What should you do first?
Generating ideas and drawing an outline?
Or reading and researching?
There is no exact way to start. The process is iterative, meaning, you will read/think/read/write/read/write etc...
You could try the following order:
1) Read around the topic of your assignment.
2) Generate ideas of what YOU want to say about the topic and produce an outline.
Especially for dissertations: Think about the outline of your literature review.
Especially for dissertations: Think about the methodology. Will you need primary research, in addition to secondary (literature) research?
3) Read around what you specifically want to say in your assignment;
Especially for dissertations: Also start the primary research, if needed.
4) Start writing.
5) Read more, write more, do more primary research. It's very iterative here.
6) Finalise the first draft.
7) Edit and produce a second draft. You may need more than two drafts.
Mind maps are a very effective way to generate ideas for assignments.
Mind-mapping is a simple, practical tool for improving creative thinking, planning and problem-solving abilities. It can help you to generate more ideas and make new connections.
How to draw a mind map
Place a blank sheet in landscape position and write the essay question in the middle. Draw branches from the question, which are possible ideas and topics to include in the essay. Add sub-topics (“leaves”) and connect ideas and evidence from your reading. You can use colours and images to stimulate your thinking.
Try different search tools:
Internet (for example, Google): will give you the largest number of results, but most of the results will not be peer-reviewed and may not be reliable. You can use it to have a general overview of your research topic.
Library search: this will give you only academic, peer-reviewed sources. All these resources are accessible to you online and/or in the library. See the guide on Library Search.
Library subject guides: these provide subject-specific research support, including access to subject-specific books, journals, databases, legal materials, archives etc. They also provide guidance on citing and referencing. Check your Library subject guide here.
Contact your Academic Engagement Librarian: the Academic Engagement Librarian will be able to suggest resources, search tools and search techniques that can help you get a head start on your research. You can find details of your Librarian here.
Google Scholar: this provides scholarly results as well as technical reports from governments and other organisations, and other academically valuable sources like patents, theses etc. Google Scholar allows the useful feat of forward citation tracking (finding newest sources that cite a given source) that can help you find what other literature comments on a certain source. It has to be noted, however, that not all resources on Google Scholar are peer-reviewed and reliable. See the library guide on using Google Scholar.
Broaden your search
Initially, broaden your search not to overlook relevant results.
Mind mapping for generating ideas and creative thinking
Place a blank sheet in landscape position and write the essay question in the middle. Draw branches from the question, which are possible ideas and topics to include in the essay. Add sub-topics (“leaves”) and connect ideas and evidence from your reading. You can use colours and images to stimulate your thinking. Some leaves can be used as key words for your search.
Play with your key words
Look for synonyms and related terms:
Topic: “The impact of Covid-19 on the British environment”
What to search?
Covid-19 British Environment
Synonyms and related words
Pollution; air quality; waste
Britain; United Kingdom, UK, England, Scotland, Wales, British Isles, Ireland
Be selective: get relevant sources
Keep an open mind but only look for and use sources which are relevant for your assignment (unless of course you are reading for interest!). After an initial phase of broadening your research, you should narrow it down and focus on what you want to say on the research topic.
It is crucial that you take control of the literature, and do not let the literature control you! The literature is a means to your end, that is, finding information and evidence to discuss the specific issues you have identified as relevant for your assignment. You are not just trying to fit into your assignment all the literature you find.
Be critical: evaluate the validity of the sources
Be critical towards the literature: always enquire on the validity of the information you find. See Critical Reading for more information.