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Study Skills

Research

Many assignments will require you to find references or sources to help support and make your work more credible. This is part of the research process - finding out information from places besides your own knowledge.

Get Started

Spend your time gathering resources and information on your topic from a variety of sources, and remember to use the many resources available at the library. Once you have gathered a wide range of sources it can help you think about your ideas on the topic.

  • What do you think?
  • Why do they think this way?
  • What information is out there on this topic?

Sometimes it can be hard to know what a good credible reference is and what is not.


Good references:

  • Come from a trustworthy source (e.g.  scholarly article, university website, scientific journal, government website)
  • Aren’t too old (depends on the subject area, but usually look for information published within the last 5-10 years so it is current)
  • Try not to be biased (see views from all sides not just one) or are open about their biases
  • Are free of errors
  • Properly cite and source all of their references.


Bad references:

  • Come from a source with poor credibility such as Wikipedia
  • Are out of date
  • Are not objective and fair
  • Have errors
  • Do not cite where their information has come from.


Get organised

This is an essential part of an effective research strategy. Create a record of your strategy and your searches. This will prevent you from repeating the same searches and finding the same resources. You may also want to track and organise your citations and links.

Find background information

This will supply you with a broader context as well as important terminology in your topic. Excellent sources are those that are subject-specific such as the ones mentioned above. Always look at more than one source and compare for accuracy and bias.

Identify information

Figure out what information you need. A technique for doing this is turning your topic into a list of questions that need to be answered. This will help you identify the information you may need.

Determine keywords and concepts

You now need to determine what keywords you will be entering in your search engine. One way to do this is to extract keywords from the questions and phrases you produced in the previous steps. Then think of alternative words and phrases as everyone writes and talks in different ways.

Identify the scope

Identify the scope of your topic and put limitations on your searches. Examples of limitations could be the language, publication date and type. Every database has its own search engine and rules so you may need to do an ‘advanced’ search.  

Conduct searches

You are now ready to start conducting your searches. MIT has an extensive database that you can use full of different places to search for your research. Here are some other places that you can search through that are free:

Evaluate

You can evaluate your sources to find the most reliable and suitable one for your topic. Apply journalism’s Five W’s (and H).

Who: Who is the author and what are their credentials in the topic?
What: Is the material primary or secondary?
Where: Is the publisher or organisation behind the source considered reputable?
When:  Is the source current or does it cover the right time period for your topic?
Why: Is the opinion or bias of the author apparent and can it be taken into account?
How: Is the source written at the right level for your needs?

Analyse

Now is the time to analyse and adjust your research strategy. Did you find the information needed? If not, now is time to analyse why that happened. Try looking for additional background information that might supply you with extra terminology or keywords to use in searches. It may also be possible that the information you need is not available and you may have to consult an expert in the topic or a librarian.