Effective research skills
Learning effective research skills will benefit your child throughout their schooling and life. Here are some of the ways you can help them develop those skills.
Your child will need to do research to complete assignments, extended responses and other assessment tasks. Outside of their schooling, being able to identify reliable and accurate information is a valuable life skill for them to have.
Knowing why and where to find information, how to judge its reliability and how to use it is often referred to as 'information literacy'.
Your child’s information literacy skills include not just knowing where to find information, but also how to skim through it effectively and take useful notes. They will begin developing these skills in primary school.
Schools will teach information literacy early in high school, and the subject area has its own set of outcomes. These classes are often, although not always, taught by teacher librarians in Year 7. They will draw on information provided by physical and online resources, and will guide your child in developing their research skills.
These skills include the following activities:
- Asking questions.
- Selecting and evaluating information, and deciding when to use it.
- Putting together what they've found from different resources.
- Emphasising the most relevant information.
- Tailoring their research for an intended audience
- Assessing the success of their presentation.
These skills are also useful in their life outside school - for example, your child may want to buy a second-hand bike. When they are searching for and assessing online and print advertisements, investigating what is offered and deciding what to follow up on, they are developing their information literacy in a real-world setting.
You can help them by talking to them about how they research, and involving them in the process of, for example, researching and selecting a new service for your home, or choosing a holiday destination or activity.
You also can encourage your child to think critically about things they read or watch online, or on television, and prompt them to consider their credibility and potential bias.
Researching for school work
If their teacher has given your child an assignment sheet, you can help them get started by sitting with them and identifying the key words of the question, to focus their attention on what they should be researching.
Assessment tasks should include a marking criteria, and you can direct your child to pay particular attention to this, so they know what they assessed on.
Another good habit for your child to get into is keeping a log of their research and the sources they have found. This can include referencing information - so, the author, title, date and location of publication - and also the steps they took in researching, and what decisions they made along the way.
In some Year 11 and 12 subjects, your child might need to keep similar diaries or process logs for the major projects they do.
Where can your child research?
Your child can use the following resources to find information for their assignments:
- libraries, including virtual libraries
- newspapers, magazines and industry journals
- television programs and streaming services (documentaries, news and current affairs programs and podcasts).
- subject matter experts, such as industry professionals
- surveys and questionnaires
- the internet - although you should help them learn to tell the difference between reliable and unreliable sources.
Using the internet
Remind your child that the information they find on the internet may not always be accurate. Anyone can make a website or post information through social media sites and forums, and claim it as their own. Anyone can edit wikis, such as Wikipedia.
It is very important that your child uses multiple sources, and cross-references the information they find to judge its reliability.
They should also pay attention to the URL of the site they are using, as it gives an idea of where the information comes from. For example:
- a .edu address indicates that is an educational website
- a .gov address indicates that is a government website
- a .org address usually indicates a non-commercial organisations, although an increasing number of commercial organisations are also using .org
- the address’ end may indicate the country of origin, for example .au for Australia, .nz for New Zealand or .id for Indonesia.
Libraries have digitized versions of older published resources such as journal articles, newspapers pictures, maps, and some books.
Published material undergoes a thorough editing process, which can mean the information it contains is more reliable. Therefore books, magazines and newspapers are good sources of information, although that information can date - so your child should check when their source was published and cross-reference their material with other sources.
Encourage them to research widely by using multiple sources, and think about the context of their sources. They should examine:
- Where and when it comes from.
- Who wrote it.
- Why it was written.
- Who it was meant for.
- What information the author used to make it.
- Whether or not it is fact, or opinion-based.
- If it could be biased or exaggerated.
Once they have decided if a source is useful, they should write down the information they will need for their bibliography. Most assignments will need a bibliography, or list of sources used. You can learn more about different methods of sourcing at NESA’s How should sources be referenced at the end of a work page.
Plagiarism is considered a form of cheating, and schools heavily penalise students caught plagiarising. Your child will complete the NESA - All my own work program in Stage 6 to make sure they understand how to complete assessment tasks honestly.
Your child is plagiarising if they copy, buy or steal someone else’s work and pass it off as their own, or take text straight from a source without identifying it.
You can help your child by teaching them the importance of acknowledging others’ work by citing where they found their information, and by doing so from a young age.
They can avoid plagiarising by always:
- using quotation marks when they include other people’s words directly in their work
- noting when they mention or paraphrase someone else’s ideas
- including a list of references or bibliography.