Get set to ace your assignment

Find out how to analyse your assignment question or task, as well as how and where to find important information and sources for your assignment.

Analyse your assessment task or question

Do you know the learning outcomes of your course? You need to know how your assignment fits in with the course learning outcomes and aims. Head to the course profile in myGriffith to find out what they are and see how they relate to your assignment. Understanding the connection will help you find the focus of the assignment.

You should be able to find all the assignment details in the course profile in myGriffith. Identify when the assignment is due, how much of your overall course grade the assignment is worth, how long the assignment has to be and what format it should take. You will be asked to submit assignments in different formats, such as essays, literature reviews, reports or oral presentations. The Writing your Assignment module introduces you to the different formats and provides an outline of what they could include.

Also be sure to check the marking criteria. It will tell you how many marks each section is worth and how your work will be assessed. If you understand the marking criteria, you can write an assignment that ticks all the boxes for your course.

You need to identify directive, topic and limiting words in the assignment question. These important words help you figure out how to research and write the assignment.

  • Directive words: Words such as examine, analyse or compare tell you how to approach the assignment. If you’re not sure what the directive word is asking you to do, look it up in a dictionary or consult this handy Definition of Directive Words from California Polytechnic State University.
  • Topic words: Topic words identify the major concepts in your task. These will come in handy when you are looking for resources and help you stay focused on your topic.
  • Limiting words: Limiting words help narrow the scope of your assignment. They set boundaries for you and are often dates, locations or populations.

Once you understand what you are being asked to do, it’s time to break down the task into mini questions. Having a series of questions to answer will help you focus your research and writing. It also helps you develop a logical response to the topic. The assignment task itself may contain mini questions. It may have a primary question and a number of secondary questions. The answer to the primary question is your overall argument.

The secondary questions could be descriptive or analytical. A descriptive question asks for background information or context to the primary question. Whereas, an analytical question prompts you to dig deeper into the assignment topic.

SEARCH FOR INFORMATION

It’s important to find high-quality information for your assignments. Here are some key resources to help you get started with your research.

Reading lists

Reading lists are a great place to start when doing research for assignments. Find your reading list in Learning@Griffith, in your course profile or in the Readings section of your course site. Reading lists provide you with links to online resources or to the library catalogue so you can find print resources.

Reading lists

Library catalogue

The library catalogue is a great place to search for a range of resources, including books, journal articles and videos, conference proceedings, newspaper articles and online documents.

You can use the search box on the library homepage to search all available resources. To find specific items, search for the title. If you can’t find the right item, try including the author’s name in the search.

Library catalogue

Google Scholar

You may have used Google to search for information before. But did you know Google has an academic search engine? Google Scholar is a search engine that searches a wide variety of sources including academic online journals, conference papers, dissertations, technical reports and books.

You can even use Google Scholar to find academic resources at Griffith University. It’s as simple as changing a setting. Head to the About Google Scholar webpage to find out how.

Google Scholar

Databases

You’ll need to use online search tools such as library databases to find specialised information. You can search databases to find specialised resources such as:

The library also has databases for different disciplines, so if you require information on a business, law, education, health, science or social science topic, there is a database for you. If you’re not sure which database to search for your discipline, check out our handy library guides.

Online search tips

Here are some tips and tricks to help you search information online more effectively and efficiently.

Identify keywords

Keywords are key!

Analyse your assignment question to develop a list of keywords to use in online search tools.

Brainstorm more keywords

Be sure to use synonyms of your keywords. Consult a thesaurus; there are plenty of free versions online. Experts probably discuss your topic using a variety of terms and you’ll want to catch all of this research.

Beware of words with different spelling

Watch out for words with alternative spelling. Remember, there are differences between British English and American English spelling, such as colour and color. Some search tools will automatically find both spellings, but you may need to include both versions.

Limit your search

Most search tools let you limit your results in a range of ways. Use these tools to focus your results on the content you need. For example, you may not need peer-reviewed journal articles, or news articles from the past three months. Limit your search to what you need.

Keep keywords together

Sometimes you need to use keywords together. If the words aren’t in the correct order, the results won’t be relevant. For example, higher education. Most search tools will find your phrase in the correct order if you enclose the words in quotation marks, for example “higher education”. This works best for two or three words.

Find multiple words in one go

Some search tools will only provide results for the exact keywords you use. For example, if you search for teen, you will only find results that contain teen. However, you may also like results for teen, teens, teenager and teenaged. Try truncation to avoid typing in all of these words. You can use a symbol, usually the asterisk (*), to tell the search tool to find any endings of your keyword. For example, you can search for teen* and find results for all those other words in one go.

Use wildcards

A wildcard is a symbol you can use in the middle of a word to catch any alternate spelling options for that word. The wildcard symbol varies between search tools, but is frequently a question mark (?) or an asterisk (*). For example, if you are searching for the keyword behaviour, and know there is an alternative spelling option, you can use the wildcard symbol to find both spelling options at once. For example, behavio?r.

Combine keywords and synonyms

We’ve already stressed the importance of keywords and synonyms. But you’ll need to think about how you are going to use all these words when you search an online tool, such as the library catalogue or databases. That’s where Boolean operators come in. Boolean operators are the terms and, or and not. They are used to join your keywords together to form a search strategy. Check out this YouTube video from Penfield Library to get an idea of how to use Boolean operators in your search.

Dig into references

Don’t forget to check reference lists of the resources you find.

They may list other helpful sources of information you can use.

SOURCES OF INFORMATION

When it comes to finding resources for university assignments, you need to consider how authoritative the source is.

There are three types of sources based on level of authority: scholarly, peer reviewed, and non-scholarly.

It’s your responsibility to find out which type of source to use for your assignment.

Scholarly sources

Scholarly sources are usually written by academics or researchers who are experts in their field. These researchers produce highly credible work and are a more reliable source of information than non-scholarly sources. The most common scholarly source is a journal article. A journal is like a scholarly magazine that focuses on a particular subject area and contains articles written by academic experts for an audience of experts. Books written by academic experts for an academic audience are also likely to be scholarly sources.

Peer-reviewed sources

Peer-reviewed sources are one of the most reliable sources of information. Peer-reviewed journal articles, also known as refereed journal articles, go through a process of review by one or more experts in the field of study before publication. You can find peer-reviewed sources using the Griffith University Library Catalogue. You can select the Peer-Reviewed/Refereed materials checkbox in the Advanced Search. You can also search Ulrich's Web to check the journal’s status.

Non-scholarly sources

Although scholarly and peer-reviewed sources are often the focus for university assignments, you still may need to use information from a non-academic author. Non-scholarly sources include those not written for an academic audience, such as newspaper articles, government reports, magazines and most websites, including Wikipedia. These sources can be a great place to find background information about a topic, but it is important to evaluate your sources so you use reliable and accurate information.

Evaluate your sources

Just because you’ve found resources for your assignment doesn’t mean you should use them. They may be out of date, biased or just plain wrong.

You’ll need to use your critical-thinking skills to evaluate whether a source is suitable to use.

Below are five factors to consider before you include a source of information in your assignment.

Source factors to consider

Check when your source was published and if it has been updated recently. It is important to know how up to date information is when you evaluate it for your assignments. Out-of-date information may not be appropriate.

Relevance refers to how well the source meets your information needs. You should only use information that addresses your topic. If it barely touches on your topic, then it’s probably not something that you should use.

Also, consider the intended audience. A resource written for young children won’t be relevant for an assignment that asks you to rely on scholarly evidence. Compare the source to others you have found to check that it is the most appropriate.

Who wrote it? Many journal articles and scholarly sources will provide vital details about the author. Where are they employed? What credentials do they have? What organisations are they affiliated with? This is all important.

Also, consider the publisher or sponsoring organisation. Which journal was the article published in? Which organisation published the book or website? Sometimes the authority comes not from a single author, but from a reputable organisation or publisher. The web address can also help you determine the authoritativeness of information found online. It can tell you if a source is from government (.gov), educational institution (.edu) or from other less-regulated groups (.com, .net and .org).

Is your source using evidence to support their argument? Quality sources will usually provide references to other sources. Original research will tell you how they did their research and present data using graphs, and tables of results.

Sources are more likely to be accurate if other sources have verified the information. Look for language that is unbiased and objective.

Why was the source created? Generally, you should be using sources that are created to inform or teach. Resources designed to sell products, entertain or persuade are less likely to be appropriate for university assignments.

Sources should include evidence and not present opinions. Always check if sources are biased or presenting political, ideological, cultural, religious or personal views.

MAINTAIN ACADEMIC INTEGRITY

As you prepare for your assignment, be sure to produce honest work so as not to breach academic integrity.

You can find out more information on our academic integrity site.

Academic integrity

Next steps

See tips for writing your assignment