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Research Essentials

Research Essentials will help you level up your researching skills, including tips and tricks on how to get the most out of your time searching, reading, and writing.



Welcome to the Research Essentials Guide

Research Essentials will help you level up your researching skills, including tips and tricks on how to get the most out of your time searching, reading, and writing. 

Short on time?

Try these 3 quick tips to improve your research


Find  Choose  Use Find Use

1. Wondering where to start?

2. Searching in Google?

3. Reference correctly to get those easy marks

Get tailored advice from your Subject Research Guide.

Switch to Google Scholar or Discovery for academic results.


Take note of key details you would need to find that resource again, & use Re:Cite.


Level up with these bonus points


Library Tools and Tricks for study (text-version)


Found the perfect journal article but you are being asked to pay for it?

Unlock articles by adding the Lean Library extension to your browser. Learn how at

Searching Discovery

Save your results to your cloud drive in one click!

Accessing full text in Google Scholar

Add the University of Melbourne to your Library Links. Find out how:

Find the best databases for your discipline

Google our Subject Research Guides. For example: unimelb libguides art

Know which database you want?

Google unimelb and the databes name. For example: unimelb JSTOR.

Identifying your assessment task

Clearly understanding the specific expectations of the assessment can save you a lot of time (and pain!). Subtle differences between key words (for example, analyze, describe or compare) could make a huge difference to what you search for, what you produce and what mark you receive. 


This section can help you answer the following key questions as you begin you research:

Image of a ticked box   Have you analysed the task description?

Not every essay or report is the same (essays are not reports for starters!). Are you expected to describe, compare, evaluate, or discuss? Should you focus on the text in subject or find external sources? What is the word limit, due-date and format restrictions?

Image of a ticked box   Do you understand how it will be marked?

Carefully examine the marking rubric or guide. This will give you an idea of the weight your markers give for each aspect of the task and, therefore, an idea of how much time you should dedicate to each one. For example, you might see something like "30% for Evidence to support claims (that is relevant, diverse and recent)". This will help direct you to the type of sources you should be looking for. Give it serious effort but because it is worth only 30% of your mark make sure you don't spend all your time on this aspect of the task (at most it will impact a third of your grade).  

Image of a ticked box   What does the subject/unit guide say?

Your subject guide will provide you with the referencing style you need to use as well as details of basic resources to aid your research. Your prescribed weekly readings or recommended further readings are great resources to start with for your own research topic.

Reading your assessment task

Watch this short video (1:25) on how to analyse your assessment task:



Direction words, content words, limiting words...

These are commonly used words that signal the expectations of the marker. Briefly: 

  • Direction words: Words, usually verbs, that tell you what you have to do. For example, 'discuss' or 'compare'.
  • Content words: Words that deal with topics or subtopics and identify the material you should focus on.
  • Limiting words: Words that limit the scope of the topic to a particular area. For example, all, some, the majority of; references to time, place(s) and/or specific group(s).


Here's a handy 2-page PDF that explains over 20 direction words. To download it please click the button below:




​Test yourself

Check your understanding with the quick activity below. Which words would you use to guide your search for assignment resources?



Further resources for specific tasks

Is your task different to what we've talked about above (e.g., are you writing a report)? Click on the button below to see further resources about how to approach specific tasks:



Deciphering your marking rubric

A marking rubric outlines the criteria which you will be assessed by and is usually presented as a table. It is important to think about these criteria carefully before beginning your research.

If it is not already included in the assessment instructions, the marking rubric is where you can find instructions on the types and range of resources required.


You may be required to meet criteria based on:


Quantity: are you expected to use a minimum number of references? 

Quality: are you expected to use scholarly resources or​ peer-reviewed journal articles? 

Sources: are you expected to use: 

  • primary and/or secondary sources, if applicable?
  • specific books/journals
  • specific databases?
  • your unit's required and/or recommended readingsor are you prohibited from citing these resources?
  • sources that you find on your own (e.g. independent research)?


Making the most out of your subject guide

Citation mining: using your reading list to jumpstart your research: 


While you may be asked to find your own resources your class reading list can still be a useful starting point in your research because it offers:

  • Background, introduction and context: Familiarise yourself with the key figures, concepts and/or events covered in your tutoral readings
  • Keywords: Identify specialised language and any jargon to use in your search
  • Direction to other related and reliable resources: Your class reading list has been curated by your teachers as good information sources. Review the reference list and/or bibliography of each your readings to find out about further sources that could be relevant to your assignment

Resources listed in your class reading list may be available in a digital format via Readings Online in the subject LMS, or in hard copy for limited loan periods in the High Use area of your library.


Referencing your sources

You will find advice on how to reference your sources in your subject or unit guide. Your school or lecturer may have preferred citation style, so make sure you follow this style when referencing sources in your assessments.

Click and expand the headings below for a quick introduction to referencing:



Finding resources for your assignments


There are many ways to find information for your research once you have an idea of what to look for. Search strategies depend on

  • the type of thing you are looking for, and
  • the area of knowledge (e.g. looking for scientific findings is a different process to combing through old newspapers) 


The process of finding sources can often expose you to information (such as language and concepts) that may help you better clarify what you are looking for. This can then allow you to refine and repeat your search with more targeted keywords or may mean that you come up completely different search words all together. While it may seem like starting over, this iterative, trial-and-error process is an important (and normal!) part of academic research.


This section will cover: 

Image of a ticked box   Tips on how to improve your search experience

Image of a ticked box   Finding books

Image of a ticked box   Finding journal articles

Image of a ticked box   Finding dictionaries and encyclopedias, also known as reference material


Books, journal articles and reference material are common resources used in research, and may be found in hardcopy or available digitally online.

Your search options


Learn about the different search tools that you can use to get started in the video below (1:52):

Searching effectively

Thoroughly understanding your assessment task will help you search for resources more effectively.


The two videos below step you through the process of breaking down your research topic into keywords and show you the different ways you can track down related information sources by using advanced search features:


Templates for your search plan

Ready to plot your ideas in a search plan? Below are a couple of template examples that you can download to get you started:

Finding books & ebooks

When you've carefully analysed your assessment topic and chosen some keywords you can then use them to search the Library catalogue to find books and ebooks. For hardcopy books, remember to take note of the following (as seen in the screenshot of a catalogue record below):

  • Location: Which library is it in? Click on the location link for more details, including its floor and/or collection.
  • Call number: Where will it be located among the shelves? Write down all of the numbers and letters in its call number.
  • Availability status; When a book is not 'Available', its status may be 'Missing', 'In transit' or a due date, indicating it is on loan.


Screenshot of a catalogue record of a book - location, call number and availability


Watch this short video (3:21) for a demonstration on how to use the Library Catalogue:



Check out the full guide below for a step-by-step guide on how to track down books:



The Library also has more than 32,000 ebooks which you can access at home, at a cafe and pretty much anywhere you have an internet connection. Visit our full guide to finding eBooks for more information:


Finding journal articles

Alongside books, journal articles are an excellent source of concise, up-to-date, and in-depth information for almost any academic topic. 

Many journals are 'refereed' or 'peer reviewed'. This means that articles are of high academic quality- being accepted for publication only after being reviewed by editors and/or other scholars. Journals are usually published periodically in volumes and issues (monthly, quarterly or annually) and are bound into larger compilations. Many are published online and can be effectively found through the Library's databases, Discovery, and Google Scholar (more on these resources later). It is a common mistake to treat online journal articles as a webpage. Online journal articles are usually just the electronic reproduction of an article that is published in a print journal, not a webpage.

Journals usually have a theme or specialty and articles in them are on topics surrounding that theme. For instance, the Journal of Australian Political Science will generally contain articles that relate to Australian politics in some way.

Knowing how to find relevant journal articles is a critical research skill and one that you will be relying on more and more as your progress through your degree.

Read through our full guide to finding journal articles below:


Finding dictionaries and encyclopedias: Reference material

Dictionaries and encyclopedias are also known as reference material. They offer:

  • Concise overviews of a broad range of topics
  • Definitions of terms and concepts
  • Scholarly references and bibliographies

As with your subject reading lists, these will direct you to other related and reliable resources. 


To find high quality reference materials for your specific discipline, a great starting place is your faculty's Subject Research Guides. Check them out below:


Looking for different resources that aren't mentioned here?

Click on the button below to browse a list of guides on finding specialised resources like newspapers, theses, images and more:




Choosing the right resources

Choosing the right resources will help highlight your research skills and save you time. With so many resources available online, how do you know what is the "right" resource? 


This section will give you tips to help evaluate the quality of the resources you have found: 

Image of a ticked box   Identifying scholarly sources

Image of a ticked box   PROMPT: 5 checks for quality

What are scholarly sources?

Information that is scholarly is:

  • evidence-based
  • well-researched
  • has undergone rigorous review by experts in that respective field.


Here are examples of types of scholarly information you might encounter in your research:


A word on mainstream media sources: general newspaper articles and websites might not fulfill these criteria. Although they may be valuable for up-to-date information you will need scholarly information sources to develop and support your research and writing.

How to evaluate your resources

Keep in mind: Not all sources are created equal

Choosing the right resources to use can make a significant difference to the quality of your assignment. 

While you are searching for resources, put them to the test by using the PROMPT (Presentation, Relevance, Objectivity, Method, Provenance, Timeliness) set of criteria below to ensure you are using quality resources that will help answer your assignment question. 



Writing your essay/report

Use your research

All your hard work researching only matters if you can use it well. Show your reader you have put in the work, distinguish your ideas from the research and integrate what you've found into the task.

Writing academic essays

Writing (or presenting) at university comes with unique expectations and norms. This is good training as communication is always contextual - a message to your friends, an article on your blog, or a report to your boss should look and feel different. Once you've done your reading, how do you integrate your research with your writing? Here are 3 quick things to get you started:


1. Use academic style

Small but important details like language, tone and neutrality can radically affect the style of your writing. This video provides practical tips and examples, and a list of things to avoid.


2. Use academic structure

Structuring complex ideas so they can be easily understood is a skill in itself. This video will answer some simple questions (like how long should a paragraph be) to some complex iterative ones (how to improve cohesion in writing?)


3. Paraphrasing ideas in your writing

Now that you've done all the research, how do you represent it in your writing? Too often research is dropped into writing making it disjointed, hard to read and, worst of all, difficult to evaluate. This video explains why and how you should paraphrase:


4. Acknowledging your sources

Using re:cite, the Library's guide to referencing, citation and acknowledgment makes it easy to attribute the ideas that you use in your work. Remember to check whether your faculty has a preferred citation style in your subject guide.



Further help

Academic Skills

How can we help?

Academic Skills can help you with academic writing, critical reading and assessment planning. Contact Academic Skills for support in the following areas:

The Library

How can we help?

The Library can help you with finding, evaluating and properly referencing resources. Contact the Library for more support in the following areas: