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Academic Skills support

10 Frequently Asked Questions about Library and Academic Skills

To help develop your critical thinking, follow the five steps below:

Be sceptical about research. How old is the research? How experienced is the researcher? Did they justify their research methodology? Do you agree with their findings? Were the conclusions sensible? Could the research be improved upon? Can you justify using this research in your assignment?

  1. Critically appraisal your sources of information. This involves reading critically by questioning. Who wrote this? Why did they do it that way that? How have they reached their conclusions? Is there any other explanation for this? Do not just accept what you read or see.

  2. Discover where the weight of evidence lies. How many experts in the subject area agree? Do any experts disagree and if so, why? This should challenge your thinking.

  3. Evaluate the evidence and draw your own sensible assumptions. Your tutor is looking for your informed opinion after conducting thorough research. This may include making suggestions for further research. To do this you need to become an efficient and effective library researcher and learn to use Google Scholar.

  4. Develop your ability to write critically. This means learning to use the literature to support the arguments and assumptions you want to make in your writing. If you are describing texts, you need to have a reason for doing so. Remember, anyone can copy information from a book.

The easiest way to access the databases for your subject is through your subject guide. Each subject guide should have an index tab with a drop down option under Books and other resources. From here you can access databases that will be recommended for your specific subject. Follow this link to your Subject Guide: Subject Guides

Alternatively, to access the full list of databases that the University has access to, just follow this link: A-Z Databases

Your lecturer will provide a link to access your reading list. This could be via Blackboard (look for Reading Lists Online in the content area) or MS Teams.

Another way to find a list is to use the Search Lists tool in Reading Lists Online. From here you can search lists by course code or title, list title, or by the lecturer’s name. You can also find general interest lists such as those created for the monthly displays this way.

What is reflection? You reflect when you give ‘serious thought’ to a situation you have experienced. This is the only time that you may be writing an essay in the first person (I, me, we, us), though you will need to check with your tutor that this is acceptable.

Why reflect? Reflection helps you avoid making the same mistakes over and over again. It gives you an opportunity to think deeply about a specific subject/issue and to investigate it, so that next time you encounter the same situation you can be ‘better’ in what you do.

What does reflection involve? Questioning – investigating – action planning. Looking at events through the eyes of others.

Is there a structure to reflection? Various models can be used to help you structure and clarify your ideas. Popular ones are the Driscoll Reflective Model (2010) or Gibbs (1988) but there are many others. The choice of model depends of the type of reflection (e.g. action orientated, process driven or personal feelings).

How does it support my development? Reflection should lead to action planning. What have you learnt from your investigation? How can you improve your performance in a similar situation next time?

For more detailed and extra information, please follow this link: Reflection - Types of Assignment

Library Search allows you to find books and journals held on campus in our Libraries, as well as providing access to a wide range of eBooks, eJournals and other academic resources available online.

Library Search can be accessed directly from the Library homepage - simply enter your search terms into the box.You can choose to Search everything (which will also include Open Access resources), search the Library catalogue, or restrict your searches to Online articles and books or Print items only. You can also refine your results by using the filters for format, publication date etc.

Our Library Search playlist on YouTube has video tutorials covering basic and advanced searching to help you find the resources you need.

Google Scholar is a free academic search engine that allows you to search the content of scholarly websites, and the repositories of publishers and universities.  It will highlight when full-text content is available, providing a direct link to the material, and by using the Advanced Search option you can also filter your results.  For more detailed instructions you can access the Google Scholar Search Help pages.

Did you also know that you can also link Google Scholar with Library Search to highlight when full-text content is available from our Library? Instructions on how to do this can be found in our Google Scholar and Library Search video and in our Finding Information on Google Scholar guide.

Generally speaking, the word count will include the following:

  • All titles or headings that form part of the actual text.
  • All words that form the essay (the main body of text).
  • All words forming the titles for figures, tables and boxes (but this does not include boxes or tables or figures themselves).
  • All in-text (that is bracketed) citations
  • All words from a direct quote

It will not include:

  • All words that form the title page
  • All words that form the reference list
  • Captions added to visual material (i.e. diagrams, tables, maps, and/or images)

There can sometimes be different rules and guidelines for each School or Subject Department, and going too far above or below the word count may mean a reduction in your marks. Before you start to write up your assignment you should check the information provided in your module handbook or assignment brief, or ask your tutor for guidance.

Qualtrics is a web-based survey software tool that can be used to carry out publicly surveys, or to give specific users access to a survey. It allows you to create surveys and distribute them, collect and analyse the results, and export the data in a range of formats. 

To get full access to Qualtrics you should log in using your University username and password at Do not just search for Qualtrics and log in at as this only gives access to a free account with limited features.

For more information on Qualtrics and guidance on how to use it, please visit our Qualtrics online survey tool guide.

At University you will write assignments in many formats but most require the same standard of academic writing. You need to grasp two main concepts  - what it is and how to write it but, to get you started, there 5 key features: 

  1. Objective - based on facts and research rather than feelings or opinions.  
  2. Formal language - make your point clearly and accurately, and develop language appropriate to your subject.
  3. Passive voice - this means concentrating on the action which has taken place rather than who performed it. This involves not using personal pronouns (for example: I, we, me, our) unless you are writing a reflection.
  4. Structured - you need to plan your work so that it guides the reader step by step from the introduction, through your argument supported by evidence, to the conclusion.
  5. Includes citations and references - an essential part of academic writing is to provide evidence of research and acknowledge your sources. 

The following link will give you more advice on academic writing: Academic Writing.

For extra assistance with academic writing, then please make an appointment with our Just Writing service, which can be accessed at the following link: Just Writing.

RefZone is our guide to 'all things referencing' and provides information and resources for all of the referencing styles used at Staffordshire University.  You will also find a link to access Cite Them Right Online (CTRO) - this link is also available on the Referencing guidance page in your Library subject guide.

CTRO is an educational tool that will help you to create in-text citations and references for any style. You will be shown what information to include in your references, in what order and format, as well as being given actual examples.  In addition, there is also a You Try section that provides you with a template to create a reference, this can then be copied and pasted into your own list.

The official style of Harvard used at the University is the Cite Them Right version - students using Harvard should use CTRO to ensure accuracy. 

Stuck with referencing? Book a Just Referencing appointment and one of our team will help you get to grips with whichever style of referencing you need, or view the referencing videos on our YouTube channel.