Defining the information need

The need for information, i.e. a learning task or a problem that needs a solution, forms the basis of information retrieval. It is not always a simple task to define the information need since it may be hard to define the topic at hand or parse it into an exact question, and since the information retrieval systems and forms of publication are very varied. This is why you as an information seeker have to be able to handle a certain degree of uncertainty and try out different methods for seeking information.

Considering the quality and quantity of the needed information in relation to available information sources is the core of planning your information search, along with the following questions:

  • which subject do you need information about?
  • for what purpose do you need information?
  • what does the subject include, what does it not?
  • what is the main point of the subject?
  • which approach are you taking to the subject?
  • what do you already know about the subject?
  • do you need general or scientific information?
  • how old should the information be?
  • in which language should the information be?

Your answers will define your information need and steer you towards a successful method for solving your information-seeking problem.

In the following chapters, we will look at which information retrieval methods, information retrieval channels and information sources are most suitable for different situations.