Research Methods Resources

step 2 in a research project

 

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Research Methods Resources

Current understanding

Quick links to some resources on this page

The quiet struggle (2004) by Paul Sturges and Richard Neill (pdf 1,353 Kb)

The note making from reading workshop from UNISA (pdf 173 Kb)

Avoiding plagiarism workshop from UNISA (pdf 285 Kb)

Finding pdf files with Adobe Acrobat Reader 7

Guide to Effective Searching of the Internet - 2005 by Michael K. Bergman (pdf 280 Kb)

The importance of reading

 

Scientific research is all about comparing, testing and exchanging your ideas with the "body of knowledge" - all that is known about a given topic. This has two important consequences:

  • First, you have to be aware of the current knowledge on a given topic.

  • Second, if you don't publish your findings, you are NOT doing research.

We will cover publication of your research under step 7: Publication and beyond. Here we look at the process of increasing your awareness on the current understanding about your research topic.

 

More than reading

Knowing the current understanding of a specific topic is of course about reading relevant literature. But it is much more than only reading. We organise the different tasks involved according to 5 steps (modified after chapter 6 "Working with literature" of O'Leary (2004); the first 4 chapters of "How to read a paper" of Greenhalgh (2001) and chapter 9 "Reading" of Marshall and Rowland (1998). Working with literature means you have to:

  • find it

  • sift it

  • organise it 

  • appraise it

  • review it

References

Greenhalgh, Trisha. (2001). How to read a paper. The basics of evidence based medicine. London, BMJ books. 222 pp.

Marshall, Lorraine and Rowland, Frances (1998) A guide to learning independently. Third edition. Open University Press, Berkshire, UK. 293 pp.

O'Leary, Zina (2004). The essential guide to doing research. London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi, Sage publications. 226 pp.

 

Finding literature

This consists of 3 steps: knowing the different types of literature, using available resources and refining your search skills.

There are basically three types of literature: primary sources (books, articles, reports, ...), secondary sources (indexes, abstracts, but also government statistics, archives, ....) and 'references'; resources that are helpful when writing such as dictionaries, thesauri, books on grammar and style, general encyclopedia, ... Most journal articles have been peer reviewed, so some kind of quality control took place (although ...). But there is absolutely nothing wrong on using grey literature, material that is not commercially published or publicly available such as technical reports, workshop proceedings, ... as long as you review it critically. There exist also a range of other information sources that can help you on the way: TV programs, newspapers and other mass media; non-academic experts such as farmers or village elders; ...

Once you can distinguish between types of literature, you have to know where to find them. The most efficient way to start your search is to ask people who know best: supervisors and other experts in your research field. They will point you immediately to the best reference books and articles. Although many African libraries cope with enormous difficulties (see The Quiet Struggle), most librarians are very dedicated. First ask their advice what would be the best search strategy for your research!

There exist many specialised websites and CD-roms containing articles and abstract. Below we give some general sources. To find the best suitable specialist source for your research topic, start again by asking your supervisor or librarian.

 

If you live in or near a capital, chances are high that some international organisations open their specialized library to the public. In a city such as Nairobi for example, you can access the library of the Alliance Française, AMREF, UNEP, and many others. In this day and age however, students and researchers who don't know somebody on the inside might struggle to get past the security at the main gate. At ICRAF and ILRI you can avoid such trouble if you bring an official introduction letter from your institute (supervisor, student administration, human resources administration, ....). In such libraries you often have access to a range of on-line journals to which the organisation has a subscription, so prepare yourself also to be able to download articles. Bring a flash disk and some pocket money to pay for photocopies.

If you have a good Internet connection and have access to a well-stocked library, you can easily get overwhelmed by the amount of information, get side-tracked and loose a lot of time searching instead of researching. Keep focused by applying general time management techniques and work efficient by applying a literature search model and literature search techniques.

Following PowerPoint presentation by Tom Vandenbosch gives some tips and tricks.

Information and literature review - Tom Vandenbosch.ppt

In reality however, most of us like browsing through journals and books and reading small passages here and there that catch the eye. Then suddenly you start thinking that a related topic might offer valuable information and you start browsing through books and journals on that topic. Or you try to find some references mentioned in one book, then find some references mentioned in the next book, ...

This is of course a great pastime and you might get additional ideas and inspiration for your research. Browsing through literature is for a researcher what a cigarette is for a smoker or a piece of chocolate for a chocolate addict. However, research project time is short and time is swift. Start early enough!

Soon you are likely to end up with piles of borrowed books, photocopies and with hundreds of Megabytes of downloaded files. If you started too late or you spent too much time on your literature search, you might already be slightly stressed. When under stress, people tend to photocopy or download everything that seems potentially useful. Which actually is rather useless because you will only be able to use what you can review. So, first assess the relevance before copying (see sifting literature and appraising literature).

There is however one big exception on this rule. If you're a researcher based at a cash-strapped national institute with a worn-out library and you're attending a workshop, seminar or other meeting abroad, use the time to get hold of all the literature you possibly can. Before the trip, prepare your partner and children that they only can expect a small symbolic present, make sure your suitcase is as light as possible so you can fill it with books and photocopies within the airline's luggage allowance and invest in a good quality flash disk. Use free time during the trip, or extend the trip with a few working days to visit academic bookshops and research libraries. Who knows when will be the next time you will have an opportunity to access such resources.

 

Sifting literature

After collecting the literature you still have to read it. The way you read depends on personal preferences and cultural factors, the type of material you're reading and the purpose. Some people devour book after book, others only flip through magazines when at the hairdresser or dentist. You will be able to race through the pages of a thrilling detective novel because you are eager to know who did it. You will not be able to do the same with a statistics book. You also read in a different way when reading something on paper or on a computer screen. 

The big difference between reading in general and reading for academic purposes is that you have to read actively.

"Reading actively means constructing your own meaning from the text, the ideas expressed and how they are organised. It means trying to discern the author's argument and to evaluate how effectively the thesis of this argument is supported by reasons. If the material doesn't contain an argument, active reading means finding the overall controlling focus of the material and the information used to support this idea. Such reading involves criticising the material to uncover how the argument (or focus) has been affected by the author's background, purpose, world view or theoretical framework. You also need to pay attention to visual images and materials such as graphs, tables and diagrams instead of skimming over them. And active reading involves determining how what you are reading relates to other material in the field and to your own learning and purpose for reading. An active reader is aware of the author's writing style and method of presentation.

Marshall, L. and Rowland, F. (1998) A guide to learning independently, Open University Press, Berkshire, UK. - p. 126

Reading actively does not mean you have to read every single word in a book. Basically it means that after closing the book, you are able to narrate the contents, assess its quality and see how it relates to your research. It usually means reading a book or paper several times, each time using a different strategy. First you gain an overview, next you read for in-depth understanding or to familiarise yourself with the argument and during the final write-up of your research you might read it again to find specific information.

Getting the most from your academic reading gives an overview of different purpose when reading while studying at a university and useful strategies. "Getting the most from your academic reading" was copied with permission from the website of UNISA, the University of South Australia. Click here to go to the source URL. 

Sifting through literature involves "previewing" or "reading to gain an overview". Based on this you will decide whether the material is useful, whether you will actually read the paper or book and where you will file it.

"Yet if you have asked the wrong question or sought answers from the wrong sources, you might as well not read any papers at all."

Greenhalgh, Trisha (2001) How to read a paper. The basics of evidence based medicine., BMJ Books, London. - p. 2

You can again use the same questions that are used during internal reviews to decide whether to use or trash the publication. See the comments on scope, validity, timeliness and the big picture in the notes for internal reviewers. The frame of mind when previewing literature however should be similar to that of a busy manager of a large company who has to make an instant decision: "Is there something in it for me or will I waste my time?".

Examine especially the methods section of journal papers very critically. Bad science is bad science whether or not the results are statistically significant or the study concludes something you really like.

"If you are deciding whether a paper is worth reading, you should do so on the design of the methods section and not on the interest value of the hypothesis, the nature or potential impact of the results or the speculation in the discussion. (...) Strictly speaking, if you are going to trash a paper, you should do so before you even look at the results."

Greenhalgh, Trisha (2001) How to read a paper. The basics of evidence based medicine., BMJ Books, London. - p. 39

Organising literature

Unless you are a librarian or you're part of a project team working on a large, long-term project, it is probably better to develop your own system for organising your literature, ideas and other information. Some people prefer to order everything alphabetically, others like to group according to a specific topic. Some like to arrange papers in neatly labeled ring folders, others like to spread piles of loose paper through their office. 

When storing downloaded files on a computer, make sure you add sufficient information to each and every file and to make regular backups. See especially chapter 4 and 5 in "The best backup strategy for your research data".

If you can afford them, professional reference managing software will save you a lot of time. Some examples: EndNote, Pro-Cite, Reference Manager (all from the same company). Another example is Biblioscape. Click here to enter a site on open standards and software for bibliographies and cataloguing.

If you cannot afford such professional reference software, you can still create your own database in MS Access or a simple spreadsheet in MS Excel. 

A great software for organising your bookmarks of interesting websites is Powermarks. It can also backup and synchronize your bookmarks across the Internet using NetSync. The first 30 days you can use it for free. After that you have to register and buy a license. A single user license costs 25 USD. You can find more information at http://www.kaylon.com/power.html 

 

Appraising literature

After having previewed the literature and decided to keep what you think is useful (see sifting literature), you have to go through this literature a second time this time reading actively. As mentioned above, this basically means that after closing the book, you are able to narrate the contents, assess its quality and see how it relates to your research.

The best way to learn something is by writing it down. Notemaking from reading gives an overview of why, how and what to note when reading literature.  Click here to go to the source URL. You find more detailed information in the notemaking skills workshop. Click here to go to the source URL of the workshop. Both "Notemaking from reading" and the "notemaking workshop" were copied with permission from the website of UNISA, the University of South Australia.

Click here to open an MS Word document that gives a detailed template for annotating and appraising scientific literature. It is mainly based on table 9.1 (p. 129) and table 9.2 (p. 139) of Marshall and Rowland (1998). 

 

Reviewing literature

A scientific paper usually follows the IMRAD structure (Introduction, Materials and methods, Results And Discussion). You will write most of your literature review in the introduction, but also the Materials and Methods section and the Discussion will contain some review of relevant literature.

If you have organised your literature and wrote a set of notes, writing a literature review will go smooth. The main pitfall to avoid is wrong or incorrect referencing, which at its extreme could be considered as plagiarism even if not done purposely. Following resources were copied with permission from the website of UNISA, the University of South Australia. Of each resource, the source URL is mentioned.

 

Introduction to referencing

source URL

Referencing using the Harvard author-date system

source URL

Avoiding plagiarism

source URL

Avoiding plagiarism - workshop

source URL

The quiet struggle of African libraries

Having access to literature is even more crucial to good research than the state of the research infrastructure. Yet “… here Africa’s libraries are facing a crisis that, though seemingly quiet, has the potential to affect the continent’s intellectual capital for decades to come.” (Carnegie Corporation of New York 2000 - p. 1)

In The Quiet Struggle: information and libraries for the people of Africa, Paul Sturges and Richard Neill describe the history of libraries in Africa, their current state and suggest new approaches and new types of information services. They cover mainly public libraries but also give an overview of university and (agricultural) research libraries.

"The Quiet Struggle" was copied with permission from the website of Prof. Paul Sturges (click here to go to the source URL).  The publication is copyrighted. The moral rights of the authors have been asserted but the publication may be copied, redistributed, used and shared, providing that the authors are credited and no fee is charged. Reference to the The Quiet Struggle should be cited as: Sturges, Paul and Neill, Richard. 2004. The quiet struggle: information and libraries for the people of Africa. Second (electronic) edition. Mansell, 1998. 244 pp.

References

Carnegie Corporation of New York (2000). Revitalizing African Libraries: The Challenge of a Quiet Crisis. New York, Carnegie corporation of New York: 10.

 

External links

Again, ask supervisors, experts and librarians what would be the best source of information for your specific research topic. Here we give some general sources.

Dictionaries, thesauri and encyclopedia

A huge collection of general dictionaries and thesauri and of specialized dictionaries (organised in following categories: Art, Business, Clothing and Textiles, Computers and Software, Education, Food and Nutrition, Humanities, Language - Translating, Law and Legislative, Medicine, Health and Psychology, Photography, Sciences, Sign Language, Social Sciences, Technology) from the University of Wisconsin-Stout. Some links are restricted to university of Wisconsin users only, others are available to all. Click here to go to the site.

Some links to encyclopedia: Encyclopedia Britannica online; Encarta (from the Microsoft company); and the free Wikipedia (available in many languages).

General search engines

You all know Google and Yahoo. But sometimes the hard to find information you are really looking for will be far away on page 137 of the search results. You have to be aware that web designers pay a fee to companies maintaining search engines or they use all kinds of tricks to get their website on the number one position of the result pages of search engines. Or that it is possible for companies and governments to build a profile of your search behavior on the Internet.

For a more independent search, use meta-search engines. They use several search engines at the same time and filter the results according to usefulness. Some examples:  Query Server and Clusty. Another example is BananaSlug. It adds a random word to your search, so each time you perform a search the results are ordered in a different way.

Effective searching means you have to be able to distinguish between the different information resources on the Internet (directories, search engines and deep web databases), and you have to be able to construct effective queries. The "Guide to Effective Searching of the Internet" is a comprehensive and clearly written tutorial. It was copied with permission from the website of BrightPlanet Corporation. It should be cited as: Bergman, Michael K. 2004. Guide to Effective Searching of the Internet - 2005. BrightPlanet Corporation, Washington DC and New York. 61 pp. Accessed on-line at http://www.brightplanet.com/pdf/SearchTutorial.pdf

In this 2001 paper, the same author explores the "Deep Web", as opposed to the "Surface Web" (the part of the Internet that is covered by search engines). He estimated (in 2000) the size of public content on the Deep Web to be 400 to 550 times larger than the Surface Web and the total content to be 1,000 to 2,000 times greater. Click here to go to the source URL of the paper. It should be cited as: Bergman, Michael K. 2001. The Deep Web: Surface Hidden Value. BrightPlanet Corporation, Washington DC and New York. 17 pp. Accessed on-line at http://beta.brightplanet.com/deepcontent/tutorials/DeepWeb/index.asp 

The Internet is dominated by websites in English that are written in the USA. If you want to find information in another language or from another perspective, click here to go to the "International Directory of Search Engines". 

 

Scientific search engines and bibliographic references

JSTOR, an enormous on-line archive of scholarly journals (1,015 journals in March 2007). Journal articles are accessible as images or pdf files. The last 3 to 5 years (called the "moving wall") of the journals are not available but most journals are available from issue 1 of volume 1.

FROM 1 JULY 2006, ACADEMIC AND RESEARCH INSTITUTES BASED IN AFRICA CAN JOIN JSTOR FOR FREE! 

Click here for more information or go to the source URL: http://www.jstor.org/about/africa/openafrica.html 

Download a pdf with general information about JSTOR

general.pdf (121 KB)

 

Scirus is a science-specific search engine that searches over 250 million science-specific Web pages and in addition a whole range of full text articles such as from Biomed Central, PubMed Central and ScienceDirect. Click here to see the range of scientific contents Scirus covers. Search from the Scirus home page or from the shortcuts below. 

general search

search only by author

search only in agricultural and biological sciences

www.scirus.com
www.scirus.com
Search only by Author
www.scirus.com
Search only in Agricultural and Biological Sciences

If you have a reliable Internet connection, you can also install a Scirus toolbar on your desktop computer; click here to download it.

 

OJOSE (Online JOurnal Search Engine) is a free powerful scientific search engine enabling you to make search-queries in different databases by using only 1 search field. With OJOSE you can find, download or buy scientific publications (journals, articles, research reports, books, etc.) in up to 60 different databases, including the ones of major publishers.

 

In-extenso, moteur de recherche scientifique, indexe 230 publications en ligne (soit plus de 75 000 documents). Il s'agit de revues, colloques, journées d'études, livres en ligne. La recherche sur ces publications peut porter aussi bien sur le texte intégral que sur les métadonnées (auteurs, titres, résumés, mots clés).

 

CiteSeer.IST is a scientific literature digital library and search engine that focuses primarily on the literature in computer and information science. It was developed by NEC Laboratories America, Inc. and is hosted at Penn State's School of Information Sciences and Technology. Click on following links to go to mirror sites (MIT, University of Zürich, National University of Singapore).

The same model was used in SMEALSearch, this time focusing on academic business literature.

 

Finding pdf files on the Internet

Many search engines have difficulties finding Adobe pdf files online. This (2003) page from Search Tools Consulting explains why and gives an overview of pdf compatible site search tools. Meanwhile (2006), most search engines find contents of pdf files but you have to be aware that they first convert them to html format and that they are not able to find contents of pdf files in which pages are saved as images.

Later versions of Adobe Acrobat have an in-built search function that can search pdf's on the Internet using Yahoo. Click here to see how to perform an Internet search using the free Adobe Acrobat reader 7.0.

 

Open access journals

There exist peer reviewed open access journals for several disciplines. BioMed Central for instances publishes more than 150 peer reviewed open access journals in biological and medical sciences. Click here to browse through the journals. PubMed Central (PMC) is the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) free digital archive of biomedical and life sciences journal literature. Not all articles are open access.

 

The Elektronische Zeitschriftenbibliothek EZB (Electronic Journals Library) based at the University Library of Regensburg is basically a joint holdings database of several hundreds of (mainly German) research institutes and university libraries. But you can also use it to locate 3,228 (June 2006) on-line journals. This is probably the most complete directory of on-line journals in the world. You can search or browse journal titles and select for instance to find only those journals that offer free access to full-text articles. Click here to go to the help page.

ePrints-UK searches across over 30 UK institutional open archives. Use this search to find descriptions of a range of journal articles, technical reports and web pages and to link to the original item where these have been made available by the institution.

 

The Directory of Open Access Journals contains peer reviewed open access journals from many countries and disciplines and in several languages. 

 

AJOL is a database of African-published journals, publishing in a range of academic disciplines. The objective of AJOL is to give greater visibility to the participating journals, and to the research they convey. All the material on AJOL is free to view, search and browse, however copyright of all content is retained by the journals or authors – each journals will need to give permission for any use or re-use of the content that falls outside Fair Use. You can register for free and receive e-mail alerts when new articles are published. Full text documents can be ordered (in print or by email). There is a restriction on the number of articles you can receive per month. The service is free for researchers from low income countries. Click here for detailed information.

 

The AGORA program, set up by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) together with major publishers, enables developing countries to gain access to an outstanding digital library collection in the fields of food, agriculture, environmental science and related social sciences. It provides access to about 850 journals from the world's leading academic publishers (some journals can be accessed for free, others at reduced price).  Click here for more information on eligible institutes and participation.

 

The HINARI program, set up by WHO together with major publishers, is similar to AGORA but contains biomedical and health literature. Over 3280 journal titles are available to health institutions in 113 countries. Again, some are free others can be accessed at reduced price.

 

Finally, not really open access and absolutely not scientific is Find Articles. It gives links to very many non-scientific online magazines.

 

Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations: a collection of ETD's (Electronic Theses and Dissertations)

NDLTD :links to different ways of searching and browsing through the collections across (all?) participating institutes

Go straight to one of the search engines by clicking here. New users have to register first (for free).

Click here to go to the personal homepage of Ming Luo. The page includes separate easy links to over 200 participating institutes. Great for browsing!

TEL (Thèses en Ligne) - HAL (Hyper Article en Ligne) - CEL (cours en ligne)

Le serveur TEL (thèses-en-ligne) a pour objectif de promouvoir l'auto-archivage en ligne des thèses, qui sont des documents importants pour la communication scientifique entre chercheurs. TEL est un environnement particulier de HAL et permet donc, comme HAL, de rendre rapidement et gratuitement disponibles des documents scientifiques, mais en se spécialisant aux thèses de doctorat et habilitations. Le CCSD (Centre pour la Communication Scientifique Directe n'effectue aucune évaluation scientifique des thèses ou habilitations déposées, puisque c'est le rôle du jury. Le serveur CEL (Cours en ligne) est destiné à offrir aux doctorants qui travaillent dans les laboratoires l'accès à des cours qui peuvent leur être utiles : cours de DEA, des grandes écoles, écoles d'été ou d'hiver par exemple. La consultation est libre et gratuite.

Revues en Français

Site de la bibliothèque nationale de France. Cliquez ici pour avoir accès aux catalogues et bibliothèque numérique. Particulièrement intéressant est le lien vers des périodiques électroniques de la BnF (près de vingt mille périodiques électroniques de toutes disciplines). A distance, vous avez accès uniquement aux sommaires et/ou résumés de la plupart des revues. Gallica propose un accès à 90 000 ouvrages numérisés (fascicules de presse compris), à plus de 80 000 images et à plusieurs dizaines d'heures de ressources sonores. Cet ensemble constitue l'une des plus importantes bibliothèques numériques accessibles gratuitement sur l'Internet. 
L'Infothèque francophone, portail documentaire scientifique, a pour principal objectif d'aider les étudiants francophones du Sud à trouver facilement sur Internet les informations qui peuvent leur être utiles pour réviser leurs cours, s'auto-former ou réaliser leurs travaux de recherche.
La Bibliothèque virtuelle de périodiques répertorie environ 650 revues et magazines électroniques offrant leur contenu sur Internet.

Cairn est né de la volonté de quatre maisons d’édition (Belin, De Boeck, La Découverte et Erès) ayant en charge la publication et la diffusion de revues de sciences humaines et sociales, d’unir leurs efforts pour améliorer leur présence sur l'Internet, et de proposer à d’autres acteurs souhaitant développer une version électronique de leurs publications, les outils techniques et commerciaux développés à cet effet. Il y a 66 revues en ligne (Juin 2006). De chaque revue, il y a accès aux résumés et à une sélection d’articles

Liste des périodiques mathématiques ayant une version en ligne, maintenu par la cellule MathDoc du CNRS et l'Université Joseph Fourier (Grenoble). Elle comprend les périodiques édités commercialement, ainsi que d'autres qui sont librement disponibles sur le Web. 

Le site du bureau international de l'édition française.

Big international organisations and aid agencies

Many of them finance research projects, so their websites are full of reports and papers. And often you can find documents in several languages.

Examples: Publications and documents from the World Bank - the FAO corporate document repository - UNEP's resources for scientists - publications of CGIAR centres - publications from DFID - publications from GTZ - publications from IDRC - and so on...

 

Digital books

NetLibrary offers digital books on-line to subscribing libraries. This Online Books Page of the University of Pennsylvania Library lists over 25,000 books that are freely available on the Internet. It contains many old books that are probably not very relevant for most researchers, but it also contains some interesting and relevant books.

Browse also through the rest of their Digital Library Projects for further resources.

 

Our experience when buying books on-line in Africa

If you want to buy a book that you don't find in any bookstore nearby, there are several ways. But being located in Africa means you cannot use all options of buying books on-line. 

The first option is of course not buying on-line but to talk with the owner of the bookshop where you usually buy your books. He might be able to get you a reasonable price.

The second option is Amazon.com. The advantage is that Amazon ships books to almost any address in Africa and accepts payment on-line with a visa card. The disadvantage is that they are expensive: special shipping rates do not apply, it is not possible to buy the book at reduced prices (used or new) from the Amazon Marketplace Sellers, the minimum cost ( for sending 1 book is about 15.5 USD (standard international shipping) the highest is about 42 USD (priority international courier) and if you use standard shipping, you will probably have to pay additional import duties and taxes, it can get stuck for weeks or it can get "lost".

We have positive experiences using Biblio.com as third option. It is an online marketplace for buying and selling used, rare, and out-of-print books from over 5000 professional, independent booksellers from around the world. In theory, you search for the book you want, you select from the list based on price (you can of course compare with the price offered by Amazon and the advantage at Biblio.com is that you can buy second hand books sometimes for as less as 1 USD), edition (most books offered are second hand, some are new), condition of the book, ... But when you finally want to add the book to your shopping cart and select the shipping destination, it turns out that most African countries are missing from the drop-down list. The way to go around this is to send an email to the individual bookseller and ask him if he ships to your country, what are the shipping costs and what are the payment options. We used this trick the last two years without any problem. Only one bookseller once refused to send books to Kenya. You can save a lot by asking to send the book by surface mail, but do this only if you don't need the book urgently. Our personal record is a book that took 4 months from the USA to Kenya.

The fourth option is again not on-line. Spend some extra time abroad when you're going to a seminar or conference and use the time to look around in scientific and second hand bookshops. 

Recommended literature

 

Marshall, L. and Rowland, F. (1998) A guide to learning independently, Open University Press, Berkshire, UK. 293 pp. ISBN 0 335 20366 3

Click here to go to the website of the publisher.

This is a reprint (2003) of a third edition (1998) of a book that was first published in 1981. Some of the ideas it contains were first formulated and written in the 1970's when access to higher education was expanding in Western societies. At that time it seemed possible for anybody to achieve whatever level of education they wanted. Since the 1990's however it has become clear that in a culturally diverse society things such as gender, race and class have an influence on opportunities in life.  But as an individual you can still change the way you approach your learning because in the end it is the individual who has to write the essays and pass the exams. Your learning should be centred on you and on your purposes for learning. Especially in a time of less teaching staff per group of students, students should as much as possible try to take charge of their own learning instead of waiting until somebody tells you what to do.

Knowing how to learn and using the resources of educational institutes for your own purposes makes it possible for you to continue learning long after you finish formal education; to reflect on what and how you learn; to communicate your ideas clearly and to understand and critically evaluate the ideas of others.

The book is intended for students who are past the age of compulsory schooling. It will be especially of use for students who come from a highly structured secondary school environment and are suddenly thrown in the freedom of a university environment and for students at universities or colleges where the staff-student ratio is such that students have little personal contact with lecturers.

The book contains 16 chapters. The first 5 concentrate on your self and your lifestyle which affect your learning. The next 5 chapters deal with how to find, take in and evaluate information and ideas. The last 6 chapters cover communicating, using, critiquing and presenting what you learn.

Teaching

The way to use these resources for teaching depends on the state of the library and general infrastructure in your institute.

We believe that teaching students how to use a paper file card system to find some outdated books in a badly stocked library is a waste of time. If a student needs to use a manual file card system in later life, or has to locate an important book, he will always be able to ask for help from a librarian. Students should in the first place be trained how to find on-line resources.

Such session should include an overview of available resources (see the external links above but adapt to your discipline) and how to search effectively (see the "Guide to Effective Searching of the Internet"). If there are not enough computers or no Internet connection, some creative and innovative thinking may lead to a solution: swap with an institute that has computers and internet connection or in the worst case organise a session in a private cybercafé. The extra money spent is not lost. It is good to realise that thanks to initiatives such as the open Africa program of JSTOR and the AJOL initiative, African universities and research organisations have in principle access to almost the same resources as many universities in Europe and the USA, only for free. Not having a good Internet connection should not be an excuse not to teach your students skills they will need for the rest of their professional lives.

However, such session should only be an introduction. The real job is to teach students to read actively and critically. A warm-up assignment could be to ask each student to find 5 articles he or she thinks are "good" on a given topic, using the search skills they have learned. During the next class you can start by asking them to answer a set of increasingly difficult questions with help of their 5 articles before introducing them to topics such as sifting, appraising and organising literature. Having the experience of being able to find information but probably not always being able to answer questions with this information or having to struggle with conflicting views of authors will make the importance of these topics clear without getting lost in theoretical considerations.

Before giving any assignment to write a literature review on a given topic, students should be aware of rules for referencing and avoiding plagiarism. The resources of the University of South Australia will be of great help.

 

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GenStat Discovery Edition