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Learning Development: Study Skills

Assignment toolkit: study skills and support to help you complete your assignment

Number 1Understanding the assignment brief

You need to understand what you are being asked to do before you can research or write an assignment. 

  • Is there an assignment brief, learning outcomes or additional guidance? 
  • What type of assignment is it?  Is it an essay, report, problem question?
  • Highlight key words, terms, and concepts.  This will help you identify the topic and area you need to focus on. 

The question will include the approach that you are required to take with the topic and focus.  Click here for examples of instruction words frequently used to direct the approach you need to take to plan and complete your assignment.  As you pull the assignment question apart, write down the different strands to explore, along with any keywords and areas that you are not familiar with. Think about what your initial response to the question would be

Number 2Preliminary reading

You will need to do some preliminary reading around the topic.  You will have covered the main theme in your lectures and seminars so look back at your notes and the online reading list

  • Do an initial search on the library website for books and articles that will help you gain a deeper understanding of the topic.
  • Make notes on the key elements and identify keywords and phrases to help you research  
  • Continue to think about how you are going to answer the question.
  • Start to make a basic plan consisting of the main points.

Number 3 Research

The first two steps will give you a deeper understanding of the topic, and ideas on what to focus on to answer the different strands to the question.  Using the list of keywords and phrases collated when breaking down your assignment question and during your preliminary reading, you can begin to find evidence to support your ideas and themes. 

The best place to start your research is the advanced search on the library website. The library website provides access to a large collection of books, ebooks and journal articles that are not freely available on the internet, and you can be confident when searching that all literature found is a good academic source. 

To get the best from your search:

  • Develop a search strategy by writing down a list of keywords and phrases you can use in your research.
  • Expand your list by considering alternatives.
  • Start your research by typing one or two keywords into either the main search box or the Advanced Search on the library website.
  • Add additional keywords to reduce the number of documents retrieved.

When you find literature that you would like to use in your assignment, remember to keep a note of where you found it to ensure accurate referencing. Reading through the literature will help you to develop your thoughts on the topic so revisit and expand the basic plan you created when doing your preliminary reading.

Number 4 Planning and writing

When you have found and read a variety of literature you can begin to think about what themes you are going to discuss. Create your assignment structure (introduction, main body and conclusion) and plan what you are going to discuss in the main body, which ideas/themes you are going to include and what order they should appear in.  Try to ensure that the main body flows by introducing themes in a logical order. The text in the body of the essay should be broken down into paragraphs, with each paragraph covering one main point. Consider the evidence you are going to use to support your main points.  A detailed plan will make it easier to start the actual writing.  You don’t always have to start with the introduction.  You may find it easier to focus on the ideas/themes in the main body before writing the introduction and conclusion.

Number 5 Referencing

Referencing is important in academic writing and an essential part of any of your assessments. It:

  • allows you to acknowledge your sources
  • gives academic credibility to your work
  • demonstrates your knowledge of a subject area
  • prevents accusations of plagiarism.

You should always reference a source when:

  • using a direct quote
  • summarising a theory
  • discussing someone else's opinion
  • using case studies
  • quoting statistics or visual data
  • but not when stating your own opinion, observation or experience.

It is important to know which referencing style you are required to use. You can download a copy of the relevant Referencing Handbook from the library website. Don’t underestimate how long referencing takes.  Ensure you have all the information and a basic understanding of the required format.  Check your references against the examples given in the relevant referencing handbook.

Number 6 Editing and proof-reading

It is important to edit and proof-read both the main part of your assignment and your references. The university does not provide a proof-reading service, but you can get support with how to edit and proof-read your work. As you are proof-reading, ask yourself:

  • Have I met the assignment brief and learning outcomes?
  • Is my writing clear and in a logical order?

Check your writing for any spelling, grammar or punctuation errors. When you are happy with the main part of your assignment, work through your references to ensure they are correct and follow the relevant referencing style.