Incorporating research into your assignment

Ever wondered how much of an assignment should consist of your own ideas on a topic and how much should be ideas you’ve found through research? How do you show this in your assignment?  Read on for some tips from a Learning Skills Adviser.

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How about when your assignment feedback says ‘where is your voice’? What should you do?

The key to incorporating research into your assignment is working out your argument on the topic, and how your sources can be best used to support it.

Here are four strategies:

It’s your paper (mostly).  

Your lecturers and tutors will most likely know what the experts in the field have written in your topic area, and they may well have contributed to this themselves.What they are interested in reading in your assignment is your response to the topic.

Your ‘voice’ is your response to the topic, not just what others have said, and this needs to be evident throughout your assignment. But be careful here: academic writing is about informed argument, not opinion. Use your research to give credibility and authority to the argument you are building on the topic. Of course, any sources you use in your assignment must be cited and referenced appropriately.
Use your sources wisely.

The research you incorporate into your assignments could be for facts or statistics, as supporting evidence or examples, or to provide different perspectives on a topic. Just always make sure the research you include is relevant to your topic so it gives you the best possible support in your argument.

Keep in mind you should always evaluate your sources for their quality and usefulness. The Library Guides in your subject area can help direct you to academic databases and strategies here.
It’s all about structure.

Ideas from other sources should generally not appear in the first sentence of your paragraph. Rather you should use the first sentence to set the theme for that paragraph. This shows greater command of the assignment topic too.
Here’s a simple guide to paragraph structure for incorporating research:
  • A ‘topic sentence’ summing up the main point of the paragraph,
  • Further explanation of that main point,
  • Evidence and examples to demonstrate the point in action (your research), and
  • A link back to the topic and your point’s relevance to it.
As you can see, your research features in just one part out of the four here. Mastering this kind of paragraph structure can help you develop and illustrate your assignment ‘voice’.

Summarise, paraphrase or quote?

Summarising and paraphrasing are preferred in your assignments as it shows your deeper understanding and engagement with the research you’ve done. You can use ‘reporting verbs’ to help introduce and discuss your sources, and this also is part of good academic writing. For example, ‘Smith (2010) argues...’ or ‘Jones (2012) states…’. Remember, keeping effective notes as you research will help you out here when you start to write your assignment.

You may need to check if you can include quotes in your assignments (not all faculties or units let you). If you can use them, it’s best to keep any direct quotes to a minimum. Overuse of quotes might suggest that you have rushed your assignment and just cut and pasted to save time. Any quotes should be situated in your sentences to give them some context and explanation. This way they work for your argument rather than making the quotes speak for themselves.

And again, of course, any sources you use in your assignment must be cited and referenced appropriately. Stay tuned to the study blog for more tips on referencing.
Don’t forget the friendly Librarians and Learning Skills Advisers at the Research and Learning Point drop-ins are available if you have any questions on how to incorporate research into your assignments.

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About Rosemary Miller

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  1. Hi rose...i am still confuse when do i should use present reporting sentence and past reporting sentence such as ...(2010)argues or ....(2010)argued..

    1. Hi Dian,
      Thanks for your question.
      Nine times out of ten you would use present tense. This is best used to report something from your research literature as true, relevant and current.
      Past tense is best used to discuss methods or findings in a previous study, or to express the view that this idea is no longer current or relevant.
      Hope this helps!