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Essay / Assignment research process
This page gives you 9 tools for finding and using information for your essay.
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
2) Work out why the topic is being offered, and what makes the topic interesting. Is it:
controversial? complicated? does it require comparisons?
3) What parts of the topic do you already know plenty about? Where are the gaps in your understanding or knowledge?
Answering the above questions will help you formulate a search strategy.
Reading about the topic will give you further ideas -you may want to come back and define your topic a little more later.
2. Gather background information
Use dictionaries and encyclopaedias to find definitions and background information. Articles from specialized subject encyclopaedias 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 original accounts or reviews from that time, or secondary sources which are interpretations of someone's work? Or both?
If you don't understand what you have to do for an assignment, ask your lecturer, your tutor or staff at the Learning Skills Centre.
4. Find books
Search the Library catalogue:
- Check for books on High Demand.
- Use Title 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 Cultural Studies.
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 Cultural Studies
Read more on:
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
- an academic or university department
- a research institute
Use the Advanced Search features of Google to restrict your search to results from reputable sources.
Do not use articles directly from Wikipedia, although you can use its content (eg keywords, phrases, associations of ideas) to search other sources.
Use Google Scholar to find reliable journal articles. Adjust the Google Scholar Preferences to recongnise the University of Canterbury, and you will get full text whenever it is available through our library subscriptions.
7. Evaluate your sources
References recommended on reading lists will already have been evaluated for quality. You'll need to evaluate sources that you find yourself. The quality of your information has an effect on the quality of your assignment.
Read more on:
8. Cite your sources
Look professional and keep out of trouble by citing all the sources of information you use in your essay, using the appropriate citation style.
Read more on:
9. Write your assignment
For books which have useful hints for writing, see either our Humanities writing guides page, or the Social Sciences writing guides page.
Visit the Learning Skills Centre for workshops and/or personal help.
Make a note of the sources that you are using as you write, including page numbers for any quotations. This will make it easier and quicker to create your bibliography.
If you would like individual help in planning or putting together your essay check out the Learning Skills Centre website (http://www.lps.canterbury.ac.nz/lsc/) to see what they offer and to make an appointment time with one of their staff.