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Introduction to research skills: Home

Research skills allow you to find information and use it effectively. It includes creating a strategy to gather facts and reach conclusions so that you can answer a question.


Top tips

Starting your research

  • think about your topic – don’t be too vague or too specific (try mind mapping or keyword searching).

  • read broadly around your subject (don’t just use Google and Wikipedia). Think about a research question that is clearly structured and builds on literature already produced.

  • find information using the subject databases. View the Database Orientation Program to learn about databases and using search strategies to refine your search and limit results. View our library tutorial on planning your literature search and look at our library subject guides for resources on your specific topic.

  • Another good starting point for finding information is our library catalogue Library Search which allows you to search across the library's electronic resources as well as major subject databases and indexes.

  • carry out a literature review. You may want to include journals, books, websites, grey literature or data and statistics for example. See the list of sources below for more information. Keep a record and organise your references and sources. If you are intending to carry out a systematic review then take a look at the systematic review page on our Research Support library guide.

  • evaluate your resources – use the CRAAP test (Currency, Relevancy, Authority, Accuracy, Purpose - watch the video, top right). 

  • reach considered conclusions and make recommendations where necessary.


Your research journey

Your research journey.


Why do I need research skills?

  • they enable you to locate appropriate information and evaluate it for quality and relevance

  • they allow you to make good use of information to resolve a problem

  • they give you the ability to synthesize and communicate your ideas in written and spoken formats

  • they foster critical thinking

  • they are highly transferable and can be adapted to many settings including the workplace


You can access more in depth information on areas such as primary research, literature reviews, research methods, and managing data, from the drop down headings under Research Skills on the Academic Skills home page. The related resources in the right-hand column of this page also contain useful supporting information.

Books are good for exploring new subject areas. They help define a topic and provide an in-depth account of a subject.

Scholarly books contain authoritative information including comprehensive accounts of research or scholarship and experts' views on themes and topics. Their bibliographies can lead readers to related books, articles and other sources. 

Details on the electronic books held by the University of Southampton can be found using the library catalogue.

Journals are quicker to publish than books and are often a good source of current information. They are useful when you require information to support an argument or original research written by subject experts.  The bibliographies at the end of journal articles should point you to other relevant research.

Academic journals go through a "peer-review" process. A peer-reviewed journal is one whose articles are checked by experts, so you can be more confident that the information they contain is reliable.

The Library's discovery service Library Search is a good place to start when searching for journal articles and enables access to anything that is available electronically.

Newspapers enable you to follow current and historical events from multiple perspectives. They are an excellent record of political, social, cultural, and economic events and history.

Newspapers are popular rather than scholarly publications and their content needs to be treated with caution. For example, an account of a particular topic can be biased in favour of that newspaper’s political affiliation or point of view. Always double-check the data/statistics or any other piece of information that a newspaper has used to support an argument before you quote it in your own work.

The library subscribes to various resources which provide full-text access to both current and historical newspapers. Find out more about these on the Library's Newspaper Resources page.

Websites provide information about every topic imaginable, and many will be relevant to your studies.

Use websites with caution as anyone can publish on the Internet and therefore the quality of the information provided is variable. When you’re researching and come across a website you think might be useful, consider whether or not it provides information that is reliable and authoritative enough to use in your work.

Proceedings are collections of papers presented by researchers at academic conferences or symposia. They may be printed volumes or in electronic format.

You can use the information in conference proceedings with a high degree of confidence as the quality is ensured by having external experts read & review the papers before they are accepted in the proceedings.

Find the data and statistics you need, from economics to health, environment to oceanography - and everywhere between -

Grey literature is the term given to non-traditional publications (material not published by mainstream publishers). For example - leaflets, reports, conference proceedings, government documents, preprints, theses, clinical trials, blogs, tweets, etc.. 

The majority of Grey literature is generally not peer-reviewed so it is very important to critically appraise any grey literature before using it.

Most aspects of life are touched by national governments, or by inter-governmental bodies such as the European Union or the United Nations.  Official publications are the documentary evidence of that interest. 

Our main printed collections and online services are for British and EU official publications, but we can give advice on accessing official publications from other places and organisations. Find out more from our web pages

Patents protect inventions - the owner can stop other people making, using or selling the item without their permission. This applies for a limited period and a separate application is needed for each country.

Patents can be useful since they contain full technical details on how an invention works. If you use an active patent outside of research - permission or a license is probably needed.

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Related resources:

Checking for CRAAP - UMW New Media Archive

How to Develop a STRONG Research Question - Scribbr

Guide to dissertation and project writing - by University of Southampton (Enabling Services)

Guide to writing your dissertation - by the Royal Literary Fund  

Guidance on the Conduct of Narrative Synthesis in Systematic Reviews - by ESRC Methods Programme

Guidelines for preparing a Research Proposal - by University of Southampton

Choosing good keywords - by the Open University

How to Write a Research Question - an online guide produced by  the University of Leeds

Evaluating information - a 7 minute tutorial from the University of Southampton which covers thinking critically, and understanding how to find quality and reliable information.

Hints on conducting a literature review - by the University of Toronto

Planning your literature search - a short tutorial by the University of Southampton

Using Overleaf for scientific writing and publishing -  a popular  LaTeX/Rich Text based online collaborative tool for students and researchers alike. It is designed to make the process of writing, editing, and producing scientific papers quicker and easier for authors. 

Systematic reviews - by the University of Southampton. 

Create your own research proposal - by the University of Southampton