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Academic Writing: Finding the Evidence

This guide provides information about academic writing resources

Plan Your Library Research

When you are writing for an academic purpose such as an essay for an assignment, you need to find evidence to support your ideas. The library is a good place to begin your search for the evidence, as it acquires books and journals to support the disciplines within the University. The following outlines a list of steps to follow when starting to write an academic assignment:

Define your topic and scope of the search

  • This will provide the search terms when gathering evidence to support your arguments.
  • Sometimes it is a good idea to concept map key themes. This can be done on paper or by using a free online tool such as the mind-mapping software called  Free Mind. Concept mapping your topic helps to identify keywords to use in your searches.

The scope will advise you:

  • How much information is required, often identified by the number of words ie 500 or 3000 words
  • What sort of writing you are to do eg essay, report, annotated bibliography
  • How many marks are assigned. This may indicate the amount of time to allocate to the task.

Gather the information - Before writing about your topic, you will need to find evidence to support your ideas. 

Books provide a useful starting point for an introduction to the subject. Books also provide an in-depth coverage of a topic.

Journal Articles: For current research or information on a very specific topic, journal articles may be the most useful, as they are published on a regular basis. It is normally expected that you will use some journal articles in your assignment. When using journal articles, check whether they are from a magazine or scholalry publication. Scholarly publications are often peer reviewed, which means that the articles are reviewed by expert/s before being accepted for publication.

Free Web Publications: useful information can also be found in free web publications from government or research organizations (e.g. reports). Any web publications should be carefully evaluated. You are also required to view the whole publication, not just the abstract, if using the information in your assignment.

Remember to ensure that you note the citation details for references that you collect, at the time of locating the items. It is often time consuming and impossible to track the required data later.

Analyse the information collected

  • Have I collected enough information on the topic

Synthesise your information

Write the report or essay

  • Check the ECU Academic tip sheet: the Academic Essay for some useful pointers
  • Remember, in most cases you will need an introduction, body and conclusion
  • Record details of references used for referencing. Information on referencing can be located on the ECU Referencing Guide.

Start your library research as early as possible as key texts may be in high demand.

How to Find Web Resources

Choose publications (reports, etc.) from government and research organizations. It's important to evaluate web publications for accuracy, currency, reliablity and relevancy.

When evaluating information it's useful to think about the 4 Rs:

  • Recent : Is the information timely and up-to-date?
  • Reliable: Who is the author? Is the information biased? Can it be verified? Is the source an expert?
  • Readable: Can you easily read and understand the information?
  • Relevant: Is the information relevant to your topic?

Internet Detective
This tutorial is designed for tertiary students and offers practical advice on evaluating the quality of websites. In a light-hearted way, it highlights the need for care when selecting internet sources for university work. Created in partnership between staff at the University of Bristol and Manchester Metropolitan University.

Analyzing the Topic

Do you understand the assignment question? If the topic is new to you:

Read the assignment carefully and ask your lecturer or tutor if you have any questions relating to the assignment.

Check your textbook, recommended readings and lecture notes. Readings are normally listed in the unit outline & Reserve list for the unit.  

Check a subject dictionary or encyclopaedia. These are listed in the relevant library Subject Guide 

How to Find Books

Books are usually a good place to start researching your topic, as they provide an introduction and overview of the subject. This gives you the background you need for researching more specific aspects of the topic.

Identify the books you need for an assignment as soon as possible, as key texts are in high demand.

- Check Reading List/High Use Collection items listed in your Blackboard unit
- Find books on a topic (print and e-books) using a Keyword search
- Locate books from a reference list 
- Link to a journal title

How to Find Journal Articles

A good place to start searching is ECU WorldSearch, which searches the Library’s collections of books, journal articles and other resources.

Type in the keywords that you’ve identified. The system will automatically combine keywords.

Limit your search to:

  1. Journal articles by selecting Journal Article listed under Content Type in the left hand side bar.
  2. Scholarly Publications, select this option under Refine Your Search in the left hand side bar.

The Advanced Search option may provide a more efficient search, as you can place multiple limits in the one search.

For a more specific search select one of the subject specific databases listed in the Subject Guide for your course. Databases are also listed alphabetically by title in the A-Z list on the Library's website.

Simple Search Tips for Databases:

AND – use this to narrow results. Typing in health AND adolescents will retrieve articles that have both of those terms.

OR – use this to expand results. Typing in companies OR corporations will retrieve articles that have at least one of the terms. Also use this if there might be different ways to enter a term: IBM or “International Business Machines”

asterisk (*) - use the asterisk to find all forms of a search term. For example the search term comput* will find computer, computers, computing, computed etc. You can also use the asterisk within a word to find both English and American spelling, e.g. behavio*r

quotation marks – use quotation marks to search for exact phrase. For example the database will recognize “academic writing” as words being together.