Tuesday, July 1, 2008

How Soon is Now?

or How to determine the extent of information needed (for anything!).

In Brenda Dervin's Sense Making the concept of information need is sometimes described as finding a bridge to get over a gap, gully, canyon, etc. (oversimplified, I'm sure). For example, when you need to find a bathroom, you don't need a dissertation length explanation of architecture, plumbing and historical perspectives on politeness. You just need to know where it is. The information in a pointed finger does the trick. You have crossed the gap. When you have a term paper assigned to you, the scope of your information needs are typically spelled out for you; 5 scholarly articles, 2 book chapters, etc.

The trick comes when you don't know how long it will take to get you to the 'other side' of the bridge. Experience plays a big part, but here's a brief primer that should help you determine how much info you need to succeed in any project.

1. Find general information first
2. Then find more specific information
3. Assess what you've found and weed out the unnecessary stuff
4. Process, and cross the gap!

1. Spend 10% of your time doing general information searching. Get a 'big picture' feel for the topic. [Encyclopedias, Dictionaries, the open web (google, wikipedia, etc.]

2. Now that you're an expert on the topic (generally speaking!), narrow your search and find very credible and focused information (scholarly journals, good books and even professional people to talk to (hey, like a librarian perhaps!). In this phase, you don't have to read the articles or books, just the descriptions.

2b. Once you have a pile of information, weed through them quickly. You are now able to read a page or two, but you're determining if this fits your needs or not.

3. You now have your reasonably right-sized pile of articles. Read up and write that paper.


1. Find information that describe all cars (magazines, internet sites, etc.) -from this you determine that you need a compact, fuel-efficient car that costs about $3000.

2. Find information on older compact cars (older magazines, more focused internet sites, personal interviews with people who have owned the car etc.

3. You may do step 2 and 3 at the same time for this topic, but ultimately you'll end up with a sizable set of links and articles about several viable options.

4. Read and interpret what all the information means, as opposed to your own opinions and you may quickly discover what car you should get. If you're like me, however, this last process will be painful and you'll have to cycle through steps 2 and 3 a few more times (not a problem and is part of the process).

(You just meet Standard #1 of the ACRL's Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education, which is (again) pretty awesome and academic of you.)

1 comment:

Adriana Parker said...

Nice reference to The Smiths, Dale.