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Effectively working with a patron during the reference interview phase is critical to gain an understanding of the explicit and implicit aspects of a given reference question.  Establishing a search strategy, locating appropriate information sources, effectively using those sources, understanding where to turn for additional assistance, deciding what to provide the patron to meet their information needs, and reflecting on how each search can be useful to the next one involves translating the reference question into a systematic plan of action.

Dr. Anne Zarinnia promotes Bunge's Classifying the Question as a tool to achieve these ends.  To summarize this technique, it is useful to classify questions before starting a search.  Think of each reference request in terms of:

  1. Topic and viewpoint in terms of time, space, people and fact.
  2. Time frame:  now or later?
  3. Quick answer or in-depth?
  4. Easy or challenging?
  5. What other questions like this have I handled?
  6. What do I already know about this topic?
  7. Do specific type sources come to mind?
  8. Will the answer require  description, narration, summation, analysis, persuasion, or encyclopedic approach?
  9. Does the structure of the information requested suggest geographic, histroic, biographic, generic, or specific topical analysis?
  10. What specific sources come to mind?
  11. Formulate a search strategy.
  12. Develop alternative strategies.
  13. Identify antonyms and homonyms.
  14. Will it be possible to work the problem backwards?
  15. Are any analogies or metaphors helpful?

These considerations result in being able to apply previous experience and knowledge to a new problem solving activity.

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