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Research Essentials

Level up your researching, reading and writing skills with these essential tips

Before you start researching, take some time to understand the assessment task. Make sure you know what the expectations are around the work you are producing. This will save you time, help you better target your research, and make sure you produce relevant work. 

Ask yourself the following key questions as you begin your research:


Are you expected to describe, compare, evaluate, or discuss? Should you focus on the texts or information you've been given in class, or will you are you expected to find other sources? What are the word limit, due-date and format restrictions?

Most assessment tasks will have a marking rubric or guide which will tell you how much of the assignment's total grade is allocated for each aspect of the task. Use the rubric as a guide as to how much time to dedicate to each portion of the assignment.

For example, your assignment rubric might say '30% of marks for evidence to support claims' and '10% for accurate and consistent referencing'. Although accurate referencing is always important, for this assignment you should spend more time on finding evidence to support your claims than on referencing.

The subject guide will tell you which referencing style you need to use.

If you are researching your own topic, your weekly readings (both prescribed and recommended) are a great place to start your research.

Reading your assessment task


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


Analysing the assignment question or topic

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

  • 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).


Download a handy 2-page PDF that explains over 20 direction words


​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)? 
See Further Resources about how to approach specific tasks


Understanding your marking rubric

A marking rubric outlines the criteria which you will be assessed by, and is usually presented as a table. It shows you what your lecturer or tutor are looking for when they mark your work.

Looking at the marking rubric before you start researching can help you get a better idea of the types and range of resources or references you need to include.

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 readings? or are you prohibited from citing these resources?
  • sources that you find on your own (e.g. independent research)?
Where to start your research

Using your reading list or textbook to jumpstart your research: 

Your recommended reading list or textbook can be a useful place to start your research, as all the sources referred to have been chosen because they are high quality. While you may be asked to find your own resources, your recommended reading list or textbook  can still be a useful starting point in your research because they offer:

  • Background, introduction and context: Familiarise yourself with the key figures, concepts and/or events covered in your subject area
  • Keywords: Identify specialised language or subject specific words to use in your search
  • Direction to other related and reliable resources:  Review the reference list and/or bibliography 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 Collection of your library.

Check the library catalogue to find if you have access to sources referred to in your textbook.