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Research materials

Academic essays require you to come up with an argument in response to a given question about a topic and support it with appropriate research material.

It is not enough to hand in an essay based solely on your opinions or feelings about a topic. You will already have an opinion or feeling about the topic of your essay assignment before you begin researching because you can relate it to your own experience and/or because the essay questions are based on some aspect of the course material (lectures or tutorials; handouts or online resources; textbooks or course readings). However, opinions or feelings need to be developed into an argument and contextualised, that is, related to others' arguments about that topic. This means crafting an argument that is logically structured and based on research.

opinion/feeling — RESEARCH and STRUCTURE — argument


What counts as "appropriate research material"?

Research material is anything that informs you about your topic, that helps you develop, contextualize or support your argument.

Appropriate research material is more selective: it focuses on what makes your argument more persuasive or authoritative, thus it is limited to material that

  • directly supports your argument and
  • progresses it; and that
  • is accepted and valued within your discipline, and
  • is striking or novel.

Examples of research materials

Encyclopedias, beginners' guides or "coffee table" books aimed at general readers may be useful to gain a basic understanding of a topic, but they will never give the level of complexity or detail that you need to make your argument authoritative. On a sliding scale from "hard" (authoritative) to "soft" (less authoritative) resource materials, there are . . .

    Books

    Most academic books are monographs, that is, published texts on a single topic by an author or authors, whether that be books divided into chapters or collections of essays. Slightly less authoritative are conference proceedings, that is, collections of papers by various authors centered around the central theme of a conference.

    Journals

    Academic journals are collections of articles published on a regular basis (also called serials or periodicals for this reason) by a society, institution or other group to explore a particular subject, field of research, discipline or methodology. They contain contributions by various authors, often on very differing topics within one volume, and are often peer-reviewed, i.e., assessed by two or more experts in the subject, field, discipline or methodology, and vigorously edited.

    Databases

    Academic databases are stores of research materials vetted by experts that are able to be accessed electronically. These will link you to edited collections of essays, journals or facsimiles in electronic form that may not be available off the shelf. At The University of Auckland databases are available through the Library website.

    The internet

    The internet is the least authoritative or "softest" source of resource materials. Though you can quickly access a wide variety of information there, keep in mind that while some material will be reliable, other material will be less so. Unlike books and journals, websites have not always been thoroughly edited; unlike databases, websites have not always been vetted by experts. Wikipedia is a prime example: it is a useful source of up-to-date general information and links, but, as a wiki (a more or less open, collaborative website that relies on internal and external links), it is not regarded as authoritative. It is safest to stick to online materials from sources that you know to be authoritative, such as news agencies, newspapers, government departments, academic societies and institutions, and other similar organizations.

Where can I find research materials?

The University Library should be your first port of call. Research materials that are held in the Library or available online via the Library website are the most authoritative. The Library has experts who are able to help you access and use the many kinds of research materials available there.