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Bellville Library Information Point: Starting your Assignment

Recognize your information need

You'll know that you need information when you:

  • get a project/assignment from a lecturer
  • having a personal need that requires certain information before you can make a decision, e.g. buying a car.

Generally, whenever you are uncertain you could find information that will help you take the correct decision.

Remember that one needs information not just for study purposes, but for most decisions in everyday life. You make decisions every day, whether it is to buy a car, house or do a project or assignment. You need information to make good decisions.

For more information, go to Information Literacy Guide.

Defining Keywords

Once you have read generally about your topic, you should have a better idea of the keywords under which you will probably find information about your topic. So, before you can start your search, you should define your keywords accurately. The following steps will assist you in defining keywords:

1. Draw a mind map
Write down everything you know about your topic as well as what you would like to know!!! Our topic, for illustrative purposes, is "Aids in the workplace".

Identify keywords, concepts and terms on this topic. This will help you to identify areas that need more searching than others.

2. Select broader and narrower subject terms
Is there a broader or narrower subject that might include your topic, question or problem? You must identify as many as possible such broader and narrower terms. They will help you when you do your search. Using different words will retrieve different information, therefore use all possible options when you search for information.

3. Consider othe spellings
Look for other spellings of words during your reading on the topic. Certain words are spelled differently in British English vs. American English, for example:

British English American English
"s" in specialisation "z" in specialization
"ou" in colour "o" in color
"s" in organisation "z" in organization

There are many more of these. If your search terms include any such words, you will need to search on all the different variables to make sure you don't miss any important and relevant information.

Search Tips

Boolean Searching
Is based on Boolean Logic, which was developed by George Boole, a mathematician. It works with three operators, i.e.: AND, OR and NOT, that will help you to retrieve precisely the information you are looking for.

Note: Some systems require that you use capital letters for the AND, OR and NOT. Others may require that you enclose them in brackets, e.g. [AND] or <OR>, etc. Check the help pages of the system on which you search for these requirements.

For more information, go to Information Literacy guide.


Truncation means to cut off a point or to shorten. When used with keywords, it means to keep the stem of the key words and "cut" everything else away, leaving it out.

By using truncation you will get more search results.

For more information, go to Information Literacy guide.

Phrase Searching
Phrase searching is when you use a string of words (instead of a single word) to search with. Look at the following example:

You might be looking for information on teenage abortions. Each one of these words has a different meaning when standing alone and will retrieve many irrelevant documents, but when you put them together the meaning changes to the very precise concept of "teenage abortions". For the database to understand your search, you should put your phrase between brackets ( ) or inverted commas ". Type your search as follows:

"teenage abortions"

(teenage abortions)

  • Some databases will use the inverted commas and others the brackets. Look at the "Help" function of each database to see what you should use for that particular database.
  • Not all databases allow phrase searching. Look at the "Help" function of the database to find out.

By using phrase searching you will retrieve fewer results.