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Nursing - Information Literacy

Developing Your Research Question/Topic

Research always starts with a question, but the success of your research also depends on how you formulate that question. If your topic is too broad or too narrow, you may have trouble finding information when you search. When developing your question/topic, consider the following:

  • Is my question one that is likely to have been researched and for which data have been published? Believe it or not, not every topic has been researched and/or published in the literature.
  • Be flexible. Consider broadening or narrowing the topic if you are getting a limited number or an overwhelming number of results when you search. 
  • Discuss your topic with your professor and be willing to alter your topic according to the guidance you receive.

Developing the Question

When first beginning a literature search, you must decide:

What kind of information you are looking for?

  • Information in popular periodicals such as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal? Often articles in these popular periodicals can lead you to references to the scholarly literature.
  • Information that has been aggregated from many sources (such as a textbook)? (Even in a recently published book, information may be at least 3-5 years old.)
  • Information in scholarly journal articles? This is the place to find the most recently published research evidence. (A PICO(T) question is usually answered by accessing the scholarly journal literature.)
  • Ready reference information: a fact, a definition, a short description, drug side effect, etc.?

What aspects of your topic are you interested in?

  • Are you interested in the historical, ethical, psychosocial, or policy aspects of the topic? Or are you interested in the clinical/biomedical aspect of the topic?

How much information are you looking for?

  • What is the scope of your project?
  • Do you want several recent articles on the topic?
  • Are you writing a paper and just need some background information plus some recent information (from journals)?
  • Are you writing a dissertation?
  • What level of evidence do you require? Are you looking for evaluated, peer-reviewed, scholarly sources? Do you want information appropriate for clinical application? *Remember critical appraisal must come first!*

While this short video (3 minutes) from The University of British Columbia Library is not specific to nursing, it does offer helpful advise for broadening or narrowing a topic: