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How to Search

How do I identify my information need?

Welcome to this section where we will delve into the concept of information needs and the reasons why we seek them.

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Recognise what an information need is.
  • Introduce the idea of identifying keywords.
  • Gain an insight into various types of information.
  • Use Library Online to find information.

Identifying an information need

The first step is to identify the information need. This step involves understanding and clarifying what information or knowledge you are seeking to find. It is crucial to define your information need clearly to ensure that your search efforts are focused and effective.

If you are unsure about an assignment or project that you have been given, it may help you to speak to your lecturer or academic adviser.

Types of information

There are various types of information needs that individuals may have depending on their requirements. Here are a few common types of information needs:

  • Factual information: this involves finding specific facts, figures or data on a particular topic. It could include historical data, statistical data, scientific measurements, or any information that could be checked for accuracy.
  • Exploratory information: this is when you have a basic understanding of a topic but need to find further information to gain more detailed knowledge about it. Finding information involves building on your knowledge, so you can answer more complex questions.
  • Conceptual information: this involves needing to develop a deeper understanding of complex ideas. You could be looking for explanations, theories, models, or frameworks related to a particular idea or theory.

Glossary of assignment terms

An important part of identifying your information need for an assignment is being able to unpick exactly what you are being asked to do. Academic terms used in the assignment question - such as “contrast”, “describe”, or “evaluate” - can indicate the approach you should take. This glossary lists assignment terms and defines what they are asking you to do.


  • An information need involves understanding the specific information you require to fill a knowledge gap when given an assignment or project at University.
  • Identifying and defining keywords can help you to understand what you know and what you need more information about.
  • Information needs can vary in nature and can include factual, exploratory, and conceptual information.
  • Recognising and defining your information need is important so you can search effectively to find the information required for your work.

Adsetts Library
Collegiate Library

Sheffield Hallam University
City Campus, Howard Street
Sheffield S1 1WB