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Study Skills: Preparation and organisation

Preparation and organisation for studying and revising


Take care to understand what is really being asked of you before getting underway. This may seem obvious, but a common mistake is to dive straight into planning and writing without first checking if you fully understand the question or task. 

Plan ahead to avoid those dreaded all-nighters by:  

  • Checking for clustering of deadlines   
  • Dividing your tasks into manageable blocks scheduled around your other commitments - this will help to avoid the project becoming overwhelming  
  • Setting, and sticking to, time limits on each block so as not to leave too little time for some. Create a timetable.

You should always plan your work (essay, report, reflective writing) before you start to write. Think about the structure of paragraphs, and the order in which would like to set out your main points.  You can flesh out the individual sections later. 


Make use of both physical books and eBooks. This ensures you don't artificially limit the scope of your research just to what is found in one format, and can help you avoid 'digital burnout' from constantly starting at a screen

The university has access to many journal articles which aren’t necessarily listed on Discover. Be prepared to search databases such as JSTOR, Web of Science, Scopus, or Google Scholar directly

Your time is valuable – use it efficiently. You can’t read everything in detail, so quickly read titles, abstract/introduction and conclusions to get an overview. If it’s a relevant source, look at the chapter/section structure to see what’s covered. Scan the first and last line of each paragraph to see if it’s worth reading the whole text. Can you identify the key evidence and arguments from scan-reading? 

Read Around your topic. Found a useful article? Remember it doesn’t exist in isolation. Look at the sources referenced by the authors of books/articles you read. These will highlight other authors and works that might be useful to you. Use a citation search to see who has cited the article you have read in their own work. It may help you to better understand or evaluate the article, or see its application in a wider context. You can also use tools such as altmetrics to identify if that research has been discussed in the news, on academic blogs, on social media or in official publications and grey literature.    

Read critically - Treat what you read as if it was written by a fool! Why have they written that? How have they reached that conclusion? Where is the evidence to support that statement? Would I have concluded differently or have done this a different way?

Throw away your highlighter.  Your notes should reflect your critical approach to reading. Do not just highlight, underline or cut-and-paste text you think is important at that given moment; your notes should be a record of why do you think it is important? How is it relevant to your current thinking? Where might this be useful to cite in your work? Do you even agree with what it says - and why? What other questions does it raise? What else has it prompted you to think about? There is nothing better after reading an article to see you have picked out lots of relevant, useful pieces. There is nothing worse than going back to that in a week's time and having no idea why you highlighted a particular sentence or data table. And as you read more widely, your initial views and impressions may change! 


Keep a clear and accurate record of your sources as you take your notes. It makes referencing so much easier and quicker. Do not rely on memory!

Keep up to date. Use search or citation alerts to let you know if anything new on the topic is published. You can get those extra brownie points in your coursework and seminar readings by referencing the latest article published the day before!

Organise your reading - (e.g. folders on your desk, on your computer or in your chosen reference management software), make sure you clearly sort which papers you have read, from those you still need to read (or need to read in more detail). 

Back up your work - including your notes, articles you read, your results and coursework. There’s free software such as SyncToy or the University gives you backed up personal network storage space and Onedrive. See this support page or speak to CIS 

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