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…

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.

Be Connected: resources to support your dissertation

Thanks to everyone who booked on our two Be Connected 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

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

Grow your skills promo image

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 

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!

Resource in Focus: IHS Markit Databases

I bet you didn’t know that we have a whole range of databases that we subscribe to from IHS. These databases give a range of information that would be useful for students studying a range of subjects, particularly Architecture, Geography and Engineering.

Screenshot of IHS databases.

You have access to:

Access

The easiest way is via Library Search – either search for one of these databases by name or search for ‘IHS’ and refine by databases. Once you click on one of the databases, you can then access all of the others from the IHS Markit dashboard:

Screenshot of Library Help, showing how search for IHS databases.

Help

For help on how to use some of these databases, when in IHS Markit, look at the Help tab at the top of the dashboard:

Screenshot of IHS Markit dashboard, highlighting the Help tab.

If you have any other questions about IHS Markit, please contact the Library Liaison team via Library Help.

Winter Craft-along Online: Part 2

Winter Craft-along Online banner

As promised, here is our next instalment of Winter crafts – so glue guns at the ready for some more crafting antics.

As in our previous blog, we are embracing all things sustainable, and challenging you to make your crafts using materials found around the house. This time you will need an old jam jar, a pair of socks and some fruit!

Glass jar lanterns

For this one you will need an old, clean glass jar and some cheap PVA glue (the video says to use Mod Podge, but cheap PVA glue works just as good), tissue paper to decorate your jar and a tea light (real or battery operated). The video shows Christmas trees and snowflakes, but let your imagination run crazy – you could do a snowman, father Christmas, a snowy scene or a nativity. Really easy, but looks so effective, and who doesn’t love tea light lanterns when the nights are dark and cold.

No-sew snowmen

This is where your old (clean!) sock can be turned into a jolly snowman. For this you will need one white sock, some elastic bands or Loom bands, uncooked rice, 4-5 buttons (I bet you have some random buttons kicking about the house?), PVA glue, a bit of scrap ribbon or some wool for his scarf and then some more wool if you would like to make him a pom-pom for his hat. I am definitely going to have a go at making this – so easy, but looks so good.

Dried fruit garlands

I’ve been meaning to have a go at making these for ages, not only do they look good, but I bet it makes your house smell amazing! For this one you will need some citrus fruit – this can be oranges, limes, lemons, or even grapefruit – maybe you have some sitting in your fruit bowl that have seen better days and could be given a new lease of life? You can also use cloves and press them into the slices before you pop them in the oven, to make them smell so good. In the video is says the temperature in Fahrenheit – all of the blog and instructions I have read it just says to set your oven at the lowest temperature available on your oven. Cook low and slow and make sure you turn them over half-way through. You will also need string or twine to string them up. I have seen them on Christmas wreaths and as Christmas tree decoration – have a play and see what you can make with them.

Share the Joy

We would love to see your crafts, so why don’t you share a photo and tag us in Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, and use the hashtag #NULWinterCrafts2020.

Look out for our final blog with a couple more crafts for you to try and inspiration from our Library staff.