Finding empirical and methodological research articles

When it comes to research methods or research methodologies, there can be a lot of unfamiliar terms and concepts to get to grips with. One question we’re often asked by masters business students is how to find empirical and methodological research articles. It’s a good question as it can be quite tricky to locate articles on these topics, so here’s some advice on how you can go about searching for them in Library Search and the databases that we subscribe to.

Book shelves with hanging light bulbs
Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

What is the difference between empirical and methodological research?

Let’s start by defining our key terms, so we know what to look out for:

Empirical research

Empirical research is based on observed and measured phenomena and derives knowledge from actual experience rather than from theory or belief.

How do you know if a study is empirical? Read the subheadings within the article, book, or report and look for a description of the research methodology. Ask yourself: Could I recreate this study and test these results?

Key characteristics to look for:

  • Specific research questions to be answered
  • Definition of the population, behaviour, or phenomena being studied
  • Description of the process used to study this population or phenomena, including selection criteria, controls, and testing instruments (such as surveys)

Another hint: some scholarly journals use a specific layout, called the “IMRaD” format, to communicate empirical research findings. Such articles typically have 4 components:

  • Introduction: sometimes called “literature review” — what is currently known about the topic — usually includes a theoretical framework and/or discussion of previous studies
  • Methodology: sometimes called “research design” — how to recreate the study — usually describes the population, research process, and analytical tools
  • Results: sometimes called “findings” — what was learned through the study — usually appears as statistical data or as substantial quotations from research participants
  • Discussion: sometimes called “conclusion” or “implications” — why the study is important — usually describes how the research results influence professional practices or future studies

Thank you to Penn State University for their description of empirical research: https://guides.libraries.psu.edu/emp

Methodological research / study

According to Mbaugbaw et al., a methodological study will:

“…evaluate the design, analysis or reporting of other research-related reports […] They help to highlight issues in the conduct of research with the aim of improving […] research methodology, and ultimately reducing research waste (2020, p.1).

In simple terms, it’s research on research!

Key characteristics to look for:

  • Will have the term ‘methodological research’ or ‘methodological study’ in the title or abstract.
  • Has more of a focus on the method(s) employed to do the research (e.g. interviews, questionnaires) rather than the findings of the research.
  • Evaluates how research was done and how the methodology could be improved.

How to find empirical and methodological research articles in Library Search and databases

Finding these research articles isn’t always easy, but it can be done! While they are indexed in most databases, it can sometimes be tricky to find them because of the wide variety of names used for these type of studies (methodological research can also be known as research-on-research, meta-research, meta-epidemiological studies etc.). Here’s our top tips for finding empirical and methodological research articles:

Searching via journal titles

The easiest way to find these journal articles is to target journals that are focused on research methods, then search or browse within those titles.

Here’s some examples of such journal titles to help you find methodological studies:

I recommend that you search for these titles in Library Search under ‘Everything except articles’ filter:

Screenshot of Library Search and searching for a particular Journal title.

Within these titles I recommend searching for “methodological study” in the abstract:

Screen shot of searching within SAGE Journals for "methodological study"

To find empirical research articles, you would go to top, peer-reviewed, research journals in your field of study (the list is endless!) and search within these using relevant keywords.

Here are some key journal titles in the field of business:

You then need to search within these journal titles, ideally within the abstract, for keywords relating to the research design / method ( i.e. how the researcher collected their empirical research) So you might search for terms such as interview*, survey*, questionnaire*, “focus group*” or “mixed method*” :

Screen shot of searching within a business journal for an empirical research method

Searching via keyword in Library Search and databases

If you aren’t finding enough when searching within journal titles, broaden your search by looking within Library Search and other suitable databases.

The Advanced Search within Library Search is a good place to start. Again, try to search for keywords such as “methodological study”, or by method, e.g., interview*, survey*, questionnaire*, “focus group*” or “mixed method*”, along with your subject topic. Remember to use the filters if you need to find research within a particular time frame, such as the last 10 years:

Screenshot of Library Search search for "methodological study"

If you are looking within Scopus or subject specialist databases, such as Business Source Complete, the process is exactly the same. If your search isn’t working, try different keywords, but persevere as the research is there, it just might be hiding:

Screenshot of Scopus showing searching "methodological study" within the Abstract field.

Searching with controlled vocabulary / subject headings

Some of our databases use controlled vocabulary (a thesaurus), this allows you to identify the preferred terms used in a particular database for your topic of interest, making it easier to find relevant articles. Here is a worked example using controlled vocabulary in Business Source Complete:

I tried a search for “empirical research”, and found it is a preferred term within this database:

Clicking on this preferred term allows you to explore any related or narrower terms, which you can choose to add to your search to improve the quality of your results:

Screenshot of thesaurus in Business Source complete

I decided to add Empirical research and the related term Quantitative research to my search, clicking add to include them in my search string:

I can then add subject related terms to my search:

Many of the social sciences databases have a thesaurus that you can search within.

SAGE Research Methods

For further help on topic of research methods and methodologies, check out SAGE Research Methods. This is a database containing thousands of resources, dedicated to the subject area of Research Methods. It supports all stages of the research process including: writing a research question, conducting a literature review, choosing the best research methods, analysing data, to writing up your results and thinking about publication. It contains information suited to all levels of researchers, from undergraduates starting your first project to research associates. Within the resource, you can access dictionary and encyclopaedia entries, book chapters, full books, journal articles, case studies, some datasets and video. There are many uses for the resources you will find in SAGE Research Methods:

  • get a quick explanation of a term or concept in a dictionary or encyclopaedia entry
  • access a full overview of a qualitative and quantitative methods, theory or approach in a specialist book
  • use an e-book chapter that covers a specific method in more detail for your methodology chapter or when choosing how to approach your research
  • access a journal article that illustrates the real world application of the methods in research

Access the SAGE Research Methods User Guide for an overview of the resource, and use the tabs below to access videos and training materials to get started. 

To access SAGE Research Methods, either:

I hope you have found this useful. I’m sorry there isn’t an easy way for finding such articles, however, a thorough and systematic search within journal titles, Library Search and databases will allow you to find some relevant and good quality articles that you can use in your research.

If you need further help with this topic or something similar, please make an appointment with your Liaison Librarian.

References

Mbuagbaw, L., Lawson, D. O., Puljak, L., Allison, D. B. and Thabane, L. (2020) ‘A tutorial on methodological studies: the what, when, how and why’, BMC Medical Research Methodology, 20(1). Available at: https://bmcmedresmethodol.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12874-020-01107-7 (Accessed: 15 June 2022).

Tackling essay-based exams

Picture of rows of exam desks

Exam season is almost upon us and one challenge you may find yourself facing is revising for essay-based exams. These can cause a lot of anxiety, not least because essay-based assessments are often something we are used to doing over the course of several weeks. How do you plan, structure and write an essay in the space of a couple of hours? And how on earth do you revise when you don’t know what you’ll be asked?

Read on for our guide to effective revision and exam technique for essay-based exam questions:

What are essay exams testing?

Before you jump into your revision, it can be helpful to remember that essay exams are not just testing your memory. Instead, your lecturers are looking for evidence of how well you can apply the knowledge you have gained throughout the course to solve a problem or answer a question under timed conditions. Therefore, whilst memory is still important – you’ll need to be able to recall that knowledge in the exam – it’s only part of the story. You’ll also need to make sure you have an in-depth understanding of that knowledge and have practiced applying it to different questions, problems, and contexts.

How do I revise for essay exams?

You may be tempted to write a ‘generic’ essay on each of the topics you’re revising and memorise them so you can repeat them in the exam room. However, keep in mind that your lecturers are asking you to solve the specific problem they’ve set for you and simply ‘dumping’ everything that’s relevant won’t address the question and is unlikely to earn you good marks.

A more effective approach to revising for essay exams is incorporating strategies that develop your understanding of the topic so you can apply your knowledge to different problems effectively. Some revision strategies you might want to try for this are:

  • Questioning and interrogating the knowledge: why does this happen? How does it happen? Does it always happen this way? Is this always true? What about if we apply it to a different context? What are the implications of this?
  • Try applying the knowledge to case studies or different scenarios to get a better understanding of how theory works in practice.
  • Look at past papers or devise your own questions and either answer them in full or sketch out an essay plan under timed conditions. This will help you to test your recall and practice skills you’ll be using in the exam.
  • Compare and weigh up different approaches to the topic. Does everyone agree on this? Why? Why not? Which perspective is stronger?
  • Identify gaps in your knowledge and do some additional reading to fill them.

What about strategies for the exam itself?

You might be used to spending hours or even days planning, writing, and editing a coursework essay and be wondering how on earth you do all of this under timed conditions. Keep in mind that your lecturers know that this is a big ask and they are not expecting the same level of sophistication in the way you construct your arguments that they would be looking for in a coursework essay. However, it’s still necessary that your lecturers can follow your answer and see clearly how it addresses the question so:

  • Spend some time at the beginning paying attention to what the question is asking you. Our video on question analysis offers some strategies for understanding essay questions:
  • Sketch out a basic structure to follow. This needn’t be more than the main points you want to argue and the order you want to argue them in.
  • Clearly state your point or communicate your main focus at the beginning of each paragraph to help your reader get their bearings and follow your argument.
  • If you find yourself running out of time, write down a few bullet points around your remaining points – you may still pick up a few extra marks for this!

Do I need to reference sources in an essay exam?  

While you won’t be expected to reference others to the extent you do in a coursework essay, it’s worth incorporating a few references to back up your points and show how you worked out your answer.

Try to memorise a couple of key arguments and/or debates made by others for each topic as well as the authors’ surname(s) and the year of the article so that you can cite it in the exam. Don’t worry about the details – just one or two lines summarising their main argument is enough.

What about other types of exams?

Exams exist in various formats in addition to the traditional essay-based exam type. For example, your course may also have multiple choice papers, vivas/oral presentations or exams relating to specific processes, techniques and interactions. All types of exams test your ability to recall and apply your subject knowledge, so most advice on revision and exam technique is applicable to different exam types. Effective revision trains your brain both to retain and to retrieve information; a process that’s equally useful for all exam formats. However, different types of exams can also present different challenges, and transitioning from online to in-person exams is a key change for this year. For more details on this and other exam-related issues, see our ASK Exams Collection and our calendar for upcoming workshops on revision and exam preparation.

We are here to support you!

Don’t forget that the Academic Skills Team will be in the Walton Library to answer questions about exams, revision, and any other questions you may have about academic skills on the following days and times:

11.05.2211:00-13:00
25.05.2211:00-13:00
08.06.2211:00-13:00

Writing an essay: step-by-step guidance from the Academic Skills Development Team

A selection of books on academic skills.

Not sure about how to start writing an essay?

One of the most frequently asked questions in the academic skills drop-ins in the Walton Library is about how to write an essay.

If you are feeling a bit overwhelmed with how to begin a piece of assessed written work, it is worthwhile thinking about writing as a process as opposed to a final product. Thinking about it in this way means that you break the task down into smaller manageable chunks, but you can also review, reflect, and edit your work as you go along which helps you to meet the marking criteria.

It is important to remember that although we call it a process, you are likely to move back and forward between stages reviewing, evaluating, revising, and editing as you go along.

A student in the Law Library.

The first stage in the process is planning, this includes looking over the marking scheme as well as the questions, this will give you a clear idea of what the marker is looking for, you can then begin generating ideas, this will lead you to begin the research process.  It is worth reading broadly at first to get an overall picture of your topic, here you’ll use the materials you’ve been taught in lectures, look at your reading list as well as other resources you’ve been directed to. At this stage (and throughout your work) it is a good idea to have the assignment question to hand so that you can refer to it, this will help you keep focussed on the task you’ve been set. You’ll then be in a position to decide how you want to respond to the assignment question, this will then help you source more detailed texts. Deciding on your position at the planning stage will help make your writing focussed and coherent. Once you’ve decided on your position, you can begin to map out a rough plan.

It is important to have a plan because this gives you a clear overview of what you’ll write about, it will guide you as you work through the assignment and will help you ensure that you’ve included everything and addressed the task fully. The plan doesn’t need to be detailed, even a list of headings and subheadings can be helpful to guide you. Regardless of how you plan your work out, this process will enable you to organise your argument and the evidence you’ll use to support this, you can also establish connections between points. It will also help you read with a clear purpose, as you’ll be looking for material to support your point, as opposed to summarising relevant texts and adding them to your work.

Image courtesy of Glenn Carstens-Peters

After the planning stage you’ll move onto the composition of the assignment. Here you’ll use the rough plan as a guide, and you’ll begin formatting ideas and incorporating references to support your points.  You’ll think about how to structure and the composition of each paragraph and add the appropriate references. Remember it is important to integrate sources when you are writing, not simply summarise one text per idea.

Then you’ll go over what you’ve written and review it, you should evaluate what you’ve written thinking about the evidence you’ve found and your argument throughout the essay, and as you look through your work you are likely to revise and edit what you’ve got. This process will continue until you have completed your assignment.

Reviewing, evaluating, revising, and editing your work is likely to occur in several cycles. Eventually you’ll have a completed draft. At this stage it is worth ensuring that you read the whole piece of work to ensure flow throughout, you can also check for any language, structural, referencing, style or grammar issues. If possible, take a break from writing so that when you do your final checks you are looking at your work with fresh eyes and therefore will be more likely to spot any potential errors.

Our video illustrates this process and can help get you started on tackling a piece of work you’ve been given. Don’t forget that we’ll be able to answer your questions about essay writing and much more when we visit the Walton Library for our drop-ins, the next one is scheduled for Wednesday 16th from 11:00-13:00.
We’ll add more dates after the Easter break, however, in the meantime if you’ve got any academic skills queries, we’ve now got a Live Chat widget on all the Academic Skills Kit pages, it’s live from 12:00-16:00 Monday to Friday.

We always love to hear from students, if you’ve got any feedback or questions about our support or resources please get in touch! AcademicSkills@newcastle.ac.uk

SAGE Research Methods

After a recent trial we are delighted we have managed to secure access to SAGE Research Methods. This is an invaluable resources for anyone undertaking an independent research project or dissertation.

The platform contains thousands of resources, dedicated to the subject area of Research Methods.  It supports all stages of the research process from: writing a research question, conducting a literature review, choosing the best research methods, analysing data, to writing up your results and thinking about publication.

It contains information suited to all levels of researchers, from undergraduates starting their first projects to research associates. Within the resource students will be able to access dictionary and encyclopaedia entries, book chapters, full books, journal articles, case studies, some datasets and streaming video from SAGE Research Methods Video. It includes online access to the complete Quantitative Applications in the Social Sciences (QASS) series, aka the “The Little Green Books,” as well as the Qualitative Research Methods Series (QRMS), or “The Little Blue Books”

SAGE Research Methods includes a wealth of teacher resources and reusable materials for academics and module leaders to draw on and are licensed for educational use, allowing you to reuse materials and show videos within your teaching free of Copyright concerns. We think the platform will work well in conjunction with textbooks on research methods as well as some of the resources we have on our ASK website.

The Methods Map can be used to navigate methods, concepts and techniques via breakout diagrams. Whereas the Project Planner Tool is a step-by-step guide to starting, developing and completing a research project.  The methods sections provide information on all aspects of the research cycle – including the formulation of research questions, research design, project management and data collection.

Coming soon, SAGE Research Methods will be embedded in Canvas as an LTI, allowing you to easily embed videos, learning materials, case studies and videos into your Canvas courses.

Access the SAGE Research Methods User Guide for an overview of the resource an use the tabs below to access videos and training materials to get started.

Be Connected: EndNote

What is EndNote?

The official blurb on EndNote is that it is “…the industry standard software tool for publishing and managing bibliographies, citations and references.”

EndNote takes a little getting used to and we recommend you familiarise yourself with it at the start of your research process. EndNote isn’t for everyone, but EndNote can save you a lot of time in terms organising and managing your references for assignments, dissertations or big research projects.

You can use EndNote to create and organise a personal library of resources relevant to your research. You can import references from Library Search, and a huge range of databases such as Scopus, Web of Science, IEEE Xplore and Business Source Complete. Did you know you can instruct Google Scholar to import references into EndNote too? Give it a go.

You can also ask EndNote to locate full-text PDFs for references and annotate the documents within EndNote. Finally, if you already have PDFs stored in your home folder (H:\) then you can attach them to a manually-created reference within EndNote, bringing all your research together in one place.

In addition to organising your references (and this is the clever bit) you can then get EndNote to ‘talk’ to Microsoft Word, and insert the citations into your work for you in your chosen referencing style, e.g. Harvard at Newcastle, Vancouver, APA or MLA. If you don’t want to do that, then EndNote will also allow you to create an independent bibliography of your references, saving you an awful lot of typing.

EndNote help

  • Enrol onto our Teach Yourself EndNote module on Canvas to become proficient in using EndNote.
  • Take a look at our EndNote Guide which contains all the introductory information you need, step-by-step workbooks to train yourself on the use of EndNote (the Desktop and Online versions), videos, and useful FAQs.
  • Finally, Newcastle University provides support for EndNote but it is not compulsory to use. Take some time to explore alternative referencing management tools such as MendeleyZoteroRefWorks which might suit you better.
  • If you can’t find the answer, email Library Help and someone will get back to you, or you can fill in the form on the FAQ box.

Help and training from Clarivate

For further training, you might want to have a look at Clarivate’s training calendar.  They also have really useful Question and Answer sessions where you can ask them anything regarding EndNote. You can register for any of the training via their training calendar.

They also have an excellent suite of training resources which includes video tutorials, self-guided learning, PDF reference guides, live training and online guides for:

Be Connected: Referencing

Following on from our Be Connected: Referencing session, this blog post covers the main points that we covered in our session. You will find links to key resources that we highlighted so you have them in one handy place.

You can also find a copy of our slides and a link to other useful referencing/managing information blog posts at end of this post.

Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash

The Managing Information Guide and the slides from the session give you the context of why it is import to reference and why you should be managing your information. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of information out there (and that’s before you start your dissertation/project!), so getting into good habits it essential not only academically, but also for your wellbeing.

Why is referencing important?

  • It acknowledges the ideas and contributions of others that you have drawn upon in your work, ensuring that you avoid plagiarism
  • It highlights the range of reading you’ve done for your assignment and makes your own contribution clear, showing how you’ve taken ideas from others and built upon them
  • It enables the person reading your work to follow up on your references so they can learn more about the ideas you’ve discussed in your work or check any facts and figures.

How does referencing work?

Academic Skill Kit video on Managing Information; how to reference

Are there any tools that can help?

There are lots of referencing tools that can help you manage and format your citations and references correctly.  Given where you might be within your dissertation or project it might not be best use of your time to start learning a new tool now. But if you are working with lots of references or still writing up most of your dissertation then a digital tool might save you some time in the long run.

Here are some examples of tools that can help:

A very useful online tool that lists all the information you need to include in a reference and provides examples of how a reference will look as an in-text citation and in a reference list. 

  • Citation Buttons
Citation button consisting of a speech mark "

Keep an eye out for this symbol on Library Search and Google Scholar.  Clicking the button will provide the option for you to copy a reference in a particular style and paste it directly into your reference list.  You might need to tidy it up a little bit but it will save you time over writing them manually.

Reference building tools help you to create a bibliography using the correct referencing style.  You can input information manually or use import functions to pull information through from other webpages or documents.  As with the citation button above, reference building tools can save you time but you may still need to check the references are accurate.

  • Reference Management Software: e.g. EndNote

If you are writing a detailed essay, dissertation or thesis, you may like to use a reference management tool such as EndNote, Mendeley or Zotero to help keep all of your references organised.  This software allows you to manually add references or import them from Library Search, Google Scholar or Subject Databases; sort references into groups; attach pdf documents or add notes.  You can then use the reference management software while you write to add in-text citations and format your reference list.

The University has a subscription for EndNote which is available in all University clusters and can be downloaded to your own personal device. You’ll find information about how to get started with EndNote on our EndNote Guide.

Remember: whatever tool you use, it’s always a good idea to get to know the conventions of the referencing style your school or lecturer would like you to use.

Need more help?

If you feel you need to work on your referencing a bit more, and still a bit unsure about it all, we recommend that you complete Cite them Right’s Referencing and Plagiarism tutorial – this is available within Cite them Right. You’ll need to log in then select the tutorial button on the top right of the homepage.

Download our Referencing top tips from the Academic Skills Kit.

Take our online referencing quiz to check your own understanding.

Slides

Here’s a copy of our slides from our referencing drop-in session:

Be Connected: skills for postgraduate students

Join us for a summer of connecting and learning with our two-week programme of online supportive sessions for Be Connected (w/c 14th June 2021), and end your academic year (or start your summer!) on a positive note.


Throughout Be Connected weeks the Library, Academic Skills team, and Writing Development Centre are hosting a series of online live events that will help you enhance those all-important academic skills. We will also be highlighting our very best resources, so you’ll have a host of useful tools and advice at your fingertips.  

A good place to start 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-2.png

Now is a great time to take a step back and assess your academic skills, review your deadlines, and organise your research. Join the Academic Skills Development team for an essential workshop on Time Management or sign up to a session to work on academic skills for your dissertation. The Library’s live session on ‘Getting the most from your search strategy’ will give you the tools to improve your search skills, particularly if you are undertaking a Systematic Review: 

Time management: priorities and breaks

Academic skills for dissertations

Getting the most from your search strategy – Hints and tips

Library Subject Support Blog: Top tips 

Academic Skills and Writing Development blog: Time Management 

Getting results 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image.png

As you embark on your dissertation or research project there are many ways the Library, Academic Skills Development team and Writing Development Centre can advise and support you with your reading, notetaking, searching, and critical thinking. Our live Dissertation and Literature Review sessions are designed to help you at each stage of your research, whether you’re looking to plan your next steps, or add in finishing touches before submission. Also check out a fantastic session from our Special Collections and Archives team, which highlights how you can use our incredible collections for your research.

Critical writing: indicating stance

Managing a Dissertation, Thesis or Research Project

Dissertations: Building from firm foundations

Dissertations: The Finishing Touches

The Literature Review: in Discussion with the WDC

Introduction to Special Collections and Archives

Library Subject Support blog: Subject Guides 

Academic Skills and Writing Development blog: Dissertations 

Searching, Reading and Notetaking 

Fine-tune your skills 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-1.png

You might feel confident with your academic skills, but maybe some of those abilities could use a little bit of fine-tuning? Take time during Be Connected to hone your skills with the help of our live sessions.  Referencing and referencing management can easily fall off your list of priorities, so to help you keep on top of all those citations and bibliographies the Library will be looking at common referencing problems and where to find help. Or you might like to investigate some of our subject specialist resources, such as newspapers, audio-visual, company information or market research:

Finding newspapers and audio-visual sources for your research

Business resources: finding and using company information for your research

Business resources: finding and using market research for your research

Referencing drop-in

EndNote drop-in

Library Subject Support blog: Referencing 

Shape the future

During these two weeks the Academic Skills Development team want to hear from you at two focus groups to gather feedback on the redevelopment of the Academic Skills Kit website and to inform the creation of future resources:

Wednesday, June 16th, 2pm: Academic Skills Development Team focus group

Wednesday, June 23rd, 3pm: Academic Skills Development Team focus group

We look forward to seeing you soon!

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 ❤

Fake News: the dangers of conspiracy theories

I actually enjoy a good conspiracy theory, and they often make for great film or TV tropes. Do you remember the end clip of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark where the American government are storing the Ark of the Covenant in a huge warehouse? Do you think this is true? Might governments be hiding top secret things from us in massive, unknown warehouses? I like to jest that I believe this is real.

However, it wasn’t until recently that I realised how dangerous really believing in conspiracy theories can be. Watching the storming of Capital Hill in Washington DC back in January this year, opened my eyes to how conspiracy theories could take hold and potentially endanger lives.

Like fake news, conspiracy theories have been around for a very, very, very long time. Here’s some that you might recognise:

Most recently, you may have spotted some of the dangerous conspiracy theories rising up around the Covid-19 pandemic.

Do you believe in conspiracy theories? Do you know anyone that really believes in them? Have you ever found it hard to talk to them about what they believe? In light of the conspiracy theories surrounding Covid-19, The European Commission have created 10 useful infographics to help people be aware of conspiracy theories, how they spread, the dangers of them, how to talk to people who do believe in them, and (like fake news), how you should think twice before sharing them online:

I found it particularly interesting to learn that it is basic human nature to question reality in periods of uncertainty/change/major incidents (such as the pandemic, 9/11, shootings of presidents etc.), hence this is often when conspiracy theories take off.

You’ll find these infographics on our Fake New Guide , along with other new content including links to some excellent videos and articles. Be sure to take our poll to share your favourite conspiracy theory movie too!

As a University student, it’s important for you to be aware of conspiracy theories; to know of the dangers they pose, to check your own beliefs and to be careful of what you share online. Use these resources to learn more and always remember, the truth is out there…

Enrichment week: referencing drop-in

Thanks to everyone who came along to our Referencing drop-in session. Here you can find links to the key resources we highlighted, so you have them all in one handy place, whether you were able to participate in the sessions or not. You can also find a copy of our slides and a link to other useful referencing/managing information blog posts at end of this post.

Our Managing Information Guide and the slides from the session give you the context of why it is import to reference and why you should be managing your information. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of information out there (and that’s before you start your dissertation/project!), so getting into good habits it essential not only academically, but also for your wellbeing.

Why is referencing important?

  • It acknowledges the ideas and contributions of others that you have drawn upon in your work, ensuring that you avoid plagiarism
  • It highlights the range of reading you’ve done for your assignment and makes your own contribution clear, showing how you’ve taken ideas from others and built upon them
  • It enables the person reading your work to follow up on your references so they can learn more about the ideas you’ve discussed in your work or check any facts and figures.

How does referencing work?

Once you understand the why, you can get onto the nuts and bolts of referencing – the how:

Are there any tools that can help?

Yes!  There are lots of referencing tools that can help you manage and format your citations and references correctly.  Here are some examples:

A very useful online tool that lists all the information you need to include in a reference and provides examples of how a reference will look as an in-text citation and in a reference list.  See our ‘Level Up Your Referencing: Cite Them Right’ blog for more information.

  • Citation Buttons
Citation button consisting of a speech mark "

Keep an eye out for this symbol on Library Search and Google Scholar.  Clicking the button will provide the option for you to copy a reference in a particular style and paste it directly into your reference list.  You might need to tidy it up a little bit but it will save you time over writing them manually.

Reference building tools help you to create a bibliography using the correct referencing style.  You can input information manually or use import functions to pull information through from other webpages or documents.  As with the citation button above, reference building tools can save you time but you may still need to check the references are accurate.

  • Reference Management Software: e.g. EndNote

If you are writing a detailed essay, dissertation or thesis, you may like to use a reference management tool such as EndNote, Mendeley or Zotero to help keep all of your references organised.  This software allows you to manually add references or import them from Library Search, Google Scholar or Subject Databases; sort references into groups; attach pdf documents or add notes.  You can then use the reference management software while you write to add in-text citations and format your reference list.

The University has a subscription for EndNote which is available in all University clusters and can be downloaded to your own personal device. You’ll find information about how to get started with EndNote on our EndNote Guide.

Remember: whatever tool you use, it’s always a good idea to get to know the conventions of the referencing style your school or lecturer would like you to use.

Need more help?

If you feel you need to work on your referencing a bit more, and still a bit unsure about it all, we recommend that you complete Cite them Right’s Referencing and Plagiarism tutorial – You’ll need to log in then select the tutorial button on the top right of the homepage.

Slides

Here’s a copy of our slides from our referencing drop-in session:

Referencing blog posts

Explore our other referencing and managing information blog posts.