Friday, April 10, 2009

When Enough information is Enough?

Either doing literature reviews, creating presentation slides, or working on projects, students and faculty constantly struggle with not finding enough information or retrieving too much information. A while ago, I was asked when enough information is enough? Honestly, I also have this question in mind just that it didn't occur to me to summarize it. My answer is simple: it depends on what you need.

Say, you are writing an article or working on your PhD dissertation and you need to do a literature review to see what had been published on this area and if anyone has done similar research. Information can never be enough until you've exhausted all the resources. This has to be a thorough search to get everything relevant out into your plate.

Say, you are writing a grant proposal, you've got a few good articles. You were wondering whether you still need to spend more time looking for more articles. You might stop here if the information you got can provide adequate justification for your proposal.

Say, you are a student trying to research on a topic for your course assignment. You don't have to do a comprehensive search. A few good articles might help you get the work done beautifully.

Say, you are doing a research and you need to look for side effects or adverse reactions of a certain drug used on human beings. It is critical to search the literature comprehensively and properly to ensure you won't miss a single published report of side effects or adverse reactions related to the drug.

My points are:
  • Focus on what you are doing. If you don't know what you are doing, you will never know when information is enough.
  • Understand what you need. If you don't understand what you need, you will never know when information is enough.


Cynthia Russell said...

This is an excellent post about a question I hear a LOT from students. I also liken it to traveling. If you don't know where you're going, any route will get you there AND any place will probably be fine - you need a destination. Similarly, just as you pointed out in your post, we need to know what we are doing with the information before we can honestly judge when enough is enough. Thanks for this post!

Lin said...

Cindy, you are right. Thanks for the comment.