By Heather Parker,2015-01-15 20:42
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    Academic Development

    This site provides access to useful resources which can assist academic development in all students. Whether you are a first year or a post-graduate

    student, struggling to cope or aiming higher, take some time to see what is

    available to help you get the most out of your studies.

    Many of these resources are accessible through the social book-marking site and some are from departmental material or links to other University websites; the point is that they have all been chosen to help you reach your full potential.

    If you have any questions, contact an Academic Skills Tutor (AST). Although Pat will be primarily responsible for English, History and Media, and Janet for Drama and Music, you can consult either one at your convenience:Pat HillJanet Price

    Room WG/20Room CAM 1/25

    West Building (near rear entrance)Creative Arts Building


    Tel: 01484 47217001484 472136

    Topics Index:

    You can work through the material systematically or simply press Ctrl and click on

    each topic to follow the links:

    Time management Research ReadingNote-making

    Application Critical Thinking Writing Editing

    ReferencingPlagiarism ExamsOral Presentations


Time management . . .

    Time management is an important factor in gaining a successful degree. Home life, social life and work can all become competing priorities when you have a deadline. One certainty is that everything will take longer than you think. Which of these apply to you?


    I am good at managing my own work and don’t need any reminders about

    where I should be up to, or how much time is left. Just leave me to it.


    I am quite good at organising my own work, but would still appreciate some

    interim deadlines and reminders from time to time.


    Time management can be a real problem for me. I tend to leave work till the

    last minute and can only get going when a deadline is looming fast.


    I think that I work best under pressure but I’m sometimes disappointed with

    the results.


    I plan really well. It’s sticking to it that’s the problem. Why do all my friends

    have birthdays to coincide with deadlines?


    I tend to put off what I don’t like: I read a lot but find it hard to start writing.If any but No.1 rings a bell with you, then it might be worth looking at some of the resources below. In the meantime, get a diary/wallchart/calendar and think about really managing your time.

    If you feel that time management may be a general problem for you then visit: or and work

    through the materials there. These materials are aimed at getting you to recognise and accept where you might improve, but to do that you need to recognise firstly where you are now.

    If you don’t think that is for you (or you can’t afford the time to do this so thoroughly), then

    visit for a 30 minute tutorial which introduces some

    key concepts of managing time in producing assignments.

    When you have an assignment to do, for a really useful site which allows you to enter real time deadlines and gives you step by step guidance, try:

    Back to index



    In order to research successfully, you will need to:

    Decide what you need to know. Analyse the question; before you can start, you

    need to understand thoroughly what is being asked. Highlight the key terms

    (for a clearer idea of what the most common instructions mean, visit the

     Glossary (Internet connection required)

    Think about each of the words used. Discuss it with other students or a friend. If still in

    doubt, ask your tutor or AST to explain what is required. Don’t forget the little words like "and" and "or". Ask questions of the question, particularly any terms or phrases specific

    to the topic. Once you are clear you understand what is being asked of you, check what

    you already know. Go through any lecture, seminar or reading notes (see Note-making

    section) and collate all that you have which is relevant to the topic.

    Mind mapping software can be very useful at this stage (Try http:// cmap for a

    free download that is easy to use). Keep it simple using brief notes or single words to

    create a framework. The trick is to balance being imaginative and wide ranging with keeping a focus on the question. Make sure that everything on your list is necessary to answer the question and then decide where the gaps are.

    Identify the resources you need. Always check module handbooks for indicative

    resources for assignments. Also make a note of any titles or authors mentioned in lectures or seminars.

    The library staff are always keen to help. Simply clicking on their web page gives you all the information you need to access resources. For practical information on how to use the library go to .

    Electronic resources are invaluable these days. In order to get up to date academic material you need to know how to access journals and databases. Again the library staff

    are there to help. Go to and if still

    unsure, ask your AST, contact a librarian or go to the library and ask. Never just give up; your first year is the best time to learn how to use the resources but throughout your academic career there is help available if you need it.

    As well as journals you will use the internet to find useful material, but it’s important to use

    the right material. For instance, Wikipedia might be a useful starting point but it is not suitable as an academic reference. For a useful resource on how to evaluate your sources go to:

    Remember at this stage that anything you use will need to be referenced so take a note of the details you need. (See Referencing Section).

    Back to Index



    Reading at degree level needs to be productive; productive reading is usually known as ACTIVE READING. You can make sure that you don't waste time by thinking about exactly why you are reading and which approach to take for different purposes. There are several useful approaches to reading, none of which includes reading a whole book from end to end as you might read a novel. One well known and successful approach is SQ3R:

     Survey the material. Skim-read any Preface or Introduction: this will often give a

    brief summary of the contents. Look at chapter headings and chapter

    summaries and conclusions. Check the index for specific references. Consider

    the reputation of the author. Note the date of publication. Note any useful

    figures/diagrams. Look at the bibliography (a short one might indicate a rather

    superficial approach). Select a useful section to read.

     Question the text. What is the main idea or theory? What is the author’s argument

    and/or perspective? What evidence is being offered? Is it valid and up to date?

    How does the argument compare with other reading?

     Read a section at a time, at a speed that allows you to think. Engage with the

    material. Look for topic sentences and summarising statements to get an overall

    sense of the argument. Look out for useful key quotes’ and see how illustrative

    examples support the argument.

     Re-call the main note-worthy’ points, by quickly re-reading if necessary. Make

    notes that capture the main ideas in your own words. If there is a supporting ‘key

    quote’ so much the better. Clearly identify it as a quotation; copy it accurately;

    note the page number so that you can reference it if you use it.

     Review your own notes when you reach the end of the chapter/article. Do they

    make sense? Are you confident you understand the argument made by the


     For more on reading, go to:

    Back to Index



    Effective note-making is essential for academic study, but it is too easily taken for granted and regarded as something that can be done without much thought. You need to think critically about your own approach: Have you ever made notes that don’t make

    sense when you look at them again? Do you go for key points, or try to write down everything? Are your notes organised or haphazard - or even lost? Do all your notes look the same?

    Note-making is part of the process of actively engaging with the topic. Different learning situations call for different approaches to note-making, and different people may adopt different methods, but, in general, making notes is part of a wider process of ‘making sense’ of material by puzzling out meanings and putting them into your own words. Good notes can save you hours of work later.

    Lectures will give an over-view of the topic, not a definitive statement of everything you need to know, so see your notes as a basis for further reading and research. You can’t write a good essay on lecture notes alone. A good lecture will present structured information in a well-paced fashion, but your job is to ‘make sense of it’ for yourself: simply writing down phrases projected on the screen is passive ‘note-taking’ not active ‘note-


    Why make notes?

    to remember and make sense of material

    to provide an outline of points made in lectures

    to help summarise/analyse reading

    to provide ‘key points’ to be developed in essays and seminar discussionas an essential aid to concentration

    as a resource for exam revision

    When to make notes

    in lectures and while reading books and articles

    in seminars and class discussions

    from radio/TV programmes

    in one-to-one tutorials with your lecturers

    How to make notes

    You need to be selective and not try to write down every word the lecturer says as a

    lecture is not an exercise in dictation. See your notes as an extension of focussed

    listening and an aid to concentration.

    Try to review your notes as soon as possible after the lecture, either alone or with

    another student. Make sure you understand what you’ve written: you won’t remember

    what you don’t understand. Any gaps in your notes can be filled at the relevant

    seminar. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.


    Students who review notes immediately after a lecture are four times as likely to

    remember them. Notes made from your reading need to include bibliographic details,

     page numbers etc, so you can use them when writing assignments.

    Methods of note-making

    Long-hand, linear notes maintain the sequence of the chapter, lecture etc. Use

    numbers, letters, headings and underlining to structure the material and identify key

    points in the argument but don’t slip into ‘dictation mode’ in lectures or copying straight

    from a text unless you are going to use a direct quote.

    Key word notes and other forms of ‘personal shorthand’. Useful in some situations,

    such as making notes from a TV programme, but make sure that you will remember

    what they mean the next day.

    Highlighting or marking a text can sometimes be useful as a ‘labour saving’

    approach to identify relevant passages or key quotes - but never do this in a library

    book. If you own the book, or have a photocopy, make sure that you are selective as

    too many highlights defeat the object. A soft pencil in the page margin can be enough,

    but remember that you still need to focus on ‘active reading’.

    Short Patterned notes, ‘spider diagrams’ or ‘mind maps’ are notes in a

    diagrammatic form, producing a condensed ‘graphic’ in which key terms and concepts

    are linked by arrows into chains of association. Useful as an extension of the ‘Key

    Word’ approach above for fast-paced talks etc. (but with a similar draw-back). Some

    people with a ‘visual memory’ swear by this method and add colours to emphasise

    connections but make sure that ‘design’ doesn’t drown out content. These maps can be

    used to synthesise notes from different sources.

    (The map above was made using cmap which is a free download from http:// cmap . It’s really easy

    to use –Try it).


Making effective use of notes

    Individual styles and approaches mean that note-making can be a very ‘personal’ activity. Sometimes notes made by different people hardly seem to be from the same lecture; this is a good reason to attend regularly and not rely on anyone else to make notes for you unless it’s absolutely necessary.

    Whatever method of note-making you adopt, the process will be more effective if you:Review your notes while the material is still fresh in your mind, and while you can still read your own handwriting. Compare notes with someone to fill any gaps.

    Space your notes well, both to ensure they are easier to read and to leave room for additional comments, questions, references etc. at a later date. Be organised: aim to have one set of notes for each topic, rather than everything in the same notebook.

     Make a ‘visual summary of linear notes by re-constructing them in diagrammatic form. This is a useful way of producing ‘revision notes’ before an exam.

    Include points to follow up Can you express opinions or raise your own questions? Of

    course, and in fact the more you do this as you read a book or listen to a lecture the more you will engage with the material. But keep your comments separate [perhaps in square brackets like this], and remember that in an essay your personal opinion is only valid if you have evidence to support it.

    Be imaginative with your notes. The following template is for a method called the Cornell system. It splits your page into three sections: Cue Column (1), Note taking Column (2) and Summary (3)

    For more details on how to use this system, go to

    Don’t settle for what you’ve always done. Visit and click on note-

    making tag for more ideas and resources.

    Back to Index


Critical Thinking…

    It isn’t enough just to find the right material for an assignment; degree level study requires you to think critically about what you read and apply your knowledge systematically and objectively. Critical thinking means that you don’t just accept what you read but you question it so that you come to

    understand the different perspectives and ideas related to the concepts that you are studying. In turn you then come to take your own viewpoint based on

    what you have read. In order to read critically, look for: Clarity; Accuracy;

    Precision; Relevance; Depth; Breadth; Logic; Significance and Fairness.

    ;Does the author say clearly what he/she means?

    ;Is the author accurate in what she/he says?

    ;Is the author sufficiently precise in providing relevant details?

    ;Does the author retain his/her purpose or provide irrelevant material?

    ;Is the writing in depth or does it take a superficial approach?

    ;Is the author’s perspective narrow or are other views considered?

    ;Is the text consistent or are the arguments illogical?

    ;Does the author make significant or trivial points?

    ;Does the author deal with the content fairly?

    (adapted from available from

    So critical thinking is all about asking questions and this ties in with the need for active reading and meaningful Note-making .

    Below are some of the activities that critical thinking might involve. Think about the assignment you are doing and decide which might apply.


Interpreting according to a Predicting


    Relating theory to practiceAnalysing

    Making a claim and supporting itSynthesising

    Using appropriate evidenceCategorising

    Making links between ideasEstablishing cause and effect

    Asking questionsComparing and contrasting

    EvaluatingIdentifying problems and


    Available from

    If you know that critical thinking is not one of your strengths then visit: This is a resource which has been developed quite recently specifically for the purpose of helping students to understand the importance of critical thinking. Although you may think some of the examples are not relevant to your particular discipline, the underlying concepts are relevant to all higher education. Use the map below to make sure that you are a critical reader.

    Back to Index



    One of the main ways your knowledge will be tested at University is through writing. Even though you may think that you can already write, this site takes you through the steps to producing good academic writing and it might be worth comparing it to what you do now. Time management is a major element of good writing so it may well be worth looking at that topic first. There are several features of Academic Writing which you need to

    consider :

    Use formal English

    Avoid giving your opinion unless asked to.

    Always back opinions with evidence

    Check the validity of source material

    Follow an argument logically

    Be emotionally neutral

    Avoid use of the 1st person unless writing a reflective assignment (e.g. based

    on experience)

    Make a decision based on evidence

    Use arguments to develop a perspective

    Be objective

    Think, compare, contrast & evaluate

    Show an awareness of complexities

    (List from )

    Essay writing is the most common form of assessment in higher education. Essays for different subjects may have slightly different guidelines, so you should always consult your handbook or your tutor if you are unsure. You may also be asked to write a Report; these may vary by subject but for general guidelines go to Writing a report later in this section.

    The advice on essay writing follows the RAWE approach which asks that you give equal

    weight to four elements:

    Research,Application, Writing, Editing

    Before you begin to write you will already have done the bulk of your research and you

    then need to apply your knowledge to the question. Of course research and application can overlap as the critical thinking process enables you to make connections.


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