Finding good academic resources for your assignments

R20–0701 BMAN10780

Library for Educators
12 min readFeb 4, 2022

SECTION A: Introduction — Podcast

Hi, my name is John. I am a teaching and learning librarian based at the University of Manchester Library. I work with students to develop the skills they need to do well throughout their programmes as part of My Learning Essentials — The Library’s award winning skills development programme. In normal circumstances this would be face to face but this year we are doing this online. The content here has been designed with your lecturers. You will also hear from my colleagues Carlene and Michael, and together we have put together a package of resources that will help you with one of your initial tasks for this unit — this is the essay you’ve been asked to plan and write during the first semester. We really want to hear from you about how useful you have found the content so let us know.

It is important to say that we are here for you throughout your academic career, so do get in touch with us. We are always incredibly happy to speak to you in person and there are a multitude of ways to get in touch with us at the bottom of this page. Thanks and we will see you soon.

Section B— Finding information resources during your studies at the University of Manchester

A key component of the marking criteria for your essay assignment is “Use of sources”. In order to score the highest possible marks for this element your essay will need to:

“Draw on an exceptionally wide range of sources and wide range of appropriate examples, fully relevant in supporting the argument”.
(AMBS Reduced Scale Step Marking Criteria, 2020).

So how do we go about finding this wide range of sources and examples? This is your focus for this week— and we will show you how Library can help you to do this, and also help you to achieve your academic goals.

In order to thoroughly research any topic you will need to apply a variety of skills, and make use of the wide range of information resources which are available to you as a University of Manchester student.

It can be helpful to take a systematic approach whenever you are faced with a research based task such as this one. This content will introduce you to a simple three step process, which you will able to use to access the best range of information for not only this course unit, but also throughout your university studies.

  • What am I searching for?
  • Where will I search for it?
  • How will I search for it?

Spending some extra time thinking about the answers to these questions before you start searching will make your search more efficient and help you get to the most relevant information as quickly as possible.

We will now spend some time exploring each of these processes in more detail. We will use the title of your essay as the basis for any examples we will use. This should help to get your research off to a good start!

“Research how universities can adopt equality, diversity and inclusion as to how they work with students and staff, then make recommendations of changes that are known to make a positive difference against these three interconnected themes.”

SECTION C: What am I searching for?

Section C1 — Podcast script:

This may seem obvious — we know that we are looking for information that will help us answer our essay question! You might be tempted to stick the whole thing into Google and see what happens… You will find lots of results if you take this approach (over 18 million in fact!) and the first page of results looked reasonably OK-ish to me… But it’s not the best approach… Too many results, and you’ll usually get links to popular websites like Wikipedia, newspapers and sites trying to sell you things. It’s far better to plan out an actual searching strategy before you do anything else. What you really need is a list of useful words, phrases and topics that you can use across various the different searching platforms we’ll have a look at later. This section will help you to better understand this process and have a go at it for yourself!

SECTION C2 — Keywords, phrases and topics

In order to search effectively we need to turn our essay question into a set of key words, phrases and topics which we can enter into the various different searching platforms we will look at shortly. It is important to think carefully about some of the following:

  1. Identify the keywords and concepts contained within our question.
  2. Identify synonyms and alternative phrases (are there any similar or related words to those we have identified below? Also are there any similar topics or concepts which are not directly mentioned in our essay question but we may need to consider?)
  3. Consider any alternative spellings or word endings

Thinking carefully about your search (before you do any actual searching!) is a vital component of any successful research process. The Library supports the development of key skills such as this through our My Learning Essentials skills development programme. The programme provides a range of online resources and workshops which can be accessed at any time throughout your studies, as and when you need them.

This is now an appropriate time for us to work through one of these resource


SECTION C3 — ESSAY QUESTION Keywords, phrases & topics

Now let’s think about how we can apply some of these skills to our actual research topic.

“Research how universities can adopt equality, diversity and inclusion as to how they work with students and staff, then make recommendations of changes that are known to make a positive difference against these three interconnected themes.”

This is a very long question! Some of the words and phrases such as “research” or “make recommendations” are instruction words. They are very important as they tell us what to do! However, we don’t need to worry about them too much when doing the actual searching.

  • Identify the keywords and concepts in your topic or research question:
    We have a number of important words and concepts here — “Universities”, and “Equality, diversity and inclusion” are the stand-out ones. However “work with”, “students and staff” and “positive difference” are also important.
  • Identify synonyms — are there any related concepts or other ways to express the same idea which need considering? There are some synonyms which are more apparent than others — though it is important you give them all due consideration. For “Universities” for example, you will need to also consider “Higher Education”. “Equality, Diversity and Inclusion” is more complicated! This is where you will need to a bit more creative and thoughtful. It can helpful if you undertake this activity as a group — we will try this shortly!
  • Consider alternative spellings or word endings: Difference in terminology across different cultures is one of the main things to look out for here. In education for example where we might refer to “universities” in the UK, this may be referred to as “college” or “school” in the U.S. Also don’t overlook word endings as this came sometimes make a difference when searching. “University” rather than “Universities” can sometimes produce different results!

Activity — Please have a go at putting some of this into practice now, by identifying some alternative terms and phrases for the other important concepts in your question.

  • Universities
  • Equality
  • Diversity
  • Inclusion
  • Students and staff
  • Positive changes

Please add your ideas to the discussion forum below. This will help out your fellow students as well as yourself!


Section D: Where will I search for it?

Section D1 — Where will I search for it podcast

The key consideration when thinking about Where you are going to look is hinted at in the marking criteria… We need to demonstrate engagement with a wide variety of appropriate sources… so what exactly does this mean? “Appropriate” means that you will be expected to engage with relevant material of course, but should also alert you to the fact that you will need to include some academic sources, which will offer more detailed analysis . These are the textbooks you will find in the library or bookstores such as Blackwells, however, you should also try and locate articles from academic journals — these are shorter, very focused pieces of literature where you can expect to find explanations and results from the most up-to-date research that’s going on across universities worldwide. They can take a bit of getting used to if you haven’t used them before but you will find lots of really valuable information contained within them. My Learning Essentials offers lots of support in getting used to properly engaging with and understanding these sources and we’ll provide you with some links to help you with this, that you can use in this and other courses.

However for research topics such as this one, you will find it useful, and necessary to consult information from official sources such as university or government websites, and popular sources from the media. The key is to use a wide range, but try and use the academic sources to corroborate interesting things you find elsewhere. You will get used to this as you progress through your academic career, but the main thing for now is be aware of the different types of information and get a basic understanding of how they might be relevant in answering your essay question. We’ll have a look at some of these now…

Section D2 — Types of information sources

In order to help us get a better understanding of different types of information sources, we would like you to look at an example of each type of source and think about how they might help you to learn more about some of the themes you might want to explore in your essay.

Before doing this you should work through this My Learning Essentials online resource which will help you to understand more about the various different types of information resources you will be expected to engage with at University level study


Section D3 — Examples of different information sources

Here are some examples of the different types of sources we just discussed— read through these and have a think about how you might use each source within your essay. They all talk about the different issues you have been asked to investigate, but are very different indeed!

This article from the Guardian newspaper provides a valuable introduction to our topic. Articles such as these are not considered “academic” but the ideas they introduce are significant. Sources such as these can also be a good way for you to show that the topics you write about are related to wider societal concerns.

This blog-post from the John Rylands Library provides a great example of how one area of the University of Manchester (The Library) is responding to the questions you have been asked to think about. You can explore this further by looking at what other departments in the University are doing and looking for examples from other higher education institutions (more on this in the next section!)

Academic Text-book
Text-books are something you will use a lot during your time at University. It will not always be necessary to read the entire book! Looking for relevant chapters or sections that directly relate to the points you are making can be a useful approach. The main thing here is to have a look at the source and think about how you will use similar resources during your time at university.

Academic Journal article
Journal articles are short, very focused pieces of content, that usually explore in depth a very specific area of debate, and introduce new ideas or research findings (In this case much of the analysis is informed through discussion of previous studies and interviews which have been undertaken). They will be published more regularly than text-books and are a great way to connect with current ideas and thinking around your subject area

Section E — How will I search for it?

Section E1 Podcast

For the final section we are going to think in detail about how you can effectively search for some of the sources we have mentioned above. In this section you will learn about the different systems you can use in order to find the different types of information. We will introduce the Library’s own interface “Library search” and also look at Google Scholar which you may have used before in your studies. Databases can be a useful tool as well so we will have also introduce some of these products and how to access them. As we will also be looking for some popular and official sources, we will also talk a little bit about how you can search the internet in a more systematic way than you may have done in the past.

Section E2 — Finding popular and official sources

You will be able to find a variety of popular and official sources fairly easily using popular search engines such as Google. Most higher education institutions will have a dedicated section on their official websites (Here is a link to information from the University of Manchester).

Many Universities are very large places made up of faculties, schools (such as AMBS) and cultural institutions (such as museums and libraries), so you should find lots of information within individual sections of the website (such as the Library content from the John Rylands Library we viewed earlier).

Popular sources again, should be reasonably easy to locate. It will help if you have an idea of some publications you are interested in. Newspapers such as The New York Times or magazines such as the Economist can be a good source of information.

A very handy tool that is available via Google is the “advanced search” function. You can use this to limit results to specific websites which may contain relevant material. For this assignment using the domain names feature and using domain names such as “” and “.edu” may be very useful. These will limit your search to websites from higher education institutions in the UK ( and the United States (.edu)

Section E3 — Finding academic books and journals

There are 3 main ways you can search for books and journal articles — we will go through each of these in turn:

  • Library search
  • Google Scholar
  • Databases

Section E4 — Library search

Please EMBED 03 (2 , 2.1 , 2.2 and 2.3)

Library search activity: Using the information above have a go at searching for “diversity inclusion higher education” — use other terms if you prefer. Experiment with the filters on the left hand side under “resource type” — these will allow you to specify “articles”, “books” and “journals”.

Section E5 — Google scholar

Please EMBED 03 — 3.0 but DELETE “Activity 1: Run a search for “coronavirus” using Google and then repeat the search using Google Scholar. Note down the differences in the types of results you receive”

Google scholar activity — Run a search on Google scholar using some of the keywords and terms we generated earlier — make a note of any useful results you find and / or bookmark these to use later in the course.

Section E6 — Databases
Please embed 03 (1.0, 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3)

1.3 will need a slight change — text below:

You can find the subject databases for your subject through our Subject Guides. Once you have selected a subject click ‘Databases’ to view the Library’s curated collection of databases for your subject.

Tip : You will find databases covering different aspects, even within the same subject area. Read the database descriptions to pick the right one for the information you are looking for.

Activity : Our Education and Business and Management guides will be the best to help you with writing your essay. The Business and Management guide will likely be the most useful throughout you degree programme, but the Education guide is a good choice for this particular assignment. Access the links above and try and find some useful databases for your assignment.

Searching a database — example
Databases do offer more options when searching than Library search and Google Scholar. They can be a very effective way to quickly include many of the keywords and terms we have identified simultaneously. Have a look at the example below (using the British Education Index) and try and replicate some similar searches on some of the other databases you have identified in the section above.

Tip: Most databases will suggest alternative terms for you if you type “or” after typing the initial keyword in a search field. You can combine concepts and topics (as we have done below) by using the separate fields for each concept:

Section F — Further tips and support

You should now have a good understanding of how to get started with finding some useful materials for your essay. The support offered by My Learning Essentials does not end here however.

As a quick example of this, have a listen to the podcast below which talks about how to evaluate the sources you have found — another very important skill


We also offer support in areas such as academic writing and referencing so visit the My Learning Essentials website to see what is on offer. You can also get in touch with us at any time using one of the options below:

  • Email us
  • Use the ‘Ask a question’ tab at the right side of the page on any Subject Guide.
  • Use Library Chat by going to the Library Website or MyManchester (log in required).



Library for Educators

Sharing resources for educators, from The University of Manchester Library