When you are looking for information for your assignment, the key steps include:
Planning your search
- Check what you are being asked to do by looking at the guidance notes in your module materials.
- Think about what you already know. Identify any gaps in your knowledge.
- Decide which words best describe your topic. Be focused and specific.
- Think about synonyms, or alternative terms, for your subject, for example, soccer or football, children or young people.
- What sort of information are you looking for? Do you need a basic introduction, a detailed explanation, or a set of statistics? Think about where you are most likely to find this. An online reference work might give you a basic introduction, a book may provide a more detailed explanation and a statistics database or journal article may be the place to find evidence.
- Decide where you are going to search. For example, will you use Library Search, a Library database or Google Scholar?
To learn how to focus your search using targeted keywords explore the 5 minute choosing good keywords activity.
- Be prepared to adapt your search as you go along. For example, use different search terms, or search a different collection.
- If you have too many results, add keywords to make your search more specific.
- If you find too few results, try removing words to make your search broader.
- Most search tools allow you to filter your search results by subject or type of resource. This will make your search results more relevant and reduce the number you need to look through.
- Would it help to limit your search to a particular section of the document or resource? If you are searching for a particular author, for example, limit your search to the author field. Or search for a topic in the subject field. This is called field searching. Try it with one search term first to build your skills.
The filtering information quickly activity has useful tips on narrowing your search results.
Where to search
Using Library Search
- Library Search will search across many library resources at the same time.
- If you know the name of the ebook, database or journal you need, enter the title into library search. If it is available in the library, it should appear near the top of the search results.
- If you are looking for a particular article within a journal, try searching for the article title.
- The search results page provides ways to 'Filter my results'. You can limit your search by date, author, subject, journal title, language or collection. This is a good way to focus your search.
We offer regular online training sessions on Using Library Search for your assignment.
Evaluating what you find
A quick way of judging the quality and relevance of a source, is to ask:
- Who is the author? Who put the information there (who owns the site)? What authority or expertise do they have in this area?
- Why was the source created?
- When was the source last updated?
For journal articles, peer review is a good sign of academic quality. You should still carry out your own evaluation to be sure the information meets your needs.
Evaluating in more depth
The PROMPT framework is useful when you want to evaluate sources in more depth. PROMPT stands for Presentation, Relevance, Objectivity, Method, Provenance and Timeliness.
The Evaluation using PROMPT activity provides more information.
Keeping track of what you find and acknowledging your sources
It is a good idea to record details of what you find, and where and when you found it. This will make it easier to reference your sources correctly and retrace your steps if you need to.
For more guidance see the Referencing and plagiarism page.
These steps will get you started, to develop your skills further see Finding information on your research topic.