Reading and researching for assignments: managing the sources

The reading and research effort involved in an assignment can be significant. And there is nothing more frustrating than when it comes to writing the assignment, knowing you have read something useful but cannot for the life of you remember where you read it or what the citation needs to be. Here are a few tips to help you manage your sources: 

  • Know what referencing style to use. Different subjects, even different assignments in the same subject, may require a different style. Harvard requires you to cite the author(s) and date intext, whereas Chicago and OSCALA use a number citation with the full reference details in footnotes and/or a bibliography (and this can vary, too!) Check your course handbooks for information on which one to use. If you cannot find this information, then ask.  
  • Make notes. There is so much information out there that it is impossible to remember it all. Reading is about finding the knowledge and knowing where it is. Your notes should remind you where it is (i.e. which paper it was in), what it was about and how it helps you to answer your question. The Study Hub Reading at university page has some examples of ways to make effective, organised notes. 
  • Include the reference in your notes. Do this in the style you will be using in the assignment. That way, when you come to write the assignment, you have already got the information in the format that you need. 
  • Using something other than a book or journal article. Many subjects will use sources that are not a book or journal article. Depending on your subject, your sources could include a film, an exhibition, a report, a government document, a painting, a novel, a translation, a court document, a building, or a case study. So, how on earth do you reference a building? Cite them right (available online or at multiple Library locations) demonstrates how to cite and reference different sources in different styles. Remember to check your course material for which style to use and any other guidance.
  • Manual citing versus a reference manager. As the writer, it is important that you know when (and why) you need to refer to your sources and cite them in your writing. For smaller assignments, you may be using a few sources, so it might be efficient just to type them manually or use the ‘References’ function in Word. As you start working on larger assignments, you may want to consider using a reference manager. This is a piece of software that can help you organise your references (like your own personal library that you curate) and automatically format your citations and references/bibliography. There are several free ones available and the Library has put together a guide on references and reference management. They look and work slightly differently, so it is worth looking at the different options. Be warned – as with all software, it is only as good as the human using it!  

 

Bibliography

Wallace, M. and Wray, A. (2011) Critical reading and writing for postgraduates: Second Edition. London: Sage. ISBN: 9781849205610.

Cottrell, S. (2008) The Study Skills Handbook: Third Edition. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN: 9780230573055.

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