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Assignment Survival Guide

Search the library catalogue

Search the Library 

You can use Library search to locate physical and digital resources.

As a student at Staffordshire University, you may borrow up to 17 items. Full details regarding borrowing entitlements are available on the Library website.

How do I decide which books to read?

You need to learn to evaluate the books you read. Here are a few things to look for:

  • Scope - What is the purpose of the book - education, advertising, entertainment?
  • Breadth - What aspects of the subject are covered? Is the book focused on a narrow area or does it include related topics?
  • Depth - What is the level of detail provided about the subject? This may depend on the kind of audience for which the resource has been designed. The book could be aimed at A Level, undergraduate or postgraduate students for example.
  • Content - Is the information fact or opinion?
  • Sources - Are sources within the book listed so they can be verified?
  • Authority - What is the authority, expertise or credentials of the author?
  • Currency - When was the book last revised? This may give an indication of the book's durability.

The following websites offer further guidance on evaluating books:


Document delivery service

Finding resources which the library doesn't stock

If you are unable to locate a book, it may be possible to acquire it via the Document Delivery Service. This service is for requesting books, journal articles, reports and conference proceedings that Staffordshire University Libraries do not hold in stock and are requested via the British Library. Once registered, you will be able to select and order books for home delivery or request documents for delivery direct to your desktop. This service is free.

More information about the Document Delivery Service can be found on the Library website.

Effective Reading and Taking notes

Effective reading and taking notes

You may have already scanned through some of your material when you selected it but now you will want to read it in more depth, to take notes or even discard it from your research if you realise it is not as useful as you originally thought.

This stage can seem long and sometimes frustrating and de-motivating, but there are techniques which will help you to do this effectively.

Effective reading

To read effectively you will need to concentrate and develop your understanding of the material. Also, because of the amount of material you will have to examine it will help if you try to increase your speed. Additionally it may help if you ask yourself the following questions.

  • What do I already know?
  • How will I apply this to my assignment?
  • What new things do I want to learn?
  • Who has written this, what are they trying to say and to whom?

Effective reading will also help with effective note taking. Try the following process:

  • survey the chapter or article, note the title and subheadings, this will give you some idea of what it is about
  • question the author's main points
  • read, with the intention of answering your question
  • repeat in your own words every couple of pages what you have read
  • go back and review a chapter once you have read it

This will also help you to select appropriate material, so do not be afraid to discard any material that you think is irrelevant.

We have a guide to academic reading has links to additional resources which will help you.

Note Taking

Note taking helps to record what you have read and should also help you to remember what you have read. For an assignment your notes should be accurate and detailed and should help you to structure your assignment. Use your plan to guide you with your note taking, identify and record the main points and check your understanding of any words or concepts that you are unfamiliar with.

Try to structure your notes in a way that will assist you with writing your assignment. The most common types of note taking are:

  • Linear: where you use key words and phrases, for example, a heading is a key word or phrase and this is followed by bullet points or numbered points which give more detail
  • Patterns: where arrows/circles/lines connect key words and phrases, making a spreading pattern e.g. mind mapping, diagrams
  • Visual information: where it is difficult to record visual information in words, you may choose to make a sketch, copy the image or use an accurate reference so you can go back to it.

There are no set rules on how to structure your notes, and finding a method that bests suits you is important, you may even choose to use a combination of the methods listed above.

Selecting what to note can be the most difficult task, your effective reading skills should help you with this, but also look at how you want to structure your assignment and try to answer the following:

  • What is the argument I am trying to make?
  • What evidence do I need to support my argument?
  • What facts do I need to include and what is irrelevant?

As you are going along, make sure you note the source of your information, this is especially important if you are going to include some quotes e.g.:

  • Journal: page number, article title, author and journal title, volume, number and date
  • Book: page number, chapter title, author and book title and author/editor, publisher and publishers' location and date

If you do this whilst you are note taking your task will be far easier, as trying to relocate references once you start writing your assignment can be extremely frustrating and it may feel like you are starting your research all over again!

Also, try to store your notes in an organised way, for example in a file, on your computer or in a notebook. It may also be useful if you date your notes.

Our guide to Note-Taking has links to additional resources which will help you.

Make sure the information found fits your assignment

Make sure the information found fits your assignment

Whether the information you have is a book from a reading list, a journal article, a newspaper article or someone's web page you need to treat each with the same amount of caution when you use it.

Ask yourself:

  • Is it relevant to the question I need to answer,
  • who wrote the piece,
  • who published it,
  • where did they get their information or data from,
  • is the data up to date,
  • is the work itself up-to-date,
  • is it referenced, that is, has the author said where they obtained the information from,
  • is it well written,
  • who is it written for,
  • is it plausible,
  • do you think your tutor would think it is a sound piece of information?

For books (especially books on a reading list) you would probably say that is easy because they are published, well referenced and often recommended by a respected individual like a tutor or a librarian. It is not so easy for e-resources, especially webpages or journal/magazine articles, which any one can publish and you can find them easily using Google.

For more information on how to judge the worth of journal or magazine articles have a look at the page What kind of information will help me? under Step 2.

For more information on how to tackle web pages see the page Can I use information from websites? under Step 4.



You can use this checklist to help you ensure you have completed the steps needed to understand how to undertake the research for your assignment effectively.

Item Yes No
Have I familiarised myself with the e-resources available to me?    
Do I know where to go if I need help?    
Have I checked the Subject Help pages for information on my own subject area?    
Have I made a note of all the resources I used so that I can create a full bibliography for my assignment