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Assessing an Information Need: Start Here

Need information? To save yourself time and frustration, the first step is figuing out what you need and where to find it.

The First Step

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

Subject components address the topic of the information need, 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

Format components relate to the type of information needed, such as review articles, systematicreviews, items published within the last five years, etc. The format 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 it is important to understand and use special features of the selected tool (such as subheadings and limits). This guide will help with these issues.