Choosing your reading for an assignment

The initial stumbling block that most students face is choosing their reading. You will remember that this was one element of analysing the assignment. The first thing to do is to consult the reading list for books and articles that seem relevant to your particular assignment. Doing a library search, by keywords or subject, is also useful if the references on your reading list are already on loan from the library. Your tutor should also be able to advise you as to which are the most relevant publications or websites (see Chapter 8). Once you have got a few references you need to be able to decide which will be the most useful to you. At this stage it is important that you pay particular attention to the signposting in the book; this will tell you how the book deals with the subject matter that is relevant to your assignment. Starting with the index, look up relevant words and subject areas until you find the parts of the book that seem most important. Turn to these sections and chapters. Using the section headings as signposts, skip through and see if it looks as if the book deals with the subject matter in a way that will be relevant for your assignment. Do not choose the book if it doesn't seem to be appropriate to your assignment. You may find that you choose a publication that is not as relevant as you first thought. If this happens then leave it to one side and find something relevant for you. There is no point trying to adapt reading material to an assignment when it is not suitable for answering the question. This is a common trap that students fall into. Obviously, it is not always easy to get the general idea of a book by skimming through the headings in a chapter, but spending a little bit of extra time working with the index and checking different sections of the book, before you actually start reading, will ensure that you do not waste as much time reading inappropriate material or trying to adapt what you have read to your needs. As one student put it:

I knew it wasn't really the right book but I couldn't get hold of anything else because I'd left it a bit late and all the copies of the book that I really needed had gone by the time I got to the library.

Getting hold of publications

Use your reading list. Ask your tutor.

Note down other up-to-date references that tutors mention in lectures.

Ask other students on your course (remember to work together as much as possible).

Use library search (subject or keyword), online databases, online journals.

Checking a publication for relevance

Check the title. Check the index. Turn to relevant chapter. Check headings. Check introduction.

Read a short section to get the feel of its usefulness for you. Check conclusion.

Does it seem relevant to the assignment question? Photocopying

Use highlighters and different coloured pens to mark your own copy. Make your notes and annotations on the copy.

Getting hold of books is nearly always a problem for students. Tell your tutors if it is quite impossible to get hold of what you need. They may be able to arrange for a publication that is in heavy demand to be put in a special restricted loan section of the library. Work with other students on your course so that nobody keeps the books for too long. It may be possible to photocopy from books or journals but it is important to check with the library staff about legal restrictions on photocopying.

Although you will benefit from highlighting relevant sections and annotating your own photocopies or even your own books, please do not write on or mark a library book. This is unfair to other students and lecturers because it is quite likely that your reading will not be the same, and what you think are the salient points are unlikely to be theirs. If a book is marked and annotated, in any way, it changes the nature of the book permanently and makes it very difficult for anyone else to read.

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