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Engineering Design and Practice Sequence (EDPS)

Information Resources and Management for Engineering Design and Practice Sequence (EDPS)

From Information Need to Research Question

Taking your lack of knowledge and turning it into a search topic or research question starts with being able to state what your lack of knowledge is. Part of this is to state what you already know. It’s rare that you’ll start a search from absolute zero. Most of the time you’ve at least heard something about the topic, even if it is just a brief reference in a lecture or reading. Taking stock of what you already know can help you to identify any erroneous assumptions you might be making based on incomplete or biased information. If you think you know something, make sure you find at least a couple of reliable sources to confirm that knowledge before taking it for granted.

Why do we need information?


Defining a research question can be more difficult than it seems. Your initial questions may be too broad or too narrow. You may not be familiar with specialized terminology used in the area of your design project.

Research questions are developed from the relevant project context and also from the preliminary information you were able to acquire. You should be aware of possible alternative directions for your design project, depending on how you were able to start your design approach. Depending upon your familiarity with the design area, reading through some of the existing information can also provide you with commonly used terminology, which you can then use to state your own research question, as well as to conduct searches for additional information.

Formulate your research questions and then your needed information, taking the following into consideration:

  • New information and data are constantly being produced and there is always more to learn
  • Being an informed engineer involves developing a learning habit so that new information is actively being sought on an ongoing basis
  • Ideas and opportunities are created by investigating/seeking information
  • The scale of the world of published and unpublished information and data is enormous

When you realize that you have an information need, it may be because you thought you knew more than you actually do, or it may be that there is simply new information you were not aware of. One of the most important things you can do when starting to research a topic is to scan the existing information landscape to find out what is already out there. The scale of information available varies according to topic, but, in general, it is safe to say that there is more information accessible now than ever before.  Due to the extensive amount of information available, part of becoming more information literate is developing habits of mind and of practice that enable you to continually seek new information and to adapt your understanding of topics according to what you are looking for.