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Library Subject Guides

Philosophy: Assignment Research


This guide to basic assignment research outlines a simple but effective approach to finding information for your assignment. It is based on the resources described elsewhere in this subject guide and on the UC Library web site. Depending on your topic and your level of study, you may need to rearrange or review these steps where necessary

Check the rest of this subject guide carefully for additional subject resources and, where available, appropriate topic guides

See Also

1. Define your topic

It might seem obvious, but the first step is to make sure you understand the topic.

1) Identify the main concepts or keywords in your question to help you develop a search strategy.

2) Work out why the topic is being been offered. Is it:

controversial ? complicated? what makes the topic interesting?

2. Gather background information

Use dictionaries and encyclopaedias to find definitions and background information. Articles from specialized subject encyclopedias are authoritative and often substantial

3. Think about what information you need

  • How much information do you need? Lecturers often give guidelines on the number of sources you should use.
  • Do you need current information or is older material relevant? Sometimes you might need both, as you might have to give both the historic background and the current thinking on a topic.
  • Do you need primary sources that give an original accounts from the time and place, or secondary sources which are interpretations of someone else’s work?

If you do not understand what you have to do for an assignment, ask your lecturer, your tutor or someone at the Pokapū Pūkenga Ako | Academic Skills Centre.

4. Find books

Books and Ebooks via MultiSearch

The Library Catalogue lists books held in the Library's collection. Hints for searching the library catalogue:

  • Check for books by course code (about High Demand )
  • Use Title, Subject and Keyword searches to find additional material.
  • When you find a useful title, click on its subject headings to find books on similar subjects.
  •  Browse the library shelves in the classification sequence for Philosophy.
  • Browse the catalogue Call Number (LC) index, for example BJ 1012 (general works on ethics).
  • NB. Since 2024 the library catalogue only includes books and ebooks purchased by UC Library. It omits hundreds of thousands of ebook titles ‘leased’ through library subscriptions, which are listed on MultiSearch. The library catalogue has more functional search and sorting capabilities than MultiSearch, all the same.

5. Find journal articles

The catalogue lists journal titles, but not the titles of the articles inside the journals. To find these you’ll need to search the recommended databases for Philosophy.
If you can’t find the kind of information you want on these databases, ask a subject librarian – we can help you choose the right database and the right keywords to use.

6. Find information on the Internet

 The internet has a lot of information, but not all of it is useful or reliable. Consider the source of the page. Suitable sources are

  • a government department
  • an academic or university department
  • a research institute

Use the Advanced Search features of Google to restrict your search to results from more reputable sources.

Some sites for Philosophy can be found here.

Do not use articles directly from Wikipedia, although you can use its content (e.g. keywords or phrases) to search for other sources.

Use Google Scholar to find academically reliable journal articles. Adjust the Scholar Preference to recognise the University of Canterbury, and you will get full text whenever it is available through our library subscriptions.

For information on evaluating websites, see


7. Analyse your sources

Learning how to determine the relevance and authority of a given resource for your research is one of the core skills of the research process.

For information on analysing sources, see


8. Cite your sources

 Look professional and keep out of trouble by citing all the sources of information you use in your essay, using a recognised referencing style.

9. Write your assignment

The Library has some useful writing guides for this subject area.