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London Metropolitan University

Researching for your coursework: Finding information on your topic

Researching for your coursework

Determine which types of resources you need to find

Once you have examined your assignment topic to make sure you understand it and to identify the keywords, your next step is to determine which information resources you need to address the topic. 
Different types of resources will become familiar to you as you progress through your studies. It is important to identify which types of resources will be useful and relevant to this particular assignment; your decision will depend on what you are being asked to do on this occasion. What is appropriate for one assignment may not be appropriate for another. 
Books are the resource that most people look for first when doing research. Many books have chapters and an index at the back, which can help you find information contained within them more quickly. They may provide a general overview on a topic, or may contain more in-depth research; this varies depending on your subject area. You will find both print books and e-books through the Library Catalogue.
Journals are a collection of journal articles, and may also be referred to as periodicals or serials. They are published at regular intervals, meaning that they are likely to contain more up-to-date research than books. Many journals are now published online. You can use the "Find online resources" option and the databases to search for journal articles on a particular topic, or you can locate a journal to find a particular article within it, or to browse recent issues, through the Library Catalogue.
Websites may contain resources such as documents or statements which could be useful for certain assignments. It is essential to remember that anyone can publish anything on the internet (and make it look authentic), so you must assess the website before using anything from it in your work; who has created this resource, and what is their aim in doing so? Is the resource trustworthy?
Reports may contain a variety of different types of information, from statistics to analysis, and can be a useful resource for some assignments and subject areas. Some can be found in the databases while others, such as government reports, may be found on online portals and webpages. Your subject guide will highlight where to look for reports within your discipline.
Audiovisual media includes videos, television programmes, films and sound recordings. Some of these resources may be found on websites, but the Library has a number of databases which contain them too – you can find a list of suggested databases on the Library webpages.
What else??
You can find further advice on whether you should be using a particular type of resource for your assignment under Can You Use This In Your Coursework?

Can't I just do a search in Google?

You are probably already familiar with finding information on the internet.  However, the Library subscribes to a lot of online resources to which you have access through the Library Catalogue, "Find Online Resources" option and various databases.  These are academic resources containing content which is not available to access for free online.  Usually, when your tutors mark your assignments, they will want to see that you have done academic research to find these types of resources. Whilst Google can be used effectively as an additional search tool - we'll cover this when we look at Advanced Searching - it should not be your first port of call when looking for information for your assignments. 

The information timeline

When choosing which types of resources to search for, it is important to bear in the mind the "information timeline" - how some types of information are published more quickly than others. For example, news reports and commentary about an event or incident will appear almost instantaneously on social media and news websites, whereas journal articles containing a case study of this occurrence will not be created and published until much later - a year, or even more.
You will need to consider this timeline when deciding what to look for within your topic. Let's say you're looking at the impact of natural disasters on tourism in different locations; if you're looking at specific examples of where a natural disaster has occurred in a popular tourist destination, you are far more likely to find book chapters and journal articles on something that happened a few years ago, than you are for something which only happened last year. 
Once again, it is important to decide what type of information you need to find for your assignment; for example, whilst social media threads can provide a useful insight into reactions to an incident as it happened, if your assignment brief requires you to find scholarly analysis of an event, then this type of resource would not be appropriate. 

How many different resources do I need to find?

There is not usually any one, definitive answer to this question! Sometimes your tutor or the assignment brief may specify a desired or required number of references (check the information on your Weblearn module), but usually it is left to your own judgement.

Broadly speaking, the longer the length of your assignment, the more resources you will need to use, but this can vary depending on what you are being asked to do for your coursework. 

Remember that you should not be just finding resources for the sake of obtaining a certain number of references for your reference list at the end; you should be using the information that you find to provide evidence for your arguments, and to demonstrate the solid knowledge of your topic that you have developed from your reading. The answer is, then, that you need to find as many different resources as required for you to be able to achieve these things.