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Assignment Survival Guide

Other resources you can use

Other resources you can use

In addition to the mainstream types of resource such as books and journals it may be that your assignment requires you to look at some specific specialist resources. There is a wide range of material you could use which is still valid to use in academic essays.

Law students may need to consider law reports and statutes, likewise film students may need to find music, TV scripts and still images. Business students may need company data or marketing reports while engineering students might need to access particular conference proceedings or British Standards. Health students might need to use evidence-based case studies.

If you do need this type of specialist material make sure that you find out where you can locate it either on the web or in print. You will not always find this specialised material as part of our normal resources. Although some can be accessed through our Library Search tools, you might also need to visit specific websites to find some of this material.

You may need to seek out your subject specialist to ask for some help. Don't leave it until the last minute! Find out who can help you at the library subject support page

Case studies

Case Studies

Case studies are descriptions of real or 'made-up' scenarios that can be used to develop skills to help you analyse a situation, identify problems and make proposals or recommendations. Case studies are used in business, technology and health studies and allow you to apply theories and techniques you have learnt on your course to actual organisational and management situations. Case studies are often used for group work and can also develop communication skills.

Conference Proceedings

Conference Proceedings

Conference proceedings are primary sources of information. New research is reported at conferences and published in material known as conference proceedings or transactions.

Computing, engineering and technology conferences can be located through the ACM Digital Library for computing, IEEExplore for electrical and electronics engineering. The British Library ZETOC service has a general conference search facility.

There are links to ACM, IEEExplore and ZETOC and other indexing services from the Articles and Databases section of the Library website



A standard is a technical specification or other document available to the public, adding detail to UK law, international law and EU directives to protect consumers from faulty or dangerous goods.

  • Standards are a source of reliable, tested and detailed scientific and technical data.
  • Standards are used in manufacturing to ensure product uniformity, reliability, and safety for the consumer.
  • Standards protect workers and employees by ensuring that equipment and production machinery are safe for to use. Products must be manufactured and tested within the terms of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

You can use British Standards Online to see the full text of all current British Standards. British Standards Online (BSOL) is a comprehensive online standards library giving you full text access to over 71,000 British, adopted European and International standards. You can access British Standards Online from the Staffordshire University Online Library:

You can use IEEExplore to search and view the full text of IEEE Standards. The full name of the IEEE is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. There is a link to IEEExplore from the Staffordshire University Online Library:



Statistics give data or factual descriptions of events and activities that can be represented as a table of numbers or as graphs.

When you look at the statistical data, you should be able to easily answer the following questions:

  • Who are the people who did the study?  
  • Why were they doing the study? 
  • Who paid for the study?      

This will help you identify and evaluate sources for statistics so you can use statistical information accurately in your work.

Here are some examples of where you can find statistics online:

There are also lots of unofficial statistics that you will find on the internet. These are issued by professional organisations, charities, trade associations to name but a few.

The library also has a statistics page which contains links to a number of useful resources. 

Law reports

Law reports

You will often need to find reports of cases. There are many possible sources of these and various ways to find them. You can use the various web based databases to find full text versions of law reports.
These are:

You can access all of these through the Law Subject Support page on LibGuides.


Westlaw UK is a large legal information database which includes UK cases, many in full text. It also contains useful case summaries and links to any relevant case commentaries and articles. You can access this from the links on the Law Subject Support page on LibGuides.

Note you will need to use your university username and password to access this database off campus.


LexisLibrary is a big full text legal database. Its coverage includes UK cases and some material from other jurisdictions . You can access this from the links on the Law Subject Support page on LibGuides.


Statutory material

Statutory material

You may encounter references to Acts of Parliament or statutes. Sometimes you may be asked to find a set of regulations or a statutory instrument. There are a number of possible sources. If you wish to use paper-based versions of this type of material then these are available within the Thompson Library. If you wish to access any of these electronically and in full text then Westlaw and Lexis are the best sources since they will both give you the full text consolidated version of the material. This means that they will give you the material in its most up to date form.

There are links to Westlaw and LexisNexis from the Law Subject Support page in LibGuides.

Statutory material is available via the Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI) website, but full text is provided of statutes only.

Follow the Legislation link at the top of the left hand column from the OPSI home page.

Also available:

Company reports

Company reports

You may wish to access copies of company reports. Many of these can be found in full text on the internet. 

Company profiles are available via the Business Source Complete database. To view, please select the ‘More’ option then ‘Company profiles’.

Marketing related reports are available via the Mintel database.

Factual data to support business students

Factual data to support business students

One of the best places to look for factual data is Mintel (the famous market intelligence reports). The Mintel database will allow you to find information on specific types of products. Our Mintel package focusses on these specific UK sectors:

  • Automotive
  • Beauty and Personal
  • Business: Services
  • Drink
  • Food
  • Leisure
  • Retail: Clothing and Footwear
  • Retail: Home
  • Retail: Overview
  • Technology
  • Travel

Mintel can be accessed from the e-resources section on the Library website.

Film, TV and Music

Film, TV and Music

You can borrow DVDs from the Library. You can search the Library Catalogue to find out what is available or browse the DVDs in Library Creative

When searching the library catalogue you can use the Advanced Search feature to limit your search to DVDs and then enter key words to find matches by title, director or subject.

You can use the online version of the Library Catalogue on the Library website.

You can also download film clips and music from many different Internet sites, but you must make sure that you check that downloading is legal before you proceed. You may also need to install additional software on your own PC to view films or listen to music. Note that you are not able to install additional software on any of the Digital Services student PCs.

We also subscribe to Box of Broadcasts(BoB) which allows recordings of scheduled TV programmes, and provides an archive of programmes which have been recorded by others. BoB can be accessed through the University website at: Box of Broadcasts

You can find out more about using film and other media in your work from the British Universities Film and Video Council at

Remember film and music are protected by copyright and you must check to see whether you need permission before you download or copy music and film into your assignments. You can find information and guidance on copyright for students at

Pictures and Images

Pictures and images

You may want to illustrate your work with pictures or images especially if you are doing a design project.

You may want to photocopy or scan illustrations from journals or magazines or you can find images on the Internet that you can download and use in your own work. Remember many images are protected by copyright and you must check to see whether you need permission before you download or copy images into your assignments.

You can look for images on web sites such as Google Image Search.

You may find the Shutterstock website useful, which contains over 125 million royalty free images, video clips and music tracks” contains 

A guide to finding images on the internet providing further suggestions can be found on the subject support page for Art and Design

You can find further information and guidance in the Students and copyright guide 

Evidence based material

Evidence based material

Evidence based material is used by healthcare professionals to plan and justify treatments used in clinical practice. Clinical trials and other types of research aim to provide evidence on whether a particular treatment works, how well it works compared to other treatments, and what are the risks of the treatment.

Reviews of evidence based medicine can be found at:

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 undertake the research for your assignment

Item to check Yes No
Have I exploited all of the possible specialised resources I needed to in order to complete the assignment?    
Have I made a note of all the resources I used so that I can create a full bibliography for my assignment?