Ten tips for effective research

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The Independent Online

When you're doing your A-levels, all your books and notes are laid on for you by accommodating teachers; that all changes in higher education. To make your coursework essays stand out from everyone else's, you've got to do your research; it's not enough to read the primary texts and turn up to lectures and tutorials (although that is a good place to start). Independent and self-motivated research is the name of the game, and we've got some ideas for you on how to end up with the most impressive bibliography.

1. There are usually library tours in Freshers' Week - in between making friends and registering for your course, do your best to go on one. It's a chance to get acquainted with a building you'll be spending a lot of time in over the next few years.

2. It's one of the first pieces of paper you'll be given - and it pays to make full use of it. If you get to grips with it early on you can make sure you have key books in advance, rather than having to scramble around at the last minute.

3. If you're on the ball, you can pick up novels and textbooks much more cheaply than you could in a high street book store, but you need to allow for delivery and, in some cases, wait for items to be in stock.

4. Buying books can be expensive, so when you've established some good friends on your course, raise the possibility of buying them between you. That can also be handy with library loans, so you can work together rather than fighting over the last copy.

5. If you grab books not knowing what you're after, you'll probably come out with an armful of useless material. Use the computers on site to clarify what you need and have a skim read to make sure what you're borrowing is going to do the business.

6. Most institutions operate this system: rather than loaning a book out for three weeks it's for three days, or 24 hours. It's a useful way to get hold of the more popular titles but be sure you know exactly when they're due back or you'll incur some hefty fines.

7. The web is a treasure trove of information but remember you still need to name your source if you quote from it. Don't believe anything you read on Wikipedia without double-checking it, and don't use it as an excuse to plagiarise - you'll be found out!

8. Sitting with your mates with the TV on isn't exactly a perfect study environment, so find somewhere you can get your head down and concentrate on the task at hand. If all else fails, the library has a pretty good reputation for being quiet of course...

9. Some of the stuff you'll be reading will be at a level you haven't got to before, or will be written in a way that isn't immediately easy to understand. Stick with it; if need be read a paragraph 10 times to get your head round it (with a break for a cup of tea of necessary!).

10. Can't find the book you want? Can't get that paragraph to sink in? Your tutors are there to help - so don't be afraid to ask them; they won't spoon-feed you the information you need but will happily point you in the right direction.


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