How to make an action plan for your studies and achieve your goals

Everyone has goals, be that for lifestyle, health, work or study. These goals give you focus, generate new habits and keep you moving forward in life. However, life is tough, particularly at the moment, so the thought of setting goals can sometimes feel overwhelming. This post will take you through how creating an action plan will help you clarify your goal journey; exploring what your goal is and why you’re setting it, what it will take to achieve, and how you will motivate yourself to reach your destination.

The examples we will focus on will be for study goals, however you can apply this method of goal setting to any aspect of your life.

1. Start with reflection

Before embarking on your shiny new goals, take some time to reflect on your previous goals. Which goals have you successfully achieved? Why were they a success? Is there anything you would do differently this time? Is there a common theme in the goals that you didn’t achieve, such as a lack of purpose?

Ask yourself ‘why’ you are setting this new goal, doing so will help you stay focused and give you meaning and purpose for this potentially challenging journey that you are embarking on.

2. Make them SMART

Your goals need to be SMART:

  • Specific – a specific and focused goal to allow for effective planning
  • Measurable – how will you measure the success of your goal? 
  • Achievable  – a goal that you will realistically accomplish within a time frame
  • Relevant  – a goal that is important and benefits you
  • Time bound – a goal that has a realistic deadline

What is your goal and how can you make it SMART?

EXAMPLE: Your goal is to hand in your dissertation early this summer. This goal, as it is, may feel daunting and unachievable, so how can we make it SMART?

  • Specific – You want to hand in your dissertation two weeks early because you are going on holiday.
  • Measurable – You will set measurable targets daily/weekly, such as X amount of words written by X.
  • Achievable – You have 10 weeks to complete your goal, so you feel it is very attainable if you plan your time carefully (if you only had 2 weeks, you might want to reconsider your goal).
  • Relevant – This goal is very relevant as you need to do well in your dissertation so you can pass your degree, but you also need to complete it early so you can go on your booked holiday.
  • Time bound – You have a clear ideal deadline of two weeks before hand-in.

Use our Goal Setting Template to get you started on your SMART goal:

3. Put your goal into action

An action plan is a flexible checklist or document for the steps or tasks that you need to complete in order to successfully achieve the goal(s) you have set yourself.

This could be written in a notebook, diary or using the Action Plan Template we have created that you can print off and use. It’s important that you get out your pen and actually write your goals down on paper. Research has shown that this will engage the left-hand, logical, side of the brain – basically telling your brain that you mean business!

Use our Action Plan Template to put your SMART goal(s) into action:

4. Plan for obstacles

There are always going to be challenges and events that may disrupt your goal, but instead of letting that obstacle derail you, plan for it.

Look at your study goal and identify what the obstacle(s) will be.

EXAMPLE: You want to submit your dissertation in early, but there’s a big family birthday coming up and a Uni field trip planned. So, get your action plan out and make sure these events are accounted for and plan your studies around them.

5. Check it off

There is nothing more satisfying in life (well apart from popping bubble wrap) than crossing or checking items off a to-do list – it’s that sense of accomplishment, feeling like you are finally getting there, which in turn reduces stress. So remember to break down your goal into small attainable actions and checklists, and for big projects, such as a dissertation or research project, you might have multiple checklists on the go. Just think of the satisfaction you will feel when it’s all done!

6. Reward yourself

This a very personal aspect of goal setting, but an important one.

To boost your motivation we recommend that you choose a reward for all your successful hard work, but select something that’s in relation to the size of the goal – maybe a piece of cake for getting a First Class degree is a bit out of proportion! Add this reward to your action plan and remind yourself of your incentive on a regular basis. It will keep you motivated when you feel like giving up.

EXAMPLE: If you hand-in your dissertation early you will treat yourself to a night out with your friends before you go on holiday.

7. A bit more reflection

You made this goal for a reason – it’s something that you really, REALLY want to achieve, so if your plan isn’t working, change it! Take some time to reflect on what’s working or not working in your action plan, be that daily, weekly, or monthly. Consider – How are you progressing? What changes can you make to bring you closer to your goals? It hard to keep on track when you feel like you aren’t getting anywhere, so are there any quick wins to give you a sense of accomplishment?

EXAMPLE: It’s late at night, you’re tired and struggling to write your dissertation conclusion. Your self-given deadline is in a days time and you are starting to doubt that your goal is achievable – maybe you need to postpone the holiday?

What you need to do is pivot your method – this isn’t working, so what can you change to still achieve your goal? Maybe leave the conclusion for the morning when you feel more awake, but spend the next hour focusing on your reference list so you can tick that off your action plan instead.

Final thoughts

Your SMART goals can be about anything and should be quite simple to plan. There’s lots of help online on using SMART goals, but working your way through the acronym for your particular goal is an excellent start. Don’t forget to use our Goal Setting Template and our Action Plan Template to help keep your goals manageable and reduce that feeling of overwhelm with your studies.

P.S. I had to set myself a SMART goal for writing this blog post and my reward was a very tasty lunch ❤

Scopus quick tips: Phrase searching

For those of you that don’t already know, Scopus is an expertly curated abstract and citation database combined with enriched data and linked scholarly literature across a wide variety of disciplines. In short, it’s a great resource for study and research providing quick access to verifiable data sources.

However, to get the information that you need from Scopus requires the use of accurate search strategies and methods in addition to your standard Boolean operators of OR, AND, NOT.

To demonstrate, when running a simple search for the words green AND energy (note the use of the Boolean AND) within Abstract title, Abstract, Keywords, Scopus returns an enormous 112,080 document results. In response to such a large return, phrase searching can be a useful strategy for narrowing results down in the first instance; although, the type of phrase search that you choose is also important.

When phrase searching you can return loose/approximate results or exact results depending upon the use of specific punctuation, which can dramatically alter the number of records revealed in the database. For example, when wrapping the phrase “green energy” in double quotation marks and searching within Abstract title, Abstract, Keywords, Scopus returns 7,131 document results – this is a loose phrase search. Conversely, when wrapping the phrase {green energy} in braces (curly brackets) and searching within Abstract title, Abstract, Keywords, Scopus returns 6,596 document results – this is an exact phrase search.

Immediately, we can see that the exact phrase search returns around 500 fewer results. The distinction is far greater, however, if green-energy is hyphenated and the same searches are performed. Here, the loose phrase search in double quotation marks returns the same number of results as with our original search, 7,131, effectively ignoring the hyphen and searching for documents where green energy appear together. In contrast, the exact phrase search in braces finds only results with the hyphen and this time returns only 132 results.

This is just one brief example of how using simple search strategies can alter the number and range of results that can be retrieved in Scopus. Now, log in to Scopus via Library Search and have a go at widening, or narrowing, your search horizons.

Student guest post: resources for your English literature/language studies

We’re delighted to welcome a guest blog post from Leanna Thomson. Leanna is a second year undergraduate English Literature student, and a blogger for the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics.

Leanna Thomson
Leanna Thomson

“This semester, I studied the module ‘Independent Research Project Preparation’, which included a guest lecture from the Library all about their resources. I found the information about databases so useful that I wanted to share it with students outside of the module, because I think it could really revolutionise their remote learning! I hope you find these resources as useful as I did.”

Our top eight sites for finding secondary and specialist sources

The search for relevant, high quality secondary sources to reference in your assignment can seem like a challenge, especially during remote learning. Sometimes your online search can yield so many texts that you don’t know where to start; other times you struggle to find anything at all. However, our top online database picks will help you find the perfect text in no time! All you have to do is use Library Search or your library subject guide to access the databases.

1. Library Search

A search on the University library catalogue, Library Search, not only fetches up results from the Library’s huge range of books, articles, newspapers, audiovisual content and more, many of which you can either access online or order for click and collect or home delivery. It will also find papers from the hundreds of journals and databases that the Library subscribes to, including both interdisciplinary and SELLL specific titles. Library Search also has advanced search setting and filters, which can help you find exactly what you need. You can also access specialised guides about finding secondary sources for your subject.

2. Literature Online (LION)

LION is a literature-specific database, perfect for seeking content such as literary criticism, works of literature to use as comparisons to your primary texts or enforcements of your argument, reviews, periodicals and audiovisual content, to name but a few of its elements. Its advanced search engine can be modified so that it only finds what you are looking for, and it is a perfect database to turn to when you can’t find quite enough literary-focused content on your topic.

3. JSTOR

JSTOR offers full text online access to scholarly journals, books and book chapters across all subject areas. It has basic and advanced search options that allow you to search by topic keyword, author, subject area, title or publisher.

You can also download JSTOR texts as pdf files, meaning you can store them on your computer or print them off.

4. Linguistics and Language Behavior Abstracts (LLBA)

LLBA focuses on academic resources for the study of language: including phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics, and descriptive, historical, comparative, theoretical and geographical linguistics.

LLBA thesaurus

It also features a specialised linguistics thesaurus, which you can use in advanced search to refine and focus your search. The thesaurus provides a searchable list of all the subject terms used in the database, and highlights links between broader, narrower and related terms, helping you to select all of the keywords relevant to your topic.

5. Scopus

Scopus is a large, interdisciplinary database of peer-reviewed literature, including articles, book chapters and conference papers. It includes a range of smart tools that can help you track the research in your area. You can search for documents, sources, authors and institutions, and compare and contrast them using a variety of different tools.

It includes full reference lists for articles, as well as lists of texts which have cited a particular article. This allows you to uncover all the information relevant to your research. You can also set up citation alerts, so you can be informed of new, relevant material automatically.

6. MLA International Bibliography

The MLA international bibliography is produced by the Modern Language Association, an organisation dedicated to the study and teaching of language and literature. It indexes books and articles published about modern languages, literature, folklore, and linguistics. It contains many links to full texts, and as its title suggests, it includes texts from all over the world. The electronic version of the bibliography dates back to 1925 and contains over 2.2 million citations from more than 4,400 periodicals (including peer-reviewed e-journals) and 1,000 book publishers. It’s an ideal database for any SELLL student!

7. Google Scholar

A search on Google Scholar is just as simple and fruitful as an ordinary Google search, but the results will be peer-reviewed, academic sources, so it’s a much more reliable search engine for your university work. It will also bring up references from a range of different information sources, including Google Books, online journals, downloadable pdf files and even many of the databases discussed on this post!

What’s more, there are lots of useful filters: you can search by relevance and by time period, which is really useful for when you are looking for sources from a particular moment in time. There are also “cited by” lists, so you can track research forwards in time, and suggestions of similar texts for each source.

8. Accents and Dialects

Accents and Dialects is a searchable database of English accent recordings from the British Library Sound Archive.

Recordings include early spoken word snippets from the 1890s onwards, Opie’s collection of children’s songs and games, an evolving English word bank, and a survey of English dialects. Each recording includes a detailed description, with some containing linguistic information too, and most can be downloaded for academic use. You can browse the database by project, county, or date: the search box on the top right of the page can be used to look for specific keywords, including dialects or places.


Thanks Leanna: some great tips there! If you are a student, and would like to write a guest blog post for us about any aspect of the Library and its resources, please just get in touch with us: we’d love to hear from you!