Research Skills

Strong research skills are an important skill that students of all levels need to develop. This is equally true for learners transitioning into third level from secondary education; those returning to education and for masters level students making the transition from undergraduate to post graduate programmes. Likewise, for staff looking to keep up to date with emerging best practice, confidence in undertaking research is also a critical, underlying skill.

By valuing and developing this foundational skill, other areas that many learners often find daunting will come much more easily, and develop naturally over the course of their studies.

Good research practice = Improved academic writing

By engaging in good research practice and taking the time to understand the referencing system your faculty expects you to use, you will avoid accidental plagiarism. You will also get into good habits that will allow you to engage with the subject and get a better understanding of both the topic and develop your own critical thinking.

Get into the habit of noting down where you have read something that interests you, where you found an article, a page number where you got a quote from.  There are many approaches that you can take, finding the approach that works well for you is well worth some time and thought in the long run.

The library is here to support you in your studies and will assist you with understanding referencing styles and academic writing. We offer a range of workshops on how you can best use a range of academic databases and research software to assist you in your studies and assignments. If you wish to make an appointment for one to one guidance or to arrange a group workshop please contact us.

We also have a range of video tutorials and supports available on our Library YouTube Channel, with playlists including Research Skills and Study Tips and we are adding to these all the time.

How to search on the academic databases - Quick tips

1: Identify relevant keywords

  • Keywords contain words and phrases that suggest what the topic is about. You first identify these through your assignment question. Then by reviewing your class notes on the topic. Keep a small notebook to hand and note down new keywords and phrases that you come across during the course of your research.
  • Review class notes: Look back over your lecturer’s class PowerPoint slides or notes and identify areas that overlap with the assignment topic. Again, note relevant keywords.
  • It is important to understand, there is no perfect search, allow yourself the freedom to discover relevant sources. You should try a number of combinations of simple searches to find the best material to support your arguments.
  • Start your search with a simple keyword or phrase. The academic databases usually prompt you with suggested keywords which can be very helpful.

2: Once you get the initial results, narrow these down:

  • Tick the Peer Review box (Other ways you may see this written may be is Academic Sources or Scholarly journals)
  • Narrow by date (this does not mean that you cannot use older material, but if an article is still relevant newer articles will still be referring to it.)
  • Click on the Subject Search. Of all the results that you get from your search, in each of these articles there will be a number of other keywords and subject areas that are relevant to your assignment. By looking at the Subject, you will often find that you can narrow your search to be more relevant to your assignment, and another added bonus is that you will discover more keywords and areas that are relevant to your assignment.
  • Limit by Abstract. If you find you are getting too many results to be useful, you could consider limiting your search of a particular phrase within abstracts only. The default search is that the database will look for the repetition of the exact phrase anywhere in the body of an article, this could include a passing mention. An abstract is a description of what the article is about, so if a phrase appears there, the full article is likely to be more relevant.


Understanding Sources

There are so many different types of information available, it is sometimes difficult to identify which can be considered reliable and appropriate for your needs. Understanding how best to access and recognise relevant information is a vital skill.

Getting to know your sources

Recognising and understanding the many different types of information that is available is a fundamental skill for academic work.

It is worth taking a little time to become familiar with the various types of sources that you will come across. This can help you to focus your time and attention in a more productive way.

This interactive lesson, developed by the University of Manchester explores how to evaluate and approach sources from the student perspective. It aims to develop the skills to necessary to source and critically judge quality information to support academic work.

Know your sources lesson

How to evaluate an online resource with The CRAAP test

Not all information that is published is credible and reliable. This can be particularly challenging to judge if you find that information online. You need to be able to judge the value and credibility of any source you find before you use it.

One way to evaluate an information source is to apply the CRAAP test.

What is the CRAAP TEST?

CRAAP is an acronym for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose

Currency: The timeliness of the information

  • How recent is the information?
  • How recently has the website been updated?
  • Is it current enough for your topic?

Relevance: The importance of the information for your needs

  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the information at an appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advanced for your needs)?
  • Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use?
  • Would you be comfortable using this source for a research paper?
  • Can you find the same or better information in another source?

Authority: The source of the information

  •  Who is the creator or author?
  • What are their credentials? Can you find any information about the author’s background?
  • What is the publisher’s interest (if any) in this information?
  • Are there advertisements on the website? If so, are they cleared marked?

Accuracy: The reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content

  • Is the information supported by evidence?
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
  • Can you verify any of the information in another source?
  • Does the language or tone seem biased and free of emotion?
  • Are there spelling, grammar, or other typographical errors?

Purpose: The reason the information exists

  • Is this fact or opinion? Does the author list sources or cite references?
  • Is it biased? Does the author seem to be trying to push an agenda or particular side?
  • Is the creator/author trying to sell you something? If so, is it clearly stated?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases?

Download the CRAAP Test Worksheet 

View this video from McMaster University to get a quick overview of what the CRAAP test involves.

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