Research and library skills
Student studying in library, St John's College, Oxford, UK
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Research/library skills

Reading, note-taking and IT literacy skills can help you to research your assignment topics in a quicker, more effective, way.

Library skills

As part of your orientation as a new student, take a look at the Getting Started pages to find out how the libraries can help you. For many subjects, departments will schedule library sessions into your induction timetable. Specialists librarians are available to discuss your research topic and literature searching needs as well as offering expert help on how to locate online and print material. Training sessions are also provided for those embarking on independent research.

Reading skills

Rather than starting the book on page one and working through it in a linear fashion, look first for key terms relating to your topic, read the beginnings and endings of chapters, and find summaries of the main arguments. You will then be primed with a sense of the argument and structure of the book when you come to read it through properly. This should help you both to read more quickly and to engage more closely with the author’s main ideas.


It is helpful to develop a more strategic approach to note-taking than simply writing down everything that looks important. Read the chapter or article once through quickly without taking any notes. Having obtained the gist of the argument you will be much more discriminating in the notes you make on a second, slower reading.

Remember to include full citation details for all your sources and ensure that you note down the page number of each argument or quote that you select. Try to confine yourself to the main points, making it clear when you are quoting verbatim by enclosing the material in quotation marks. It is best to summarise the arguments in your own words as this helps you to understand them and avoids close paraphrasing, which can lead to inadvertent plagiarism. 

When taking notes in a lecture, try to distinguish the speaker’s main points and note them, together with any useful supporting evidence. Don’t try to record verbatim. Some people find drawing a ‘mind map’ beneficial – this is a symbolic representation of the lecturer’s points, joined by lines indicating connections and their relative importance. The Cornell sheet for note-taking provides an example of a mind map.


Information literacy

It is important to develop your IT skills while at university and there are many resources to help you to do so. In addition to software training provided by IT Services, there is a wide range of information skills training available through the Bodleian Libraries’, including practical Bodleian iSkills workshops. You may register for free taught courses or pursue online self-directed courses at your own pace. Visit the IT Services website.

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