship' may have many meanings in different contexts. They are not keywords, but they can tell you the nature of the information you need to find.

If you are unsure of the meaning of a word, use a dictionary to find the definition.

Consider these examples:

Task Instruction word Keywords Limiting words
Explain the concepts of lawful and unlawful discrimination in Australia. Explain Lawful discrimination
Unlawful discrimination
Discuss three in which exercise can improve the mental health of teenagers. Discuss exercise
mental health
three improvements

Identify limits to your search

Limiting words help you decide where to start and stop your research, such as:

  • time period (e.g. last two years)
  • location (e.g. Australia or Queensland)
  • type of information (e.g. statistics or critical review)
  • quality or standard (e.g. scholarly, academic or peer reviewed articles)
  • word limit for writing (e.g. a 500 word essay may require fewer sources than a 10,000 word essay)

Brainstorm additional keywords

Different authors use different words to describe the same thing, so use a thesaurus to find alternative keywords. It helps to write them down, whether as a list, table, concept map or pictures. You should consider:

  • synonyms (words that mean the same thing)
  • antonyms (words that mean the opposite)
  • related topics, broader topics, narrower topics
  • alternative endings for keywords (e.g. enjoying, happiness, joyful, satisfaction)
  • alternative spellings (e.g. organise, organize)
  • exact phrases

For example, if the keyword is mental health you might write down:

  • wellbeing (synonym)
  • depression, anxiety, mental illness (narrower)
  • self-esteem, wellness, confidence (related)

Duration 3:22

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