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…

Accessing resources beyond the Library

Photo by JK on Unsplash

If you’re working on a dissertation, thesis or project right now, or will be doing so next academic year, what can you do if the Library doesn’t have access to all the specialist books and other information resources which you need? And how can you find out about resources relating to your research topic which are held elsewhere?

Current Covid-19 restrictions are obviously making it more difficult than usual to go ‘beyond the Library’, but there are still options available, and more should gradually return later this year. Find out below….

1. Search

You can search across the catalogues of over 170 UK and Irish academic and national libraries, together with other specialist and research libraries, via Library Hub Discover (formerly COPAC). The range of libraries included in Library Hub Discover is expanding all the time, and includes all UK universities, as well as the libraries of such diverse organisations as Durham Cathedral, the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Royal Horticultural Society.

In response to Covid restrictions, Library Hub Discover is also making it easier for you to find Open Access resources via its catalogue, and it has also recently incorporated the HathiTrust Digital Library of over 17 million items.

For a more in-depth and up to date search, you can also search individual academic library catalogues online. Need to look further afield? Search library catalogues internationally via WorldCat.

If you are looking for archives elsewhere, whether in the North East or beyond, our colleagues in the Special Collections and Archives team have compiled a list of useful search tools.

2. Obtain

If we haven’t got the book you want, you can ask us to consider buying or borrowing it, via our Recommend a book service.

If you need a copy of a journal article to which we don’t have access, you can apply for it via our inter library loan service, which is currently free. Please note that inter library loans options are more restricted than usual during the current lockdown.

You can search UK doctoral theses via the national EThOS service. This has records for over 500,000 theses, of which over half are freely available online (do note you have to register with EThOS before being able to download).

3. Visit (virtually for now)

Under normal circumstances, the SCONUL Access Scheme enables students to visit most other academic libraries around the country. Unfortunately, this service has been suspended since March 2020, and is unlikely to resume this academic year (2020/2021).

However, if your research will continue in academic year 2021/2022, do check back with the SCONUL Access site, and/or the web site of any libraries of particular interest to you, in case visiting restrictions start to ease.

As with libraries, most archives are either closed to visitors at present, or only open with considerable restrictions. Nonetheless, archives services may still be able to answer queries, provide access to selected digitised items, or even a Virtual Reading Room, so it may well be worth enquiring, even if you can’t visit in person.

PubMed: Becoming familiar with controlled vocabularies


Are your literature searches run mainly in keyword-based platforms such as Google Scholar, Scopus or Web of Science?

Have you been told that you need to diversify your search, or maybe use a new database such as PubMed? Did someone mention that MeSH terms could improve your search?

If you do not know what those terms mean or where to start, you are in the right place. The following video will explain to you what controlled vocabularies are and why they are a powerful tool for retrieving relevant papers.

Now, let’s put theory into practice and demonstrate how to use Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) in PubMed. The video below will do just that.

Let’s have a look at what other controlled vocabulary databases you can use in medical sciences or if your Social Sciences student whose work crosses over with medical sciences. You can find all the databases mentioned below and others in Library Search:

Since the previous videos focus on PubMed, you might wonder what other databases you should be using. If you are unsure how to find the most relevant databases for your course, you can watch a video that will show you how to identify them.

Is Medline the database for you, but you need some help with the basics? Watch our:

Finally, please remember that this is general advice and it might not cover your particular area of interest. If you have any specific questions, please do not hesitate to contact us on Library Help, where you can email us or speak to us through the Live Chat feature.

International Women’s Day in Law and Literature

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we have curated a list of all the books in the Law and Literature collection written by women. We also have a ‘Law School Pick‘ by Dr Ruth Houghton selected for IWD.

The Law in Literature collection has always strived to be diverse in stories, voices and authors. We are pleased to say that 50% of the books in this collection are written by women.

This collection, based in the Law Library, is made up of novels, short stories, plays, graphic novels and films that all reflect law in some way. We also promote films, TV shows and radio broadcasts through playlists on Box of Broadcasts (BoB). BoB is a free streaming platform available via Library Search with your campus ID (available in the UK only). Search for our public playlists using ‘Law in Literature Newcastle University’.

Is there a book that you think should be on our shelves, or a film to add to a playlist? Is there a subject you think would make a good BoB playlist? Do you want to recommend a book or film and feature as one of our ‘Law School Picks’? Want to review a book or film for our blog? Then get in touch.

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.

Enrichment week: resources to support your dissertation

Thanks to everyone who booked on our three ‘Enrichment week’ sessions to support your dissertation or project. We’re posting below links to the key resources we highlighted, so you’ve got them all handy in one place, whether you were able to participate in the sessions or not.

Getting a head start

If you’re at the early stages of planning your project or dissertation, or perhaps thinking ahead to next year, then you can get ahead of the game with our dissertation toolkit.

Search planner

This interactive toolkit includes a proposal planner, to help you refine your initial thinking as you develop your proposal, and a search planner, which takes you step-by-step through each stage of the process to create your own personalised literature search strategy. It will help you develop your search terms, identify different types of information resource, evaluate what you have found, and formulate a plan for keeping up to date and managing your references.

Our toolkit will help you translate vague thoughts into a firm plan of action!

Nearing completion: final checks

If you’re well into your dissertation or project, you may well have some last minute aspects you need to check.

Are you sure you haven’t missed any recent research in your area? Find out about 360 degree searching and make sure you check key resources for your subject area on your subject guide. Are there particular types of information missing from your search: for example: data, news, reports, images? Visit our resource guides for inspiration.

Resource Guide screenshot
Resources guides

How is your bibliography shaping up: are all the references accurate and correctly formatted? Visit our managing information guide for all the answers, including a link to the Cite Them Right ebook for specific queries relating to a type of resource or referencing style.

Need more help?

You can book a one-to-one appointment with a member of the Library liaison team, and/or email us your draft search plan using our search planner.

Special Collections and Archives

Virtual Reading Room

Depending on your subject area, you might want to make use of some of the Library’s fabulous Special Collections and Archives in your research, or find out more about the possibilities of using archives elsewhere.

Start with the Special Collections home page: all the links you need for how to find and use our collections, including digital and virtual services while the Reading Room is still closed.

Need inspiration? Not sure where to start? Anxious about archives? Try the practical Special Collections guide for friendly, expert advice about using our collections in your research or finding collections elsewhere. Or why not see where your ideas take you with our great new Primary Sources Research Planner?

Slides

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

Enrichment Week: developing your information skills

Strong information skills are not only important for improving your work in assessments, they’re also useful life-long skills that are increasingly important in our digital society.  Strengthening these skills will help you to find and engage critically with information both for your assignments and in your future beyond University.   

During Enrichment Week we ran a session looking at how you can reflect on your current information skills and discover resources, tools and advice that can help you take your capabilities further.  If you missed the session and want to learn more, this blog summarises the steps you’ll need to take to improve your own information and digital skills.  You’ll also find slides from the session at the end. 

Reflect 

Reflection is an important part of the learning process as it allows you to identify your current practises, see your areas of strength and what works for you, and think about how you can adapt, change or develop your skills going forward to meet new challenges. 

The ASK webpage below goes into more detail about reflective practice, while our quizzes will help you reflect on your current information skills: 

Tools: 

Set SMART goals 

The next step is to consider what you want to put into practice, change, use or try based on your reflections. You need to give yourself a goal, target or action plan to work toward – this should be SMART: 

  • Specific
  • Measurable 
  • Achievable  
  • Relevant  
  • Time bound 

So for example, you might want to improve your referencing for your next assignment or focus on searching three new subject databases for information to help you write your literature review. Alternatively, you may want to use your skills in a different way, by researching employers before you write your CV. 

The frameworks below can be useful both for reflection and for selecting goals as they highlight the kinds of skills you should be developing as a University Student.  You might also get ideas for goals from feedback from your assignments, from the kind of skills you’ll need in your future career, or simply by just selecting a topic you find interesting. 

Tools: 

Explore 

The Library is here to help you every step of the way and have created a host of useful tools and guides to help you develop your information skills.  Once you’ve set your goal, take some time to explore the support that is available to you. 

Tools: 

  • Subject Guides – useful for finding subject-specific resources that can help you locate reliable information for your assignments. 
  • Resource Guides – help you access a range of different information types, from newspapers to maps to company information. 
  • Skills Guides – helpful advice and tools to aid you in finding, managing and evaluating information. 
  • Search Planner – a great tool for helping you prepare for your dissertation literature review 
  • ASK website – designed to support you in developing your wider academic skills, includes a host of helpful tools, guides, videos and resources. 
  • One-to One appointment – chat to your Liaison Librarian about your information skills, we can help you find information, think critically about resources and manage your references. 

Practise 

As with any skill, the only way to improve your chosen information skill is to practise it, so look out for chances to do this. These opportunities may pop up in your modules with formative assessments or quizzes, or you may need to set aside some time to practise independently. For example, you could try some of the tutorials or workbooks below that were designed to help you practise some key skills: 

Tools: 

Reflect again 

Reflection is an iterative process.  Once you’ve had time to explore, practise and apply your chosen skill and feel that you’ve achieved your goal, repeat the reflective process to see how far you’ve come and think about where you might go next! 

Session Presentation

Grow the skills you need

Enrichment week is a great opportunity to take some time to reflect on your academic skills and practice ahead of completing upcoming end of year assessments.  


Throughout Enrichment week the Library and Writing Development Centre are hosting a series of live events that will help you grow and enhance those all-important academic skills. During the week we will 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 

It’s early days in this semester, so you have time to take a step back and assess your academic skills, review your feedback, and organise your studies. Join the Writing Development Centre for live Q&A sessions on Time Management, and Feedback, or register for the Library’s live session on Developing your Information Skills, which will give you the tools to evaluate and improve your skills: 

Live Q&A (In discussion with…) Feedback Friday (WDC) 

Developing your Information Skills: Live session with the Library Liaison team 

Managing your time effectively 

Library Subject Support Blog: Top tips 

Academic Skills and Writing Development blog: Time Management 

Getting results 

As you embark on your dissertation there are many ways the Library and Writing Development Centre can advise and support you with your reading, notetaking, searching, and critical thinking. Our two live Dissertation and Literature Review sessions are a great starting point for planning your next steps, while the Write Here, Write Now session will help you kick start your writing. Also check out a fantastic session from our Special Collections and Archives, which highlights you how you can use our collections for your dissertation.

Get a head start with your dissertation: Live session with the Library Liaison team  

Dissertations: final checks and questions: Live session with the Library Liaison team 

Write Here, Write Now with the WDC 

Special Collections and Archives for your dissertation

Library Subject Support blog: Subject Guides 

Academic Skills and Writing Development blog: Dissertations 

Searching, Reading and Notetaking 

Fine-tune your skills 

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 Enrichment week to hone your skills with the help of our live sessions.  Referencing 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 perfect your presentations with help from the Writing Development Centre. 

Referencing drop-in: Live session with the Library Liaison team 

Live Q&A (In discussion with…) on Presentations (WDC) 

Euromonitor International Passport – online demonstration and live Q&A

Library Subject Support blog: Referencing 

Get more out of Box of Broadcasts!

Have you met BoB? Box of Broadcasts is a fantastic resource for all subject areas: an archive of over two million radio and television broadcasts from over 75 free-to-air channels, including all BBC channels, ITV and Channel 4, plus some international channels. New programmes are added to BoB as they are broadcast each day.

We know it’s a very popular resource, but are you getting the best out of it? Here are some quick tips for newbies and experienced users alike!

Smarter searching

BoB is a huge database, so searching by keyword may retrieve a lot of irrelevant results, especially as the default search looks for your keyword in all programme transcripts (i.e. every word spoken in a programme). Click on the Search options link just under the search bar to see various ways of making your search more precise, including searching in the programme titles only, or limiting by date. This help video gives more detail:

Playlists and clips

You can create your own playlists: really helpful if you’re researching for an assignment, or preparing to teach a module. You can also search public playlists curated by other BoB users around the UK: just select Public playlists underneath the search bar, or explore this showcase of playlists for more inspiration.

BoB curated playlists

Clips are really easy to make too:

Need more help?

Got more BoB questions? Try their extensive FAQs or take a look at their updated collection of short video guides.

Tips for creating your study space

Many of us are studying and working in unusual spaces at the moment, which can make it more challenging to concentrate or find our motivation. Procrastination may be a familiar struggle, and creating a space, both physical and online, in which to be your most productive is something that many of us in the Library and Writing Development Centre have also found 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 it is possible, designate a space as your study environment. It may be your room in a shared house, the kitchen table, office, dining room or in the case of one of my colleagues, 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.

Within our team, many of us have found it invaluable to have a ‘work space’ which is separate from the rest of our life and spaces in which we relax. Even if this is simply a cheap desk in your bedroom as it is for me, 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.

Photograph of desk with laptop and screen.
Emily’s desk on a rare tidy day.

2. Make it comfortable

While it may be tempting to study from your bed (which I certainly did as a postgraduate), sitting upright will help you stay alert during synchronous and non-synchronous teaching sessions. 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

Now this is a tip that I will admit to needing to heed myself. 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 able to 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.

Student studying on laptop on the sofa

4. Gather some stationary

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, but for me, I need a little background noise to block out the distractions around me. 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

I’m sure 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 don’t necessarily have a structured timetable of lectures, seminars, labs and classes, but 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 routine, studying 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. I frequently wish I’d had the sense to put my 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.