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WRIT 310: Professional Writing: What Am I Looking For?


The Information Ecosystem

How to Think About What You Are Looking For

1. What specific questions are you trying to answer? Be as specific as possible!

Example Topic: How Can Historical Societies Do Better Outreach?

  • Who works for historical societies?
  • Who are the people who use our local historical society?
  • What are effective marketing strategies for cultural heritage organizations?
  • What challenges do historical societies face?
  • Why? (you could wonder the answer is what it is to any of the above questions)

2. Who cares about these questions? Think about the answer for each sub-question you have individually.

  • Remember that there are lots of people who have a stake in a topic: those that study it, those that are affected by it, those who have personal experience with it. All of the stakeholders are important to consider. Each of them will have authority over parts of the question. 

3. What might the people who care about these questions have recorded/written down?

4. Where is this information and do you have access to it?


The Information Ecosystem

Unknowable Things:

Things might be unknowable (to you) because:

  • They weren't recorded at the time they happened or they haven't happened yet (Ex: what my grandma ate for dinner exactly 100 years ago today)
  • You do not have access to the information (Ex: top-secret military or company information)
  • You don't have the context to understand it (Ex: things that are written in a language you don't know or in-depth mathematical modeling)
  • All sorts of other reasons

Knowable Information

Examples of things that are knowable but not recorded (or written down):

  • How many students are in the library right now
  • Basically anything a researcher is doing research on
  • Why are your classmates taking this class?

Recorded Information

Examples of things that are recorded but not organized in a way that I can easily find what I want:

  • All of the papers in my apartment
  • That one random Tweet I thought was funny last week but don't remember who posted it
  • All of the cars that have registered to park anywhere in Newberg in the last 10 years

Organized Information

Examples of information that is organized in a way that I can easily find what I want:

  • Research articles in library databases
  • US Census data
  • A social media feed of a relevant person to my topic


Understanding Your Source Types