Tips for creating your study space

If you’re away from Newcastle over the Winter break you may be studying in unfamiliar or unusual spaces, which can make it more challenging to concentrate or find your motivation. Procrastination may be a struggle and creating a space, both physical and online, in which to be your most productive is something that many of us find challenging. It may not always be possible, but creating a managed space to study in will help. So what are our tips for creating the perfect study space at home?

1. Select your space

If possible, designate a space as your study environment. It may be your room in a shared house, the kitchen table, office, dining room or a spot in the hallway. Wherever you choose, claim it and make it yours in order to reduce distractions from those you live with and to create a studying mindset.

It can be invaluable to have a ‘work space’ which is separate from the rest of your life and spaces in which you relax. Even if this is simply a cheap desk in your bedroom, having a ‘study spot’ which is dedicated to your academic work will help you create structure and routine, and feel in the studying zone. It also makes for less embarrassment when you turn your camera on in Zoom or Teams.

2. Make it comfortable

While it may be tempting to study from your bed (which we’ve all done!), sitting upright will help you stay alert. Not to mention the benefits for your shoulders, back and neck. Start with a desk or table if you can, as it will allow you to make an organised space and leave your hands free to take notes.

It’s also worth thinking about how you can make the space more comfortable by opening a window for fresh air every so often, and the level of natural light you can introduce. Perhaps think about studying earlier in the day so that the natural brightness helps you stay alert and boosts your mood.

3. Tidy space, tidy mind

A cluttered study space can make it more difficult to focus and introduce unwanted distractions. By filing away your notes and de-cluttering your space at the end of a day, you will be able to start the next day fresh and find the learning materials you need.

This goes for your online spaces too. Think about how and where you keep your assignments, notes and any materials you download from Canvas, to ensure you are able to access the materials as you prepare assignments or revise for exams. Set up folders in One Drive that relate to each module or project you are working on and be sure to keep track of any collaborative work, such as projects in Teams. Managing the information you collect as you study and keeping it organised in some way is an essential study skill. Visit the Managing Information Guide for more tips.

4. Gather some stationery

It’s a simple tip, but keep a pen and paper nearby so that you can make quick notes. This might be jotting down an idea or something to remind yourself about at a later date. Many of you will take your notes digitally and may have a tablet you use within your programme, but having a notebook and pen to hand is a valuable backup. If you prefer handwritten notes, make sure you have a good organisational system so that you are able to retrieve the information you need.

You’ll find lots of useful tips around notetaking on the ASK website.

5. Listen to some music

Some of you may find studying in silence works best for you, while others may need a little background noise to block out distractions. Select a soundtrack for your study that helps you concentrate, with a mixture of mood boosting tracks and songs that are a little more mellow and calming. You’ll find lots of readymade study playlists on streaming services, or you could start with our Library Spotify playlists.

6. Switch off your devices

Many of us will recognise our mobile phone as a significant source of distraction and cause of many unproductive minutes. Switch off your mobile phone, log out of social media accounts on your study device and turn off the TV. This will help you create designated study time as well as space. It will also be a step towards introducing breaks in your study routine.

7. Take breaks

Taking regular breaks and walking away from your study space will help you return feeling refreshed. Why not download the iNCLude App? It has been designed to help you take small steps to improve and maintain your wellbeing, by creating positive habits and helping you focus on more than just your academic studies.

One valuable bonus tip from the WDC about taking breaks:

When you break, take a moment to leave a ‘note to future self’ about where you got to or what you were intending to do next.

Writing Development Centre, Managing Time and Motivation
Student studying with laptop and notebook.

8. Be organised

Learning remotely is challenging when you have to manage your own time and motivation. Being organised and creating your own plan or timetable can help.

The WDC have created some great guides, podcasts and videos with tips that might help, including creating structure and routinestudying in short bursts and how to motivate yourself.

When you begin your study session make sure you have everything you need to hand so that you don’t interrupt your flow. You might want to leave your laptop charger nearby!

Our mobile apps and resources guide also includes some suggestions for apps that can help you be more organised and boost your productivity.

Visit the ASK website for more study and academic skills advice

Reading Lists and supporting your students

Teaching is just around the corner and the students are starting to prepare for studying through 2021/22. So, which resources are you going to recommend to your students to support your teaching? How will you ensure the Library can offer access to what you need?

We’re promoting the Reading Lists service to our students. It’s easy to use, accessible and is a good starting point when approaching a new subject area.

Surprisingly, even in 2021, not every book is available online. You can use Reading Lists to check to see if we, as an institution, can gain access to those essential, recommended and background reading materials for you and your students. 

How can you do this? Well, you can self-enrol on the Reading Lists Training for Staff course which is available via Canvas. It will explain each stage of creating and editing your lists ready for your students to use for guidance and to prioritise their reading.

An image of the Reading Lists Training for Staff Canvas course home page.

If you don’t have time to do this now, you can produce a list of books, book chapters, journal articles and other resources and submit this to our dedicated Library Reading Lists team to create the online version to be accessed via Canvas for you. If you are doing this, the team need to know:

  • Module Leader or Coordinator’s name.
  • School.
  • Reading list/Module title.
  • Module code.
  • Anticipated student numbers on module (if known).
  • When it is running, e.g. Semester One and/or Two.

You should think about how the list should be organised: by topic, lecture, seminar, etc.

Finally, each item should be classified as essential, recommended or background reading so the Library is aware of the potential demand on the materials.

If you have any questions about availability of online materials or the Reading Lists service, contact your Liaison Team.

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 ❤

Finding and using historic books online

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

The Library has access to thousands of contemporary books online, but did you know we also have online access to almost every work published in the English language from the invention of printing in the fifteenth century to the start of the nineteenth century?

Read on to find out about five of our major historic book collections online, and how to get the best out of them.

1. Early English Books Online (EEBO)

EEBO gives access to the full text of almost every book published in the British Isles and British North America between 1470-1700. It contains over 146,000 titles, including literary works, royal and parliamentary documents, ballads, tracts, and sermons, giving a unique insight into the cultural and political life of that period. You can read works by major figures such as Shakespeare, Newton and Galileo, as well as many lesser-known works. EEBO displays digital facsimile images of every page of content, and full text transcription is available for many of the texts.

You can search, browse and export from EEBO in various ways, and all the individual works are individually catalogued on Library Search as well. If you are likely to be making frequent use of EEBO, we’d strongly recommend you spend some time exploring this EEBO guide, as it gives tips on key aspects such as searching for spelling variants.

2. Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO)

ECCO gives access to the full text of every book printed in the United Kingdom, and territories under British colonial rule, in the eighteenth century. It contains over 180,000 titles, including literary works, royal and government proclamations, schoolbooks and petitions.

As with ECCO, digital facsimile images of every page are provided, and optical character recognition enables full text searching. All items are individually catalogued on Library Search, but we’d recommend searching directly from the ECCO interface to benefit from advanced search options, and special features such as term frequency and topic finder. As ECCO is part of the Gale Primary Sources platform, you can cross-search it along with other Gale resources, such as historic newspapers.

3. Early European Books

The Early European Books collection complements EEBO, and aims to encompass European printed material from circa 1450-1700.

Content comes from major European libraries, and is being added to regularly (we currently have access to over 25,000 titles). Facsimile images scanned directly from the original printed sources are provided, and detailed catalogue records help you search (we recommend choosing Advanced Search to see the full range of options).

These books aren’t individually catalogued on Library Search, so you’ll need to search directly from the Early European Books interface.

4. Oxford Scholarly Editions Online (OSEO)

OSEO enables you to explore old works in new ways. It brings together authoritative editions of major works, so you can explore variations between editions, annotations and extensive notes side-by-side with the texts, or you can just read the texts on their own.

We have access to 272 Oxford editions, containing 344 works, including poetry, prose, drama, essays and correspondence, in the following categories: Romantics Prose; Romantics Poetry; 18th Century Drama; 18th Century Prose.

You can browse by work, edition or author, or search in highly specific ways (e.g. just search within notes or stage directions) to pinpoint exactly what you want.

The editions are individually catalogued on Library Search, but we’d recommend searching for works and editions via the OSEO interface itself. If you haven’t used OSEO before, we’d strongly recommend watching this introductory video, so you can understand its potential and how to get the best out of it.

5. Oxford World’s Classics

Stop press! We’ve just bought access to this new online collection of over 300 works from the 18th and 19th centuries. Read our separate blog post to find out all about it.

Top tips for tackling online assessments

Woman throwing books up in the air

Photo by Lacie Slezak on Unsplash

Even in a ‘normal year’, exam time is always a tricky period. You will often be juggling different exams, trying to revise, as well as meeting other deadlines. This year, it’s made even harder by Covid-19 and the need to take online assessments, rather than traditional exams. This may come in the form of a 24 hour take home exam or you may need to produce coursework under time constraints. Whatever you are facing in the next few weeks, we want you to know that you aren’t alone and we are here to help you through.

But how exactly can we help? Sadly, we can’t do the exam with you, or magically freeze time to give you more hours in the day, but we have a list of resources that will hopefully help you tackle the next few weeks with more of a sense of calm.

  1. Online Assessment guidance – put together by the Writing Development team, these pages will take you through how to revise for a 24 hour take home exam, what to do before hand, as well as running you through exam technique and how to tackle coursework under time restraints.
  2. Library Help – whether you have a question about an essential text or access to a database, Library Help is the place to go when you have a question. Contact us via chat, email, text, twitter, Facebook or alternatively search our Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) database.
  3. Subject guides – these guides, put together by your Liaison Librarians, are designed to save you time and energy by drawing together the main resources for your subject. They are a great starting point for your research and will help you access high quality information that’s needed for you to get those top marks.
  4. Skills guides – similar to the subject guides, our skills guides focus on how to find, evaluate and manage information. These are all essential skills which you will need during this assessment period, as well as throughout your degree.
  5. Book a one to one – both the Writing Development Team and the Liaison Librarians are available for an online one to one appointment. These appointments work best if you come with a specific issue to address. This will ensure that you get the most our of your time with us. You will need to book in advance.
  6. Additional support – it really is ok to ask for help. The pressures are real and can feel completely overwhelming. Do contact your module leader or supervisor if your struggling. You can also seek additional support from your NUSUStudent Wellbeing ServiceNightline and the University chaplaincy.

So good luck. Remember……pace yourself, access the help you need and believe that you can do this!

Top tips for accessing library resources off campus.

The Library subscribes to over 300 specialist subject databases, 50,000 journals and has access to over half a million e-books. When you are on campus or use a computer connected to the University network, e-book and e-journal providers will recognise you as a member of the University and allow you access to the resource. You will see the University logo on the page and if you are on things like Google Scholar, you will be given the option to “Find at Newcastle University”. This works because it recognises the IP address of the University.

It all works like magic and it is easy to think that it is all freely available. However, when you’re off campus, working from home or perhaps in a different library, you won’t be automatically recognised. This can cause you some difficulty accessing resources and you’ll probably find that you are locked out of the full-text and asked to pay large amounts for articles.

If you are working off campus, follow our tips to make sure that you are able to access all of the resources that you are entitled to as a member of Newcastle University.

#1 Access the resource from Library Search

If you perform a search in Library Search, you will be automatically prompted to log in to online resources with your University username and password, even when you are off campus. But did you know you can also search it to access whole journal titles and databases, such as Scopus and Web of Science? Access the database through Library Search and you will be prompted to login, to easily perform your search and download the full-text.

Library search filtered by database

#2 Access the resource from your Subject Guide

As we have access to so many databases and specialist resources, we’ve drawn together the best ones for your discipline on your Subject Guide. Clicking on the links in the Subject Guide will take you through a route that will prompt you to log in with your University username and password.

Subject guides journals and databases tab

#3 Access the e-journal in Browzine

Have you created your own journal shelf or downloaded the Browzine app? Browzine is a way of accessing e-journal titles for your subject, and to read the most recent articles, just like flicking through a magazine. As you set up your personal account using your University email address, Browzine will always recognise you as a member of the University and give you access to the full-text.

Browzine app and desktop homescreen

#4 Use Windows Virtual Desktop

Logging into WVD when you are off campus allows you to work within the University network. This may enable journal and database providers to automatically recognise you as a member of the University, just as it would work on campus.

#5 Check the screen for the University logo

We get a lot of enquiries from staff and students who aren’t sure if we have a subscription to a journal or an electronic version of a book. This is sometimes because they are not logged in or have found a reference through a search engine such as Google Scholar. If you are on the website of a journal or a database, the quickest way to check if you are logged in, is to look around the screen to see if you can spot the University logo or name. This is often at the top right or below the search boxes on the homepage of a database or journal/ e-book platform.

A screen shot showing the log in section of Scopus and Web of Science

Still not working …

There are times when you’ll have done everything right and you are still not recognised as being able to access the resource. In this case, it is always worth trying to log in again within the platform. Look to the top right of the screen for a link that says institutional log in, sign in via your University or it might mention something called Shibboleth. This will allow you to log in with your University username and password.

If you’re in any doubt, you can always chat with us online 24/7 or send us an enquiry via Library Help. We’ll probably ask you to send us a picture of what you can see on screen, as this will help us spot any problems.

Reading Lists: Make the most of your Library’s Resources

Are you at the beginning of your student journey? Do you maybe not know where to start reading for an elaborate assignment?

Or maybe you have been studying for a while? Did you get used to browsing our shelves and now things are changing? Do you need to go back to the basics?

Either way, you may think that you could use some guidance on how best to use your module Reading List and even go beyond these recommendations and explore the wider resource that the Library provides.

Seek no further! Please have a look at the Thinglink we have put together for this exact purpose!

Finding Information: Troubleshooting your search results

Photograph of tools, including a hammer, spanner and measuring tape, laid out on a table

You’ve ran your information search and looked at your results with a critical eye only to find that they’re not quite working for you – what can you do now?

In this blog we’ll be looking at the top three problems encountered when searching for information and how to improve your search to get the results you need:

Finding too much

If your search has brought back thousands of results and you’re getting overwhelmed with the options:

Search a more specialised resource

Using a subject-specific database will help narrow the focus of your search to your particular areas of interest.  Take a look at your Subject Guide to find databases and eBook collections tailored to your subject area.

Apply limits

Make use of the ‘refine’ options usually found on the left-hand side of Library Search or your subject database.  Limit your results by date, subject area or information type.  Remember, you may need to justify your limits to your supervisor so think carefully about your choices. 

Combine search terms with ‘AND’

AND is a Boolean operator, a term you can use to have more control over your search. If you want to find information that must contain two different keywords (or phrases), place a capitalised AND operator between them. Your search engine or subject database will only find information that features both, narrowing your results. The more search terms you combine with AND, the narrower your search will be.

Finding too little

If your search has brought back a handful of useful articles but you need a wider range of results:

Combine terms with ‘OR’

OR is another Boolean operator that helps you to control your search more effectively.  Use OR with your search terms that have synonyms or related terms. Your search engine or subject database will find information that features either word or phrase, significantly broadening your results.

Try controlled vocabulary

If you’re not getting enough results, it may be that your search terms or keywords aren’t quite working for you.  Controlled vocabulary are a standardised list of words and phrases used on some databases to ensure that searches retrieve all relevant results, even when authors use different terms. Examples of databases that use this technique include ERIC, PsycInfo, CAB abstracts, Compendex and Medline. If these apply to you and your discipline, you’ll find out how to use them on your Subject Guide.

360 Searching

If you’ve found some useful articles, one simple way to find more relevant material is to take a look at the references used by the authors.  This will lead you to find older material that was published before your original article which may also be useful.  Library Search and some subject databases including Google Scholar and Scopus also allow you to see who has cited the articles you have found in their work (look for the ‘cited by link’).  This is called citation searching and allows you to find more up-to-date analysis of your topic.  By looking back at the references and forward at the citations, you get a 360 degree view of the research.

Finding nothing useful?

If your search has brought back results that aren’t relevant to your research question or you are finding it difficult to find the right search terms or databases to use, you might find it helpful to book a one-to-one appointment with your Liaison Librarian.

You can also find more help and advice on our Finding Information Guide.

Finding Information: The key to your search

Keys hanging on hooks on a piece of wood.

When it comes to finding academic information, there are a few things you need to think about before you start your search, such as where to actually look for information and the types of information you want to find in your search.  Another thing that is worth taking the time to think carefully about is keywords.

Keywords, sometimes called subject terms, are simple words and phrases that describe information; you can see them in the item record on Library Search and in Subject Databases.

An example of keywords from an article on Library Search
An example of keywords from an article on Library Search

The results that your search returns are based on this information – if your keywords match an item’s keywords, that item will appear in your results.

To get the best results, then, you’ll need to develop a balanced list of targeted keywords – these keywords may come from your essay title or research question, from your subject knowledge or wider reading – you can even borrow them from the subject terms you find on relevant articles!

As ideas and topics can be expressed in different ways you’ll also need to think about synonyms and terms related to your keywords to make sure you can find all of the relevant information.

To find out more about keywords, synonyms and searching take a look at this short video:

There are some useful tricks you can use with your keywords to save you time when you search, take a look at our Advanced Searching Guide to learn about Boolean, wildcards and truncation!

Finding Information: Types of Information

Light bulbs

In our previous blog we explored how looking for information in the right place can help save you time and effort.  However, sometimes, the right place to look can depend on what type of information you’re looking for.

While you’re probably familiar with books and you may have been introduced to journal articles, these are just two of the types of academic information available to you.  Depending on your research question or essay title you might also find it useful to explore, for example, conference proceedings, maps, company information or newspapers

Each type of information has its particular use; books provide an in-depth overview of a topic; journal articles are more specialised and focus in-depth on a particular area of a topic, and newspapers give you a useful perspective on events.  While Library Search can help you find a large range of information types, some types of information are only available in special databases or archives.  Before you start your search, it’s therefore important that you decide what types of information you will need to complete your assignment most effectively.  You can find out more about different information types on our Finding Information Guide and in the video below:

When you know which types of information you need for your assignment or project take a look at our Resource Guides, which provide useful links and guides to appropriate sources.