Finding and using information is a process during which you establish, as widely and profoundly as possible, what has been written or what research has been carried out on your topic earlier. Finding information begins with getting a grasp of the subject, since you must have some idea on what topic and what kind of information you want to find. For example, do you need articles, statistics or official publications? Naturally, the information you need defines what information sources will be used. Familarizing yourself with the concepts and terminology used in the field of your research is also a very important phase in the process of information search.
Establishing at an early stage what information is needed speeds up the whole process, and makes it easier. Once you have clarified what kind of information is needed on the subject, and how and where that information can be obtained, then more precise planning of the information search can begin.
The initial search is where you commence with getting to know unfamiliar subject matter. Newspapers, news magazines, television, internet, discussion groups, encyclopedias, Google, Wikipedia etc. can be used here as information sources. They help you to get preliminary ideas about the subject you will be working on. These sources can be useful when trying to find search terms for database searches. It is a good idea to run these preliminary information searches in several databases which give either reference information for different types of documents, or offer direct access to publications. In this way, you receive good hints about the points of view from which the topic has been dealt with, and about which information sources would be the most suitable for your own information needs. From the relevant sources found in your initial search, you can gather further terms which describe the topic; these terms can be used in a later more precise and systematic information search. They are terms used by those people who have specialized in the topic and who provide descriptions of database contents.
An example of an initial search.
A news concerning European Union brain research project. You can find search terms from the text to search for more information about the project and its background. Image source: GlobalPost <http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/140731/human-brain-project-european-commission> 25.8.2014.
Google search for 'human brain project' retrieves links to the project home page and Wikipedia article for a more detailed description. You will also find suitable search terms. Image source: Google <www.google.fi>, Wikipedia <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Brain_Project> 25.8.2014.
You will find scientific article references from Google Scholar. The articles have different points of view to the subject. The terms used in them (e.g. neuroinformatics) can be utilized in the actual search. Image source: Google Scholar <www.google scholar.fi> 25.8.2014.
Choosing the databases for the search depends on the searcher's viewpoint to the subject. A test search from a medical data base PubMed retrieves 39 references of scientific articles with index term "human brain protein". The articles and terms used (e.g. neuromorphic computing) in them can be utilized in the actual search. Image source: PubMed <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/advanced> 25.8.2014
It is important for the execution of a search that the topic can be broken down into concepts. These concepts can then be used to construct mind-maps or concept maps.
Mind maps and concept maps
A mind map is a useful tool for analysing the topic and defining the search terms. The purpose of a mind map is to analyze your knowledge on the topic. The overall picture of the topic becomes clearer through creating a mind map, and in that way you may also acquire new search terms for future information searches.
There are computer programmes for making mind maps. Innumerable, either free or purchasable computer programmes can be acquired through the Internet. One example is the FreeMind free software programme http://freemind.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Main_Page.
A concept map is a more accurate way of mapping any topic. Apart from describing key words and concepts, a concept map also describes the relationships between the key words and concepts: what their cause and effect relationships are, and what the hierarchical order between the concepts is. There are also computer programmes which help with the construction of concept maps. For example the Cmap Tools freeware programme (http://cmap.ihmc.us/).
Image source: http://oak.kcsd.k12.pa.us/~iacs/concept_maps/concept.swf 20.10.2009