How to research
University libraries can be a tad daunting, but if you know where to start, they hold no end of hidden treasure.
You're usually given the option of a library tour for your department at the beginning of the academic year. Do go, it only takes a little bit of your time and saves on much confusion at a later date.
Start with core texts and your reading lists before looking further. Books are catalogued and tend to be organised by subject. Your library should have a computerised catalogue system that allows you to search by title, subject or author for the books you need. This saves you so much time, so use it to your advantage.
You can also reserve books that are out on loan with this system, or see if the short loan versions are available (often only allowed out for a few hours/ overnight).
Have a browse around the bookshelves for your subject, as while searching is fast, you may miss a whole group of related books by typing in the wrong search terms.
The journals and periodicals
Research papers and studies are compiled into journals. There are hundreds upon thousands of these, and your best bet for looking through is to use a major journal database specific to your degree subject. For example Psychology papers can all be found using PsycLit, and these are often found online as a branch of the university website or on CD-ROM. Ask at the help desk either in your library or department to find out which database is relevant to you.
Recent and new journals for the past 12 months are often kept in another area with the newspapers and magazines (periodicals). It is good practise to take time to flick through those relevant to you, and mention studies and recent news in your essays and presentations to show you have your finger on the pulse and to boost your grades.
Past exam papers and students' work
These are often kept in your library, and if not there they may be available in your department. Photocopy the last few years past exam papers to get an idea of the questions asked and the key areas on the course. Old dissertations and final projects are also often available, which proves very useful in your second year for planning what to do and how, and how much is expected of you.
Videos and video rooms
There will often be a video library of films and documentaries, which you may either borrow or watch in a small room within the library. This can prove invaluable for your course, but also fantastic on those rainy days between lectures when you can raid the English departments feature films.
The net is an invaluable resource for research, so get used to using search engines like Google and typing in specific search terms. Find out any websites that your tutors and lecturers may recommend and generally browse around. One word of warning, you can find yourself browsing the web for hours without actually finding anything useful, skim-read sites and searches and be selective in what you read.
- Skim-read books quickly to see if they're relevant: look at headings, sub headings and chapter summaries. Once you have selected the useful ones read them in more depth, taking notes as you go. Ask yourself if you have understood what you have read, and if not reread it.
- Keep a record of where you found useful information, be it a book reference or a URL. You will need to quote it at the end of your essay or dissertation.
- Don't be afraid to ask library staff for something you can't find or don't know how to, it's their job to help you.
University libraries don't contain enough books for every student on your course. It is likely that a must-read book for a particular essay is in demand as deadline day approaches. You may find it worthwhile to part with some cash and invest in the most important books, but this needn't mean that your budget is drained overnight.
A good starting place would be the university bookshop. These are often high street stores housed on your campus. Prices are marginally lower than the high street and they are likely to specialise in subjects that your university offers. Your local Student Union may also offer a book exchange service. The idea is that once you have finished with a book, you can sell it on via the Student Union who will take a small cut.
Buying books online has been a growth area in recent years. Major players such as Amazon or ebay allow you to buy second-hand books. Another useful online bookseller is Abebooks, which allows you to buy or sell a book directly with another user at a fixed cost.
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