NSC1210 Skills for the Scientist: Getting started on your assignment

This guide contains key resources for research and critical evaluation of scientific sources of information.

On this page

This page provides information on getting started on your assignment and keyword searching strategies.


What are keywords?

Keywords are the words in an assignment question that tell you the which approach you should take when answering the question. 

Keywords can include:

Content Words - tell you what the topic area is, help you to focus, think about synonyms.

Limiting Words - define the topic area further, indicate aspects of the topic area on which to concentrate.

Task Words - tell you how to: the action(s) you need to perform, eg. compare, contrast, describe, summarise.



Related links

Excellent resources from Monash University:

Steps in preparing for a successful assignment

  1. Collect all your information about the assignment.
  • the unit guide or VU Collaborate information on the assignment, including the marking rubric
  • the type of resources required to use in your assignment e.g. books, journal articles, reputable website
  • notes from classes on how to do the assignment
  1. Analyse the question and prepare to research
  • identify keywords & search the Library for resources e.g. books, journal articles (see the Keyword video)
  • identify and collect relevant material 
  1. Read for Information
  • read and make notes
  • prepare each Reference as you read it, ensure it is written in the Harvard referencing style. See the Harvard referencing guide for further assistance
  1. Form an opinion
  • collect notes from your reading and start to build your argument in preparation for completing the assessment task
  • write the correct references for each of the resources used for your reference list

Google vs VU Library

Keeping notes

Good note keeping is one of the best strategies you can use to maintain academic integrity. Make a habit of recording the reference details (author, date, title, publisher, place of publication, page numbers) for any notes you take during your research. If you copy a quote directly make sure you also note the exact page number. You might like to create a template like the one below to record your notes:

Keeping detailed notes of your readings will help you develop a more sophisticated response to your assignment questions, as well as save you a lot of time hunting for references and page numbers when your assignments are due. Thinking about how you might use the information as you read will help you stay focused and reduce your reading time.

(This resource was created by Juanita Custance. © VU 2015. Contact the Learning Hub staff for more advice on note-taking)

Primary vs Secondary Sources

For description and examples of Primary vs. Secondary Sources refer to the research guide published by the Healey Library at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

In-class activity

Group Activity: using your research skills to locate a peer-reviewed journal article.

Access the padlet, provide the link to the article for the discussion, and reference it according to the VU Harvard style guidelines.