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Assignment Help: Research skills

Table of contents

Step 1 - Analyse

Step 2 - Translate

Step 3 - Pre-search

Step 4 - Search the catalogue

Step 5 - Search databases

Step 6 - Search the Web

Step 7 - Evaluate information

Step 8 - Collect and cite your references

Step 1 - Analyse

When you are given a written assessment, read through it carefully.

Are you being asked to:

  • Compare? Review? Discuss? 
  • Contrast? Summarise? Explain?

Circle the 'action' words so that they stand out. Note the number of words required, whether a certain number of references are expected, the format in which to submit it (emailed? handed in? upload to Blackboard?) and the date due.


Step 2 - Translate

This is the fun part. What are the keywords or concepts in this assessment: Write a 500 word essay on the topic:

What might be the effects of the carbon tax on small and medium size enterprises (SMEs)?

Think of synonyms for the main concepts:

effects > consequences, outcomes

carbon tax > carbon price

SME > small business or medium business

Step 3 - 'Pre-search'

Use online tools like and to confirm the meanings of any keywords.

All campus libraries have specialised subject encyclopedias that are a good source of introductory material.

More about search techniques here.

Research strategy

Step 4 - Search the library catalogue

Searching the catlogue is easy!

Remember, the catalogue lists books, DVDs, videos, and titles of journals.

If you are seeking articles from journals, you will need to look in several databases, Step 5.

More about catalogue searching here.

Step 5 - Search databases

Tips for searching databases:

Use very specific keywords when searching for information
Select full-text when conducting your search
Include a date range to ensure up to date information, eg. 2007-2012
Read the abstract to see if the article is relevant
Take the time to watch the online tutorial for the database of your choice


If you find a good, representative article, note the subject headings for that article. Use those headings when you search again.

More about database searching here.

Step 6 - Search the Web

No search engine covers the entire Web! They all have different ways of searching so use more than one search engine to ensure a thorough search. As well as Google, try Yahoo Web Search or Dogpile, a meta-search engine.

Step 7 - Evaluate your information

There are many excellent websites that teach how to evaluate information. Start with Central's tutorial here.

One of the oldest, and one of the best, is Evaluating Web Pages: Techniques to apply & questions to ask from UC Berkeley.

Subject based tutorials may be found at the Virtual Training Suite. Just scroll down to your choice.

Try YouTube's list of tutorials here.

Step 8 - Collect and cite your references

Your work is not finished until you've correctly attributed (provided a reference for) every source you have used in your assignment. Remember that it's always better practice to keep a list of your references as you write the paper.


We acknowledge Central Institute of Technology for allowing some of their guide content to be adapted for use in this guide.