Thursday, 25 October 2012

Begin at the beginning - researching your assignment

“Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?” he asked.
“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

- Lewis Carrol, Alice’s adventures in wonderland (1865), ch. 12 

Earlier in the year I wrote a blog post on Improving your essay writing skills, which is quickly becoming one of the most frequently accessed posts I’ve written. If you are currently writing your first academic assignment, it’s worth a look, as it sets out the process in brief and covers two key elements – the introduction and the conclusion.

I wrote very little about how to go about looking for literature to support your writing in that post, and I want to address that here – albeit in part only. Specifically, I want to write about starting your research, covering how to begin, using table of contents and indexes, and coping with unfamiliar terms and concepts.

Where shall I begin?

It is very natural to begin your search for supporting material by typing some version of the essay title into Google or Library Search, hoping to find material that covers the topic. This is sometimes a productive strategy – especially as some works in the library may be in high demand - but can just as often send you down blind alleys, make you miss more useful material or plunge you into writing that you are not yet able to understand. Try and resist.

Before searching for material to help you answer the question, start reviewing what you know already. The questions you are asked to research always relate to material that is covered to some degree in the modules that you are taking, so you shouldn’t be starting with a blank slate. Review the reading and thinking you have already done.  Then try to pose a series of questions you need to find answers for. This will help you get the most out of the literature when you start reading.

Your lecturers have supplied a reading list, and although you are often required to go beyond this, you should start here before moving on to other works.   

Using table of contents and indexes

Look in the table of contents and the index of books to try to pinpoint sections which relate to the topic you will be writing on. Think laterally about the terms you are looking for – you will need to consider synonyms, antonyms, and alternative terms which may be broader or narrower than the topic as defined in the question. This is also true when using Library Search or any other database to find resources.

Unfamiliar terms and concepts

Look for terms that you are unfamiliar with in textbooks, or in encyclopedias. Wikipedia can help, but concentrate on more authoritative sources such as subject-specific encyclopedias. The e-resource CredoReference provided by the library can really help here, providing authoritative articles on many topics – especially in the area of philosophy and cultural studies.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

New issues of journals

The following journals have new issues available online this month:

Critical Inquiry [ SPECIAL ISSUE - Agency and Automatism: Photography as Art Since the Sixties, edited by Diarmud Costello, Margaret Iversen, and Joel Snyder]

Digital Creativity

√Čtudes Photographiques

International Journal of Cultural Studies

Photography and Culture


Television & New Media

Theory, Culture & Society

On a related theme, the BUFVC (that's the British Universities Film and Video Council to you) are promising to post a monthly round-up of film and television publications.  One is available for September.

This include articles from journals not dedicated to film and television, such as Twentieth Century British History, and Modern Asian Studies, which underlines how useful it can be to search beyond the obvious.  Having said that, it is difficult enough to keep up with the titles dedicated to your subject area sometimes (or most of the time).

Keep an eye on this blog for advice about creating an automated round-up for publications relevant to your own interests in the next few weeks.


New Monthly Compilation of Film & TV Publications

Library Search - recommendations service

We've kept quiet about it, but over the summer we added a new service to Library Search, which recommends articles to you that might be of interest.  You will find them in the 'recommendations' tab of selected articles - see below.

The recommendations are based on what other users of Libary Search who have looked at a particular article have also expressed an interest in.  Its based on a similar idea an online bookseller called 'Amazon' have been using for a while now.

If you can come up with a better word or phrase than 'recommendations' let me know.  It seems to do the job as far as I can see, but I don't even have a real Facebook account, so what do I know?.  'Crowd source' anyone? 'Peerify?' (actually a name of a scary virus, so avoid that!).

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Access e-resources from home

I've had a few queries recently about accessing electronic resources from home, and as its the beginning of the academic year and there are a lot of new students around, I thought it would be a good idea to summarise the procedure for accessing e-resources from home here.

What follows is a typical scenario, using the journal Photographies as an example.  Other resources will be slightly different, but the principles are the same.


First of all make sure that you are signed into Library Search.

Then look up the electronic resource that you wish to access.  This might be a database, an ejournal or an ebook.  If you are looking for an article in a journal, the best way to proceed is to first look for the title of the journal rather than the title of the article.

From the record for the electronic resource, select 'Online access' and click on 'GO'.

Once you have accessed the electronic resource, look for the 'sign in' link, which is normally at the top of the screen, and click it.  You will only need to do this if the resource has not automatically recognised you, which may happen if you are within the University or have logged in before at home.


Now, look for the 'Shibboleth' link.  This can appear in different ways.  For example, it might say, 'log in via your institution' or 'log in via UK Federation.'  These are the options to choose.  Avoid clicking on the link for 'Athens' which is no longer used, or trying to sign in with an email address.
The Shibboleth system will either ask you to type in the name of your institution, or ask you to select it from a drop-down box.  It can be helpful to first select your region.

The link for the University of Westminster can be found near the bottom of the drop-down box.  Select the link for University of Westminster.

You should now be presented with the University of Westminster login screen.  Enter your university username and password.  This should give you access to the resource.

Finally, if you experience problems accessing e-resources from home, try switching to a different browser.  For example, many users find Google Chrome works well.  If this doesn't resolve the issue, contact someone in the library for help.

Related posts

Access to e-resources - troubleshooting guide