Plan your search

I need information. Where do I start?

Although today we all know that information is more accessible than a decade ago, that doesn't mean that it is easier to find. With the proliferation of online contents it is practically impossible to find all the existing sources of information. Internet has brought about the widespread use of search engines (Google, Yahoo, etc.) as tools for locating information among the immense labyrinth of existing Websites, but they are no guarantee that a search will be successful. In order to avoid a barrage of information, we need to plan our search before we start.


La mejor forma de empezar es pidiendo asesoramiento a un especialista en búsqueda de información. No olvides utilizar nuestro servicio:

Pregunta al CdD


Before you begin to search for the information you think you need it is important to consider certain questions which will enable you to identify the most appropriate sources.
You must try to narrow down your information need as much as possible, describe the problem in detail. Here are a series of questions that can help us:

  • Type of information: journal articles, statistical data, books, market surveys, projects, company listings...What do we need it for: to search for potential customers, suppliers, survey of competitors...
  • Geographical area: international, national, regional, local... This is especially important when we are looking for economic or statistical data and addresses.
  • Time coverage: since 1950, since 1970, in 2003, from 2000 to 2004…
  • Language: Spanish, Catalan, English, French, German...



I have planned my search, but ...

Clearly the planning constitutes the theoretical side of the search and when you put it into practice it doesn't always produce the desired results. You may not find enough information or on the contrary you might find too much for you to process. If you find yourself in such a situation then you will need to refine your search.

1) Too much information (Noise)
: you need to analyse and limit your search, based on your preliminary search results, towards information you consider more relevant or crucial. You will need to specify the following factors:

  • Criterion or sub-theme: refine the search to a more specific criterion than the initial search.
  • Chronology: reduce the chronological period, concentrate on more recent information or on a specific moment in which you consider the information was most relevant.
  • Geography: limit your search to a specific country or geographical area.
  • Keyword: use more specific keywords following your analysis of the initial search results.


2) Little information (Silence): a lack of search results may be due to different causes. You may have not planned your search properly or maybe the information does not exist or is very difficult to find. In these different cases you can consider:

  • The search is too specific: perhaps you have searched overly-specific aspects concerning the topic in question. If this is the case you can orient your search to a more general level in order to locate results that may have been excluded in the previous search.
  • Information is too novel: the information may be so recent that it does not appear in certain types of sources. In such cases you need to direct your search to sources that feature updated daily information, e.g. the Factiva database.
  • Wrong information sources: some information sources, such as databases or journals tend to contain specialised information on a particular subject. Before you start your search you need to always make sure that you are using a suitable information source.
  • The use of wrong terms: sometimes terms which we may consider to be common terms are not used as such in scientific literature (scientific slang). In this case you will need to consult glossaries, controlled vocabulary lists or to analyse the terms that come up in the search results in order to locate more appropriate terms.



I have found information. How can I know that it is reliable?


Because of the information explosion brought on by the Internet it is very important to assess the value of information. It is not the same to consult an author who has published an academic journal as it is to read what a surfer has posted on a blog, nor is it the same thing to consult a journal from a database as it is to consult a digital diary you have found through Google which you don't know where it comes from.


On the whole, we can rely on information published in an academic journal to be rigorous because it is usually reviewed by expert panels and on the other hand we should be aware that we must carefully assess free information we come across on the Internet. This is not to say that information that is freely available on the Internet is not rigorous but we need to need to be cautious and question it in order to determine its veracity. This entails reading the information in detail and using questions such as the ones outlined below in order to assess its veracity.



  • Find out who the author is. Find out whether they work for a university or research group or whether the person publishes on a freelance basis.
  • Find out who the publisher is. What kind of information they publish and who the publications are usually targeted at.
  • Analyse the publication. Find out whether it is an academic publication that has passed a peer review or another kind of publication which you have no references about.
  • The origin of the information. Determine whether the information comes from primary sources, from the author's own research study, or secondary sources, from the ideas and research work of a third party.



  • The premises of the information. The gathered information is pertinent to information search you have carried out. It is important to make sure that it is neither too general nor too specific.
  • The author's conclusions. Are these conclusions coherent?
  • The found information is limited to a single point of view or the author is trying to cover all aspects and present a comprehensive overview of the matter in question.
  • What type of information are you dealing with? Academic, general interest, professional, etc.; Is the source primary or secondary.
  • Who is the information targeted at? Researchers, managers, students, the general public.



  • Where has the information been published? Is it an academic, professional, general readership, school or any other type of publication?
  • Is it a peer-reviewed journal or book (reviewed by a panel of experts)?
  • Does the author cite references to the information sources they have used in the article? When information sources are cited (footnotes or bibliography) this gives credit to the publication because it is transparent about the data sources.



  • When was the information published? You need to consider the possibility that the information may be too outdated to be of use to you. In this respect, you need to take into account what discipline you are carrying out your search in because the degree of obsolescence of the information may vary depending on the knowledge area you are researching. Unless you are carrying out a retrospective research study you should consider the possibility of working with the most up-to-date information. It is always worth searching different types of information sources in order to find the latest information.


MIT LIBRARIES. Research Guide [Online]. Massachusetts : Massachusetts Institute of Technology, [200?]. Fecha de consulta: 08-09-2009. Disponible en: <>



Telephone Tel: +34 934 520 844 (Ext. 214)

E-mail Email: