Library:Module 1 Preparing for Research

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Module 1 Objectives

In this module you will learn the following:

  1. Understanding the requirements of your assignment.
  2. Developing a research topic using a variety of techniques.
  3. Making a topic searchable using library resources.

This module will take 20 minutes to complete.

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1.1 Understanding Your Assignment Requirements

The first thing you need to do when you are about to start working on an assignment is read the question very carefully. This might sound obvious, but many students lose marks unnecessarily because they don’t pay enough attention to what the assignment question is asking them to do. To get the maximum marks for the effort you put in, you need to answer the question that is asked. As well as reading the question you also need to analyse the question. Assignment questions usually have a lot of information in them and you can use this information to help you with your answer. The information in this guide will help you to interpret what your assignment questions are asking you to do.

Content Words

Assignment questions usually have quite a lot of information in them about both what you need to be writing about and how you should structure your assignment.The words which tell you the topic of what the assignment should be about are commonly called content words. The content words tell you what.

For example, the content words for the following topic include:

Traditionally in many societies mothers are expected to stay at home and take care of their children. However, the financial pressures of modern life have forced many mothers to find jobs outside the home and rely on childcare for their children. With reference to one particular type of childcare facility discuss whether this arrangement is damaging for children or not.

These words tell you that the content of your assignment should relate to the effect of working mothers placing their children in childcare. Sometimes you will not be given any content words and you will be required to develop your own research question. We will discuss this later in this module.

Instruction Words

The words which tell you how to go about answering the question are commonly called instruction words. Instruction words tell you how.

The instruction words give you information on what type of assignment you need to write. For example, are you being asked to discuss, argue, describe, explain, report or compare and contrast? Each of these instruction words tells you that you need to write a different type of response to the question. For example, in a description you are asked to focus on what something is like or what happened. On the other hand, if you are asked to explain, you will need to focus on how something happens or happened.

The following is a brief outline of instruction words you may find in your assignment. You need to understand the instruction words to satisfy the requirements of your assignment.

Instruction Words What They Mean
Analyse Examine in close detail. Identify important points and chief features.
Comment on Identify and write about the main issues. Base what you write on what you have read or heard in lectures. Avoid purely personal opinion.
Compare Show how two or more things are similar. Indicate the relevance or consequences of these similarities.
Contrast The opposite of compare. Point out what is different. Indicate whether or not the differences are significant. If appropriate, give reasons why one item or argument might be preferable.
Critically Evaluate Examine arguments for and against something, assessing the strength of the evidence on both sides. Use your research to guide your assessment of which opinions, theories, models or items are preferable.
Discuss Similar to critically evaluate. Give arguments and evidence for and against something and make some judgment.
Summarise Similar to outline. Draw out the main points only. Leave out details or examples.
To what extent Consider how far or how much something is true, or contributes to a final outcome. The answer is usually somewhere between ‘completely’ and ‘not at all’. Follow the order of different stages in an event or process.

For additional content words, look at the follow Common Instruction Words list from Southern Cross University.

Reading Your Assignment for Understanding

To learn to read your assignment question for both content and instruction, watch the following video.

(Textual content is derived from the Assignment Navigator by Southern Cross University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.)

(YouTube video created by The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Used under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License).

Test Your Knowledge

For the following example assignment, what kind of essay would you write:

Choose a quote from Hawking's A Brief History of Time and write an essay that evaluates the ideas presented in the quote.

  1. Clarify the intent of the quote.
  2. Examine the strengths and weaknesses of the argument using additional theories or perspectives.
  3. Look at the quote in detail and examine the strengths and weaknesses of the argument.
  4. Support the argument made in the quote with additional information.

1.2 Developing a Research Topic

Developing a research topic is often the most difficult part of completing an assignment. It requires a lot of thought and time. To learn some tips about developing a research topic, watch the following video:

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0License. 88x31.png

Test Your Knowledge

1.3 Making Your Topic Searchable

Once you have a research topic, you need to take the time to make the topic searchable in UBC Library resources. With Google you could simply type the entire question in the search box, but you would retrieve millions of results. To develop a more specific search, here are some tips which will help make the process of searching simpler, faster and bring up more relevant results lists.

Choosing Keywords

Knowing how to find what you need in library resources is a powerful research skill and the keywords you use are a huge part of the success or failure of your search. Keywords, or search words, are words or short phrases that represent the main ideas or concepts in your topic. For example, look a the following topic:

Does caffeine have an influence on academic achievement in teenagers?

The keywords for this topic are: caffeine, academic achievement and teenagers

Once you have your keywords, you are ready to begin your search.

Putting the Keywords Together

Some library resources will need you to develop searches differently. Look at the example below. In Summon you can search by putting all the keywords in one line, but the database Academic Search Complete requires you to use AND between the keywords. You will learn more about Summon and databases in later modules.

AND - links search terms together.

The Power of Synonyms

Include synonyms in your search whenever possible. Databases only bring back results which contain the exact words you typed in. If you don't include synonyms you could miss a great deal of relevant material.

For example, if you are researching a candy-related topic you may think of the following alternate words to use in your search:

Keyword Synonyms Developing a Search
Candy Confectionery
Connect the synonyms using OR. Some sources will look different but OR will always be used to connect synonyms together. Remember to put the synonyms in brackets.
Snack Foods

Test Your Knowledge

Identify the keywords in the following research question:

Is global justice helping to improve human rights around the world?

  1. global, human rights, world
  2. improve, human rights
  3. global justice, human rights
  4. global justice, human rights, improve