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Assessing a Medical/Health Information Need: Home

Needs Assessment

The first step in any search for information is a needs assessment.  This small investment of time at the beginning of a search will save a great deal of time in the long run.  Needs assessment is a careful consideration of the questions "What kind of information do I need?" and "Where might I find such information?"  Every information need has two types of components:

  • Subject components that address the topic of the information needs, such as "prevention of knee injuries in high school athletes" or "the role of patient education in preventing complications in high-risk pregnancy".
  • Format components that relate to the type of information needed, such as review articles, books, items published in the last five years, etc.  This formation can be determined based on the type of information needed (such as cutting edge information or background knowledge) or by an outside factor (such as a professor requiring research articles).

Remember that there are no "right" or "wrong" ways to search, just more or less efficient.  In addition to a good information needs assessment, another key to an effective search is an understanding of the available information tools.  It is important to select the right tool (such as searching the library catalog to find books or searching a database to identify articles), and to understand and use the special features of the selected tool (such as subheadings and limits).  This guide will help with these issues. 

Questions? Considerations and Suggestions
  What information do I
 Write down your information need in narrative form.  Consider the type of information you need: background, current, statistical, etc.
  What is the main topic?  Identify the key topic(s) of your search.
  Can this main concept be
  represented by any other
 Generate synonyms for your key topic(s).
  What are the supporting

  Consider aspects such as therapy, diagnosis, etiology, etc.
  Consider also population, such as infants, baby boomers, African-Americans,
  women, etc.

  Can the supporting concepts be represented  by  any other terms? Or by a feature of the system?

  Generate sysnonyms for your supporting concepts.  If you already have an idea of which resources you will use, consider features of the system (subheadings, limits).
  What format is needed?
  Can a feature of the system represent this?
  Consider internal and external determinants of the format.  (See above for more
  information on format components.)

Once the need has been assessed, then an appropriate informtion resource must be selected.  See the tab that provides an overview of the types of resources that can be used to find specific kins of informtion.  If you need additonal assistance, consult the Getting Library Help @ Mulford guide. Also, see the online tutorial Assessing an Information Need.

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