Academic Integrity

Step 2: Where do I find my research material?

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Getting started

Finding information

Using the initial plan that you created in Step 1 and the keywords that you identified in your assignment question, identify topic words that you can use in your search for information.

You can start your research by putting these key words into or browsing search tools such as:

Too many results?

You will have to think about how you can refine your search. Revisit your keywords.

  • Can you think of more specific words?
  • Have you picked up any new words when doing your preliminary searching that you could use as a better alternative?
  • Can you combine keywords to produce more specific and relevant results?
  • Try using different Boolean operators (and, or, not):
    • 'and' means all search words must be included in the search results
    • 'not' means the search term must be excluded from search results
    • 'or' means that one or both of the search terms will be included in the results.
  • Try string searching: write your search phrase in quotation marks ("...") to find specific phrases.

For more information see Tips on using the library catalogue.

Too few results?

The reverse side of the problem.  Maybe you are being too specific and have to broaden out a bit.

  • Revisit your initial plan to see if there are any alternative words you can use.
  • If this doesn’t work try another source.


Maybe you are doing research on animal testing. You put those keywords into the Library catalogue but find nothing, so you have to broaden your search. Think of new keywords.  What does animal testing form a part of?

  • Ethics
  • Laboratory experiments
  • Animal rights 

Your new search might be for animals and ethics or  “Animal rights” (a phrase search). You may also try "animal rights" and ("ethics" or "laboratory experiments").

Not all databases support parentheses (brackets), sometimes you just need to use advanced search options and fill out the boxes linked together with the appropriate Boolean operator.

Tip: Always take a look at any “Help” screens available to you when using electronic databases.  Most databases rely on you typing in keywords to retrieve a set of results but they will not all operate in the same way.  The way that you express Boolean operators will vary from one database to another.  

  • For example, some may need you to connect your words with the Boolean operator AND, others will assume the space between the words is the AND operator, yet others may assume this to be a phrase search.
  • The records you retrieve are driven by your keywords, so you may miss a record if you use the keyword UK and the record contains United Kingdom instead or even Britain or England.  It’s all about thinking up every keyword you can that might prove useful.

Material in this section has been adapted from the Staffordshire University Assignment Survival Kit available online at:

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Using the library

Types of information

When you research your assignment, you will need to decide what type of information you need to find. Probably you will already be familiar with looking for factual information or statistics to provide evidence to back up your argument but you also need to consider the following:

  • Scholarly v General Interest: At university you need to base your work on scholarly, academic information (such as text books and journal articles). Be wary of using general sources (such as Wikipedia or blogs).
  • Information on organisational websites or government websites: for official publications that you may have been asked to discuss or critique.
  • Current v historical: Are you examining current research or historical facts? Will you need to find primary or secondary sources?
  • Primary v secondary sources.
    • Primary sources could be considered as "original" or "firsthand" sources. This may include sources written at the time of an event, or the results of original research such as sets of data, statistics and lab results. Primary sources can vary markedly between disciplines, particularly for history students, so it is a good idea to speak to your supervisor for clarification. As a rough guide, primary sources for history would include chronicles, diaries or other sources written at the time (including photographs, court records, newspaper reports), but for other disciplines they could include journal articles or conference papers reporting the results of original research.
    • Secondary sources interpret, analyse or repackage primary material. Examples of secondary sources are textbooks and review articles. These aim to summarise and explain previously published work rather than present the results of original work.

Your tutor will tell you what type of information you should focus on if you are not sure. It is also useful to look at a range of sources of information, for example journals, published dissertations and theses; multimedia sources, as well as ebooks and special library collections.

Material in this section has been adapted from the Staffordshire University Assignment Survival Kit available online at:

Using Internet sources

Anyone can put their opinions on the Internet. Before relying on any website, check whether the site you have found is a genuine, reliable source of information. Is the website:

  • an authoritative academic source of information
  • based on verifiable research and
  • publishing by an objective institution such as a research body or university?

Look for and check:

  • The author's name and title of the work.
  • The host or publishing organisation - do you recognise the organisation?
  • Date of publication or update - is it current?
  • Information about the publishing website: look at their 'about us' page.
    • Is their intended audience academic or general?
    • Is this a commercial domain ( '.co' or '.com'), a government site ('.gov'), an educational institution ('.edu' or ''), a non-profit organisation ('.org') or just a private individual? Note that the country code is placed after these designations e.g. an educational institution in Australia will show as '' or '' in the UK. US websites do not include a '' designation.
    • Has the information been published for a specific reason e.g advertising, political influence or propaganda?
  • Does the site back up any claims with evidence which can be independently verified (try to check information on the site)?

More useful tutorials on evaluating web sites:

Library links

You can find information about all of the services at the University of Kent's Libraries online.

Getting help

Each academic school has a Liaison Librarian who can help you with finding information, using the library and developing your study skills. Use the following links to find library and study support:

Templeman Library, Canterbury
Drill Hall Library, Medway

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Reading and note-making

Active reading

Have a clear purpose in mind before you start your reading and be organised with your reading. This means developing an overview of your topic before looking at more detailed information. Start by reading any text books recommended in your module handbook or by your tutor to get an idea of the main issues before you research specific topics. It also means having a strategy to deal with difficult and complex readings.

Before you read ask yourself:

  • Why am I reading this?
    • What question do I want this text to answer? Be clear in your mind about what you are trying to find out from this text as this will make it easier to understand the reading.
  • What information can I get from this reading?
    • Check the text is up-to-date; look at the title, the contents list and in the index for your key words; look at chapter or sub-headings; look at any summary or concluding paragraphs.
  • How will this reading help me complete my assignment?
    • Where does this text fit in my assignment plan? Will it contain information I need? Is it too complex or too simple? Is it on my reading list? Do I have time to read it?

While you read you may find that a useful reading is difficult to understand and even more difficult to summarise in your own words. Don’t just copy chunks of text: use Active Reading Strategies to develop your reading and note-making skills.

  • Monitor your comprehension.
    • After each short section of reading, look away from the text and try to recall in your own words what you have read. If you need to, re-read the text.
  • Write key words or phrases.
    • Look at the first and last sentences in paragraphs or in introductions/conclusions. Underline or record key points but be selective- you don't want to highlight everything.
  • Question your reading.
    • What is the main point/argument in this text? Why is it relevant? Do I agree/disagree with the author?
  • Use pattern notes.
    • summarise the article in a diagram to show how the main points or ideas relate to each other.
  • Adjust your reading speed.
    • Easy sections of text can be read quickly or even scanned while difficult sections need to be read slowly. You may want to re-read some sentences or even read aloud to clarify the meaning.
  • Check the meaning of words.
    • Use a dictionary or the glossary of terms within the reading (if available) to check words you are not sure of. Certain words have different meanings in different contexts or subject areas so it is also important to use a subject specific dictionary to check new words.

Active reading tips adapted from Cottrell, S. (2008) The Study Skills Handbook, 3rd Ed. UK: Palgrave Macmillan, pages 116-119.

Writing clear notes

When you start writing your notes, don't just record everything that you have just read. Ask yourself:

  • Do I need this information for my assignment? - Check your assignment plan.
  • Have I found this information anywhere else? - This can be useful for cross-referencing and for finding several sources to support your argument.
  • How can I use these notes in my assignment? - Does this information fit in my assignment plan?

Once you decide that the information will help you write your assignment, you can record the notes in the form of a:

  • Diagram (called nuclear or pattern notes) (see the Notemaker resource for information on different types of notes)
  • List of dot points, grouped under broad headings (called linear notes) or
  • List in the order you found them in the original text.
    • This is not recommended as it may make it difficult to find the information you want later.
Top 5 tips for writing clear notes:
  • Separate quotations from your own notes either by writing in a different colour or in a different part of your note page.
  • Leave space around your notes so that you can easily add more information later.
  • Write notes in your own words without copying whole paragraphs.
  • Organise your notes with
    • headings,
    • a numbering system,
    • colour coding (either the writing or a box around a section of notes),
    • diagrams and
    • lines or arrows to link related points.
  • Record the exact details of each and every source as you write your notes.

Useful resources:

  • Notemaker interactive resource, London Metropolitan University.

Note-making tips adapted from Cottrell, S. (2008) The Study Skills Handbook, 3rd Ed. UK: Palgrave Macmillan, pages 122-125.

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Avoiding plagiarism

Plagiarism-proof notes

What is plagiarism? Plagiarism is a form of academic misconduct. Using another person's work in a way which may mislead or deceive your reader is plagiarism, whether you deliberately intend to deceive or not.

  • If you use another person's ideas or words and pretend that it is all your own work, you are plagiarising that other person's work.
  • This is a serious offence at any university and can result in disciplinary action against you by your department or even expulsion.
  • You may also have a note kept on your official University academic record which may be sent to a potential employer.
  • You can find out more about the University of Kent's academic policies and procedures at the Academic Policies page of the Academic Integrity website.

How do I avoid plagiarism? Good referencing and acknowledging all the sources you have used in completing your assignment will show that you have not plagiarised another person's work. This means that you must be able to identify in your notes the exact words you have taken from a source (a quotation) PLUS any ideas, arguments and information which you have taken from a source but written in your own words (a paraphrase or summary).

  • Plan your assignment so that you have time to complete the work yourself without needing to copy text from other sources.
  • Use the ASK Note-Making template to keep clear and accurate notes from your sources.
  • Become familiar with the referencing style used in your subject area, the type of material you need to reference for your subject (for example, drawings, music, computer code or dance) and any other subject specific aspects to referencing in each assignment you complete.
  • Use the Academic Integrity: Working with Text-Based Sources page to find information and useful links to help your develop your writing and referencing skills.
    For more information, see your tutor, Referencing Your Work (below) and the 'Academic Integrity: Guide for Students'.

Material in this section has been adapted from 'Academic Integrity' available online at:

Referencing your work

What is referencing? When you write your assignment, you must be able to reference or acknowledge your sources. This means being able to identify and reference the original author of the ideas, information and quotations that you use. Regardless of the referencing style you need to use, you will need to:

  • cite the source in the body of your assignment (in-text referencing or citation) PLUS
  • write a full list of references at the end of your work which includes bibliographical details for each of your in-text references.

To do this well you will need to have:

  • accurate notes of your reading that clearly show what you have copied directly from the source and the ideas that you have recorded in your own words
  • a system for taking notes and recording the bibliographical details of each source. Download the ASK note-making template.

Material which you must reference or acknowledge includes but is not limited to:

  • exact words (written or spoken) *Note that exact words must be placed in quotation marks or indented depending on the referencing style you use.
  • summarised or paraphrased text
  • data
  • images (graph, tables, video, multimedia etc)
  • pictures or illustrations
  • ideas or concepts
  • theories
  • opinion or analysis
  • music or other performance media
  • computer code
  • designs, drawings or plans

In general, common knowledge or facts widely available in a number of sources do not need to be acknowledged; however, what constitutes common knowledge and facts varies across subject areas. Check with your lecturer.

There are several different ways that you can reference your work. The exact format that you will need to use will depend on the style used by your department. Check in your module handbook or with your tutor if you are not sure which referencing system is used in your department. More information about referencing at the University of Kent can be found at:

Material in this section has been adapted from 'Academic Integrity' available online at:

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Time management

Time management tips

Time Management Quiz

Do you find that your tasks pile up near the deadlines or at the end of term?    
Do you have to rush at the last minute to complete assignments?    
Do you feel as if you just don't have enough time to fit all your tasks into the day?    

If you answer 'yes' to any of these questions, you can benefit from the following tips on how to organise your time more effectively.

  • Organise your tasks in a diary or wall planner:
    • include personal and study tasks so you can identify and manage your busiest days.
    • be specific: eg schedule time for reading and even 'catching up' on missed tasks.
  • Make a 'to do' list and prioritise your tasks for the day:
    • sometimes it is useful to do some low-priority tasks first just to get started.
    • allocate tasks to appropriate times of the day eg study in the evening if that is when you can concentrate.
  • Organise your study materials:
    • use a system for each module to store lecture notes, reading lists and current assignment information etc.
    • make sure your notes have source and referencing details at the top of each page.
  • Be informed:
    • read the module handbook, check your university email and any online module information.
    • check details with people who know if you need to: ie tutors, course reps, departmental secretaries etc.
  • Plan free time away from study:
    • avoid distractions during allocated study time by having allocated times for emailing friends etc.
    • plan 'reward' activities to look forward to when you have finished a piece of work.
      Adapted from LearnHigher Time Management.

For more information download the Time Management Tips and see the LearnHigher Time Management website.

By Judy Cohen, UELT.

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Academic Integrity, UELT, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent CT2 7NQ

Telephone: +44(0)1227 824016 or contact us

Last Updated: 19/02/2015