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Information gathering techniques

The following are ways to collect quality information before making an IT investment.

Library and document research

Many information management problems and proposed IT solutions are not unique. Organizations and project teams can benefit greatly from the experience of others in both government and in the private sector. In addition, researchers have conducted and documented many studies that can offer insight into your project and ways to approach it. Information about all these kinds of experiences is published in periodicals, books, journals, or databases.

What are they?

Systematic searches of print and electronic publication sources. The purpose of these searches is to identify, review, analyze, and evaluate material that might inform thinking about a problem facing your organization.

Library-based searches. A quick consultation with a reference librarian at the outset will help you focus the search, identify the most relevant print and electronic access tools, and be sure that you aren't overlooking any new information sources. You may want to access the library's magazine holdings, databases, newspaper articles, or government documents section in addition to looking a professional journals and books.

Subscriptions. Many professionals subscribe to periodicals or news services that help them stay on top of developments in their fields. Electronic news services are becoming increasingly popular and deliver daily or weekly summaries to you e-mail in box, often with links to more complete stories.

What are they good for?

Identifying best practices. A good review of relevant publications should help you uncover some best practices, as well as analytical and theoretical frameworks.

Learning more about possible solutions. Your review should reveal something about current "state of the art" solutions that may help you solve your agency's problem.Research journals in particular should present objective evaluations of the performance of a given management strategy or technology.

Identifying potential expert advisors. There are probably a number of organizations and individuals whose experience you can draw on for advice or consultation. Use your library and document review to identify these possible advisors. Also look for organizations that may allow you to see in operation the particular technology, or process , that you are considering.

Avoiding mistakes. The more you learn about the potential pitfalls in system design or implementation, the easier it is to avoid them.

Identifying potential partners and vendors. Use this kind of research to identify locate partners in government and academia, as well as potential vendors and consultants.

Some limitations and considerations

Need to define correct scope, key words. One of the keys to effective and efficient literature reviews is identifying an appropriate search scope and key words. Starting too narrowly is often more effective than starting too broadly. If the scope is too narrow and nothing can be found, you can easily make your search less specific. This is far preferable to wading through hundreds of potentially unrelated documents in hopes that one or two relevant items will surface.

Time lags. There is often a substantial time lag between the completion of a document or report and its appearance in print. For scholarly paper-based journals, this can be as long as 24 to 36 months between submission of the finished manuscript and its publication. Electronic peer-reviewed journals involve a much shorter time lag.

Basic research skills are needed. The organization of indexes, abstracting journals, library catalogs, etc. is complex, and the inexperienced searcher can easily overlook relevant material or sources.

For more information

Gerstenfeld, S. "Chapter 6: Literature Review," in "Handbook for IQP Advisors and Students". [ Dead Link ] [accessed June 11, 2003]