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Agriculture and Bioresources 492/494: Tutorials for Finding and Evaluating Information Sources

This guide contains two modules designed to assist 492/494 AgBio students in contributing to the scholarly conversation in their fields, and finding and retrieving relevant and credible information.

Looking Carefully at Your Research Topic/Question

Do you know what happens when you start to look for information without doing some groundwork? It's like looking for treasure without a good map. Careful preparation, including critically examining your research topic or question, will result in the building blocks needed to assemble a robust map and then find that treasure!

Before heading to the library databases to search for scholarly information pertaining to your topic, it is good to sit down and think about what you are looking for. Write your research topic or question down and determine the main concepts. The main concepts will use language taken directly from the topic or question. Then, think about what other terms (synonyms or related terms) might be used for the main concepts. There is no one right way to do this, and there need not be related terms for every concept. You do not have to search for every single related term you have come up with. You just want to make sure you are not missing an important alternative concept that a researcher might use to describe an element of your topic or question. Here is an example of a research topic broken down by your librarian.

  1. First of all, what are you looking for? Write down your thesis topic or research question.

Example: Using field management techniques to control fusarium head blight in wheat.

  1. Look carefully at all the words and terms, and decide which are the main concepts of the topic.

Example: Using field management techniques to control* fusarium head blight in wheat.
*words like control do not mean much by themselves but it is useful to think of other ways to describe them to be used after searching the more obvious concepts.

  1. Then, think of other terms - synonyms or related concepts - for the concepts that are directly from your topic. You may want to create a table or matrix to keep track.


Main Concepts→ 

Field Management Techniques

Fusarium Head Blight


Synonyms and related terms ↓





stubble management




soil management

Fusarium graminearum

Hard red spring


crop selection


-could be more here


Your librarian came up with these synonyms and related terms by exploring the main concepts online. There may be other synonyms or related terms. Here is some description about determining these related terms:

  • Field management techniques is a broad term for narrower specific activities. It could be the case that some of these narrower activities have been studied by scientists, and so you don't want to miss the specifics.
  • Fusarium Head Blight: a crop disease that often goes by common or vernacular names, such as scab, or by its initials. The vernacular names may be regional, so keep on the lookout during the search for other terms that could describe this disease.
  • Wheat: always think about a plant's Latin name, as well as the different varieties it might come by.

The importance of preliminary work


Practice extracting the main concepts and creating some synonyms and related terms with your own thesis topic. Create a table or other document so you can arrange the concepts in a way that makes sense for you. As stated earlier, there is no one right way to do this. You want to make sure you are not missing any important terms so that when you are searching for information, you don't miss significant documents.