Skip to main content

Guide to Information Retrieval LAB: Planning information retrieval


Information retrieval like near enough everything else is good to start by making a plan. Before you can start planning your information retrieval, you need to define your research topic. Ask yourself what do you already know about the topic? What are the central concepts and theories relating to the topic?

Once you've defined your topic, you should consider where look for the information. Is it generic or scientific information that you're after? Are there specialist databases that you could use or can you find what you're looking for through Google? You should also start thinking about keywords and subject terms that you could use in your search. You'll achieve the best results in your information retrieval by using precise and specific search terms.

Mind maps or concept maps are a good way to clarify to yourself what information you are looking for and where you may be able to find it. There are several free mind map applications available online.

Key concepts

Start with identifying the key concepts in your assignment. Once you've identified the key concepts, write them down, also write down related terms & concepts and synonyms. Use combinations of these terms for your search. For example if your topic was privacy management in social media services, your search term map could look like this: 

Keywords and Subject Terms in two minutes

Search tip

Remember to try alternative search words, for example: 

  • synonyms
  • acronyms 
  • different spelling 

Subject term thesauri

Subject terms are a set of terms or phrases that are used in libraries and databases to describe, classify and organize books, articles, digital and other content. Subject headings are pre-defined, they form a controlled vocabulary, so not all words are subject headings. 

You can use the subject heading thesauri to help you select the most appropriate terms for your search. With the help of thesauri you can easily choose alternative terms, narrow or broaden your terms which will affect your search results. Here are a few examples of thesauri:  

Additional help

Many library databases have their own thesauri that allow you to browse for subject terms you can use to search the database in question. Subject terms are assigned based on article content, allowing you to create a targeted search and find more precise results.