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Assignment Survival Guide

What are journals?

What are journals?

Journals like magazines, newspapers, newsletters and annual reports are in a group of publications known as serials or periodicals. This is a term to describe publications that are issued at regular intervals, either daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually.

Why should I read journals?

As part of an academic community you are expected to read scholarly material. Magazines and newspapers can be important resources for some courses but you should try to use journals as well. Journals provide information that is:

  • Timely: journals are published more often than books, as a result you will find up-to-date information in recent journals
  • Concise: articles in journals are shorter to read than books
  • Authoritative: articles are written by experts and in peer reviewed journals where the articles are screened by a panel of other experts before they are published

Does it matter which journal I read?

Journals are written for a scholarly audience and may provide:

  • written reports on some research
  • articles written by researchers or subject experts
  • articles are written in a technical style and usually require some knowledge of the subject to understand the content
  • before publication articles are peer reviewed, this means that they are read and edited or approved by other experts before they are published.
  • articles include references and bibliographies which may be useful to you

Example: British Journal of Social Work

Journals may also be written for a professional audience:

  • articles relate to an industry or profession
  • articles contain information about products or services
  • articles cover current issues affecting an industry or profession

Example: Nursing Times

We are all familiar with magazines. These are usually written for a more popular audience and are characterized by:

  • short articles written to entertain
  • often have a glossy appearance
  • include photographs
  • information is reported second or third hand by freelance reporters

They can be a very useful visual resource.

Example: Vogue


These can be divided into broadsheets and tabloids.

Broadsheet newspapers contain considered arguments, longer articles. Their style is challenging and they contain useful information on current affairs. Examples include: 

  • Financial Times
  • Guardian 
  • Times

Tabloid newspapers are characterised by simple language, their content is sometimes trivial and sensationalist. Examples include: 

  • Daily Mail
  • Daily Mirror
  • The Sun

News magazines review topical issues and are not written for subject experts. Examples include:

  • New Statesman
  • Time magazine

You can search a range of local, national and internationals newspapers online via the Proquest European Newstream database  


How can I find journals I can use?

How do I find journals?

You can find many journals in print or electronic format, usually known as e-journals.

You can use Library search to find printed journals available in the University libraries.

Finding an ejournal

  • From the Library resources web pages follow the links to the Journals Title Search page
  • Type in the name of the journal you are looking for e.g. Forensic Science International
  • Follow the links to the journal
  • You can open articles in the current issue or select articles from the archive of past issues of the journal

Finding an electronic newspaper

You can search for articles using ProQuest Global News Stream. You can search for articles using keywords, search within selected newspapers and limit your search to national or local newspapers

How can I find articles?

How do I find articles?

The University has subscriptions to services supplying full text journal articles. The best way of using these services is to from the Staffordshire University Online Library e-resources page.

You can use the Subject drop down list on this page to find the range of electronic resources in your subject area. For example, if you are a doing a marketing project you can select the Business column and then Marketing and see a summary of resources to support marketing studies.

For each e-resource you will see a summary of the contents so you can look for resources with full text articles. Follow the links to the e-resource eg Business Source Complete for marketing and then you can use key words to search for articles.

In some subject areas you may have to use an index to find articles. Indexes allow you to search for articles using key words and you can usually see a summary or abstract of the article. However to see the full text you need to find the article in the printed journal collection or the University e-journal list.

You may find the video on what are databases and why you need them, useful. 

Boolean searches are explained quite nicely on this page 

Use the Library search

You can also use Library search to look for eJournal articles. Enter your search terms into the box next to the picture of the man with binoculars at

  • Type in a keyword or multiple keywords and select search e.g. Forensic Science
  • On the left hand side of the screen you can see limiters which wil help you refine your search.
  • Use the limiters to narrow your search by Full Text, Peer Reviewed, Subject and Publication Date
  • To access the article select the article title or the link Full Text Online
  • You can access the article

If you cannot find the article in the print or electronic collections you can make a request through the Library Document Delivery Service. There is more information about Document Delivery on the Library website.

You could also try Google Scholar. Using Google's search engine technology Google Scholar retrieves bibliographic details of journal articles which the Library may stock.

We have a guide showing how to set up Google Scholar so it will search for articles that Staffordshire University holds.

For more information about finding and using journals you can contact your subject support team. There is a list of subject areas and contact names on the Library subject support page.

For advice on evaluating journals and magazines you can use the page on What type of information will help me?

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.

Making 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 themselves obtained the information from,
  • is it well written,
  • who is it written for, is it intended to be read by academics or by the public
  • 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 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? 

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



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 to check Yes No
Have I looked for articles in printed and electronic journals?    
Have I selected articles that are from scholarly rather than from popular journals?    
Have I considered the date of publication so that I am using recent reports, research and theories?    
Have I made a note of all the resources I used so that I can create a full bibliography for my assignment