Sources and Information Needs
Information needs are why you need sources. Your interactions with sources as you complete your research project will help you meet those needs.
Here are some those of the information needs you may have:
- To learn more background information.
- To answer your research question(s).
- To convince your audience that your answer is correct or, at least, the most reasonable answer.
- To describe the situation surrounding your research question for your audience and explain why it’s important.
- To report what others have said about your question, including any different answers to your research question.
Needs and Final Products
The verbs in the list of information needs above tell you exactly how you’ll use sources to carry out your research and create your final product: to learn, answer, convince, describe, and report. But you won’t be doing any of that alone. Your sources will give you information with which to reason. They’ll also give you direct quotationss and information to summarize and paraphrase as you create your final product. In other words, your sources will support you every step of the way during your research project. Background information may seldom appear directly in any final product. But meeting each of the other information needs will result in written sections of a term paper. For other final products, you’ll have the same needs and will use sources to meet them, but not all needs will result in a section of your final product.
EXAMPLE: Final Products & Information Needs
On a poster about your own original research, you aren’t likely to have room to describe the situation surrounding your research question and why the question is important or to report what others have said about your question. But that doesn’t mean you didn’t meet those needs and others as you carried out your research—unlike a term paper or journal article, the poster format just has more limited space.
More specifically, in order to justify doing the research to yourself and your professor, you will start by meeting the information need to describe the situation and why it is important. (Your instructor may or may not have you turn in that justification.) And in order to do research based on what has already been found out, you will study what others have already reported. Since every discipline requires its researchers to follow particular conventions when conducting and reporting research so as to produce results that are believable, you also will try to meet the need to convince your audience by your choice of what you report about your research after reading in sources how others have used the conventions for your discipline.
Because there are several categories of sources, the options you have to meet your information needs can seem complex. A good rule of thumb is to pay attention to when only primary or secondary sources are required to meet a need and to when only professional and scholarly sources will work. If your research paper is in the arts, also pay attention to when you can or must use popular sources.