Improving your Academic and Information Skills

If you are a new student then the amount of information and resources available to you can initially seem overwhelming. This guide aims to help you get the most out of the University's online library; you will find advice, tips and links in these pages, aiming to give you the basic skills in finding information and using our resources.

This guide will remain here for you to refer back to at any point during your studies and if you need further help or advice then don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. So, dive in and take a look around!

How to Use the Guide

In each of the sections you will find plenty of information on how to get started, covering areas such as finding information, referencing and writing your assignments. It's up to you whether you read through each section in order or dip into the sections that most interest you

Supporting You and Your Subject

There are a wide range of online resources available to you

Visit your Subject Support page to discover the key resources in your subject area. These pages group together subject specific information and relevant resources we subscribe to in your area - it's a great place to start your research.

The Skills for Learning team are here to help you with your academic study skills and their webpage includes study guides, online resources and advice in areas such as referencing, planning your assignment and academic writing.

Our key resources and services include:

Using your Reading List

So where do you start? Well, your module reading list is the best place, as it will direct you to texts that your lecturers have specifically selected as being useful for your module and that will help further your understanding of the subject. You can find your reading list in your module guide on e:Vision .

Watch the video clip to see how you can use your reading lists to quickly find information resources with Summon, our online catalogue. Accessing resources such as e-books and e-journals online is quick and convenient.

Reading lists can also help to lead you to other resources that are on the same subject so when using Summon take some time to explore what is out there.

Books and e-books (especially those with the word Introduction in the title) are great at giving you a general overview of a subject and the major theories or arguments within a topic.

Explore Further

Download the Guide to effective reading from our Study Guides in Word or PDF format, or you can listen to the audio file if you'd prefer:

Work through the Effective reading section in the Skills4Study Campus Reading and notemaking topic.


Visit the Summon Help page for advice on searching our catalogue for information.

Moving Beyond Your Reading List

To achieve a high grade you should show your lecturer that you have read widely and have consulted sources beyond those on your reading list. Reading widely means looking at other texts that are both relevant to your subject and of reliable authority.

A good way to start is to make a list of words, known as keywords, that best describe the topic you're looking for.

Deciding on your keywords before you start searching will help you to find relevant information much more quickly. Also, databases work best when you use keywords - putting the whole of your assignment question into the search box will often result in your search missing really useful items.

Once you have decided on your keywords, search Summon and individual databases listed on the library web pages (all of our resources have been selected because they provide reliable information that's relevant to your subject).

How to choose your keywords

  1. Read your assignment or presentation title several times.
  2. Identify the keywords from the title.
  3. Think of any alternative keywords (different databases often use different keywords to describe the same subject, so if you can think of several keywords your search will be all the more effective).

Example: Explore how the media reports crime in the UK

Our keywords are media, crime and United Kingdom or UK

(Don't use 'explore' and 'how' as these are not keywords - you will have to consider how crime is reported by the media and explore this subject in your assignment).

You could also try these alternative keywords:

For Media, use television, newspapers, radio, internet, broadcasting...

For Crime, use criminals, particular types of crime such as violent, mugging, fraud, burglary...

You can also combine these keywords as you search.

Watch this video on using keywords to search Summon (it will also show you how to make your searches more effective).

Getting the Results You Need

You may find that you get too many or too few results. If this happens:

  • Too many results? Use more specific keywords.
  • Too few results? Use more generic keywords, or just one keyword.

Can't Think of which Keywords to Use?

Pick out the keywords from the titles on your reading list.

Now use these keywords in Summon to find some relevant items. Do you notice that Summon also attaches its own keywords? You could try using these in new searches.

Use a subject dictionary.

Explore Further

Download a Guide to Finding Information in Word or PDF format, or you can listen to the audio file if you'd prefer:

Further Reading

Summon Help page

Evaluating Information

At University level you need to make sure that any information you use in your work to support your statements and arguments is relevant and of academic quality. If you got your information from one of our library resources - such as an e-book or journal article - it will have gone through a formal publishing process that should ensure it is of a high quality. However you should still be evaluating this information before you include it in your assignment.

If used wisely, the Internet can be a valuable source of information. Be aware that it can vary in accuracy, reliability and value and, unlike the information that the library provides, it often doesn’t go through a formal publishing process. Websites are created for many reasons and are not always suitable for academic purposes. It's essential that you critically evaluate information from the web before using it in your work.

How to Evaluate Resources

Whether or not you use a piece of information should be based on your careful consideration and evaluation of it. One way to do this is to use a checklist; the CARS checklist is designed to help you separate high quality from poor quality information. It asks you to consider a number of issues relating to the quality of your information, and can be used for any kind of information.

The CARS Checklist:

Credibility:

Is there evidence of the author’s standing amongst their peers?

Check for information about the author’s education, training and experience in the field.

Look for biographical information such as the author’s title (Dr., Prof. etc.) and career history.

Accuracy:

Is there a date on the information?

Is the information current, or are the ideas now outdated?

Is the information detailed, exact and comprehensive?

Reasonableness:

Does the article present a balanced argument?

Is the tone of the writing reasoned?

How objective is the author?

Is the information consistent?

Are there conflicts of interest?

Support:

Where did the information come from?

Are the sources for the information listed?

Is there a bibliography?

What support does the author give for the information provided?

Is contact information provided for the author?

Explore Further

Download a Guide to Evaluating Information in Word or PDF format, or listen to the audio file if you prefer. This guide includes a copy of the CARS checklist.

You might also try the Internet Detective site, an interactive tutorial on evaluating web resources.

The Evaluating Evidence section of the Critical Thinking chapter of Skills4study campus gives you opportunities to further develop your information evaluation and critical thinking skills.

The You Tube video on Finding Journal Articles (recommended in Moving Beyond Your Reading List), contains a section on evaluating your results.

Further Reading

The library has printed books and e-books about evaluating information in individual subject areas. The best way to find them is to search Summon, our library catalogue.

Have a look at our video on how to do a keyword search. Try combining keywords such as information,resources, evaluate and examine with words that describe your subject area: for example, you could try evaluate and nursing, or information and engineering.

Referencing - Why it's Important

Referencing is an essential part of studying at University. When writing a piece of work you will need to refer to material written or produced by others to back up and prove the points you are making.

Referencing is the method used to ensure that these other research influences are recognised in your assignment, and to show your readers where you found your sources of information.

By referencing all of your sources properly you will not only earn higher grades and ensure that you avoid being accused of plagiarism, but it will also prove to your tutor how thoroughly you have researched a topic.

When Should You Reference?

You need to reference whenever you draw upon a source of information that someone else has created. This may be a direct quote, specific information (such as images, statistics or tables), text that you summarise, or paraphrase, or just a theory, opinion or viewpoint that is not your own.

Referencing Styles and Management

Guides to Writing References.

There are several referencing systems used by the University of Wolverhampton. It is important to check with your school or tutor which system they recommend. Full referencing guides to Harvard, Oxford, APA and English subject style are available for you to download. These include examples of how to cite your references in your work and how to complete your reference list.

It is important to remember that whatever style you use, you need to be clear, consistent and correct, and to make sure you include all of the relevant details.

Managing Your References

When researching a topic, always remember to record details of the information you find, such as the author's name, the title, publisher, place of publication and its date. You will need these details to make accurate references that will allow you and your readers to find this information again if required.

An effective way of recording and managing these details and of creating reference lists is to use an online reference management system such as RefWorks. RefWorks is freely available to University of Wolverhampton students, and you can access it anywhere you have an internet connection.

Sign up for a RefWorks account and download a step-by-step guide to Getting Started With Refworks in Word or PDF format.

Explore Further

Take this short quiz to increase your knowledge and boost your referencing skills: Am I Plagiarising When I...?

Also try our Interactive Harvard Referencing Guide for examples of how to reference some of the most common types of information.

Skills4Study Campus activity: Avoiding plagiarism when working with others

Full guides to Harvard, Oxford, APA and English Subject Style referencing

Further Reading

Skills4Study Campus - Referencing and Avoiding Plagiarism module

Academic Misconduct - The Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them: A Guide (PDF 990K, Downloads file)

Planning your Assignment

During your University career you will be asked to submit essays, reports, presentations and perhaps a dissertation. Whatever format your assignment takes, one of the most important parts of academic writing is the preliminary planning stage, where you brainstorm ideas and sketch out an initial rough draft before starting to write.

In this section we will look at the steps you should take before setting pen to paper.

  • Analyse the task
  • Plan your time
  • Gather your information and read
  • Write
  • Review and edit

Writing and Editing

Before you begin to write, make yourself a plan - a basic outline of the sections you need to include, and what you want to write in each one. It will keep you on track and help to prevent you from repeating yourself. You will also be able to move sections around so that they flow more smoothly.

Remember to refer back to the title of your assignment regularly to make sure you are on track and actually addressing it.

Don’t attempt to write the final version straight away. Be prepared to make several drafts first, revising and improving as you go. For more advice, download our guides on:

You also need to think about your references - go to the Referencing section for more information.

Explore Further

Try these worksheets from the BBC to test your proofreading skills.

Work through the Writing skills section of Skills4Study Campus, or the Projects, dissertations and reports topic.

Take a look at our downloadable study guides on Academic Writing, Report Writing and Reflective Writing.

Further Reading

We've got lots of resources and e-books on academic writing. The best way to find them is to search Summon, our library catalogue. Why not have a look at our video on how to do a keyword search on Summon?

Help and Contacts

We are here to help you, and we welcome your comments and suggestions. Contact us via:

Facebook

Follow us on Facebook to connect with us and get the latest news from the Skills Team.

Twitter

We are happy to answer your questions via Twitter - simply follow us and and mention @wlv_skills in your tweet.

Chat

Chat via ASSIST, our online service: Librarians are available to chat online and help you find online resources.

Email

Email a completed Ask a Librarian enquiry form for a response within 2 working days.

Phone

Call Learning Centre Direct on 0845 408 1631

Call our phone service for all enquiries. A message can be left on our answerphone outside staffed hours.

Skype the Skills Team

Skills for Learning are now offering a Skype appointment service to students.

Students can use this service to make a Skype to Skype appointment with one of the Skills Team. You will be able to talk to one of the team for up to 30 minutes to discuss your concerns.

We are not online all of the time, so please contact us to arrange an appointment in advance.

Our appointment times run from Mondays to Fridays, 8.30am to 4.30pm.

Our Skype username is wlv_skills

If you do not have Skype installed on your computer, it's free to download from Skype.