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Identifying Information

This section outlines the wide variety of resources that are available to you. It also focuses on how to decide which kinds of resources are most appropriate for your assignments.

Identifying what you need 

Exploring and selecting from a vast amount of published information can be extremely time-consuming so it is important to know how to plan and carry out this work effectively.

Starting early will give you time to identify the right information for your particular assignment. At this first stage, you need to work out:
  • what the assignment is asking you to do
  • how you are going to approach answering the question
  • the information resources you will need for your answer.
If you are confused or unsure about the assignment topic, ask your tutor who will be happy to talk it through with you.

Useful resources:  Advice for new students (video)

                                  Getting help from the library (video) 

Assignment advice

If you take time to really understand your assignment question at the start you will be able to look for materials more effectively and will write a more relevant essay.

This section contains useful advice on approaching your assignment from staff and students and links to help with analysing essay titles.

Before you start your research it is important that you a good idea of what you are looking for. These are the kinds of questions that will help you get started:
  • What are the main subjects the title covers?
  • How will they be linked together?
  • What are the key words? This is a great help when using the Library Search or databases.
  • Do I want to consider the theme from a particular angle e.g. Marxist or Feminist?
  • If the topic is very broad do I need to choose a specific aspect?
For a detailed guide and template to help you analyse your essay question, see Understanding the question on the Write it right website.

Remember, your tutor is there to help if you still feel confused about the nature of your assignment. You just need to ask!

Useful resources

    Identifying resources

    When you are clear about the assignment question, you need to identify the information resources you will require to complete it.

    Analysing the assignment topic should have given you a good idea of the kinds of information you are going to need to answer the question. The next step is to identify the resources where you will find the relevant information. To get the best marks you will almost certainly need to use a variety of sources and types of information. So make sure you are aware of all the resources that are available to you and their different uses. You should also aim to use a mix of primary and secondary sources.

    Often reading lists will give you a very good starting point. Lecturers will have compile lists of useful sources to help you with your studies and research. 

    If you have any problem locating material on your particular area of research, contact your Subject Librarian who will be happy to help you in a one-to-one appointment.

    Related resources

    Library resources (video)

    Top tips for identifying what you need (PDF)

    Understanding your reading list (PDF)

    Identifying resources

    Books are a good starting point for exploring a new subject area. Your module reading list will get you started. Books provide the background knowledge to help you understand the more recent, research-focused content that you find in journals. Encyclopaedias and reference books are also useful for introducing a new topic.
    A journal is a regular publication of articles usually written by academics who are experts in that subject area. For the latest developments in any subject you must use information from journals as well as books.
    The internet can be a good place to find any kind of information from popular stories to official reports and statistics from government sites. Anyone can publish to the web so you need to evaluate what you find very carefully. See the Evaluating websites page for more information. Subject gateways are a good way to get quality-controlled, academic information from the web. Google scholar is a useful tool for searching.
    Newspapers, magazines, current affairs publications and trade journals are a good source of information for current events and developments in areas such as culture, politics and science. Older newspapers can be useful to get an insight into the past.
    Conference proceedings are records of research which has just been presented at conferences before journal articles are written and so are good for finding very recent information.
    Archives are collections of unpublished historical documents that provide useful first-hand information on specific topics and periods of time. Collections are groups of resources on a particular subject, often photographs, drawings, slides and other media, which could be hard to find otherwise in one place.
    Other specialised sources such as statistics, government reports, British Standards, building regulations, marketing reports, company information, trend predictions and advertising materials may be also useful for your assignment and are available through the library databases. 

    Download the 'Types of sources' guide for more information about these resources and where to find them.

    If you have any problem locating material on your particular area of research, contact your Subject Librarian who will be happy to help you in a one-to-one appointment.

    Types of sources

    Think about the different types of resource you need to use to find the information you identified as relevant to your particular assignment. It is always best to find information from many different places.

    If you use a variety of different resources such as those shown below you will naturally end up with a good mix of raw material for your assignment.

    Related resources

    Types of sources

    Primary and secondary sources

    You will produce a better assignment if you include both primary and secondary material in your research.

    A primary source is an original document containing first-hand information. A secondary source is something written about a primary source.

    So, for example, letters written by Vincent Van Gogh to his brother, Theo, are a primary source, whereas a book about the life of Vincent Van Gogh written by an art historian is a secondary source. When you start searching for resources, try to include primary and secondary sources. This will help you to present a more balanced argument or discussion in your write-up.

    Examples of primary sources
    • historical documents such as letters, memoirs, speeches, diary entries, interviews, eyewitness accounts and articles written at the time they’re describing
    • legal documents such as laws and rulings
    • the results of an experiment or study published in a scholarly journal
    • statistical data
    • creative writing and original art work.

    Examples of secondary sources

    • Books discussing or interpreting someone else’s ideas or theories
    • newspapers or magazine articles
    • book or film reviews
    • scholarly journal articles that evaluate or criticize someone else's research.

    Primary and secondary sources

    Need other help?

    Be proactive in seeking help if you need it. There are many people and services in the university that offer guidance on all kinds of areas related to your studies.

    When you are researching your first assignment you may well find that you need other kinds of help and support. You just need to know who to ask or where to look and then make time to find what you need. The most important thing is that you take responsibility for your own learning. Many people are there to help you but only you can do it!

    Check the 'Where to find help' guide for information on library inquiries, the European Computer Driving Licence, study skills, English language skills, IT queries, pastoral and personal support and other issues.

    Related resources: Where to find help? (PDF)