Skip to main content

Assignment and Study Help - Degree Courses

What you need to do

So you've just been handed your assignment and you don't know where to start?

Before you begin looking for information you should:

  • Read the question, including the marking criteria sheet carefully
  • Understand what is expected
  • Know when it is due
  • Use the assignment calculator to help plan your assignment

Following these steps will help you get ready to start your search for information.

Remember: If you are unsure of anything you should contact your teacher as they will be the one marking your work!

To start your search you need to determine the main parts of your assignment question. 

Assignment questions contain instructional words, keywords and limiting words. These form the structure of your assignment.

Instruction words tell you how to approach the topic or subject, and clarify what focus your research should take.

Keywords are single words or phrases which define the subject or main ideas of the question. To identify the keywords of your question:

  1. Read and analyse the question carefully
  2. Underline or highlight all the keywords. These are the words that will tell you what information you need to find.
  3. Circle all the instructional words. These words will tell you what to do with the information you find.
  4. Create a mind map to help you structure, organise and analyse your ideas. Mind map software link is located in the Resources section at the bottom of this page.
  5. Begin a list of everything you need to combine into your assignment. This will help ensure you include everything that your assignment question has asked for.
  6. Next write a list of the topics you need to research. Make sure your search is broad, including books, eJournals and reputable websites just to name a few. Don’t forget your suggested reading list & textbooks.

Limiting words determine where to start and stop and set limits to your topic.They may identify specific time periods or geographic areas, eg. Australia or 20th century.

Note: you will use the keywords and limiting words when conducting your search

The following may also be relevant when choosing keywords:

  • Alternative words or synonyms (e.g. mobile phones / cell phones)
  • Abbreviations (e.g dept for department)
  • Singular or plural terms (woman and women)
  • Spelling variations (colour and color)
  • Variations of word endings (e.g. nurse, nurses, nursing or nursery)

TIP: If you can't think of any synonyms or related terms yourself, try searching a thesaurus, dictionary or encyclopaedia

For more help watch the video tutorials below.

Now you are ready to search for information. In order to get the best results you can use several techniques: Phrase, Truncation & Wildcard searching.
Phrase searching
  • A phrase search looks for a string of words next to each other exactly as typed.
  • Double quotation marks “ ” are usually required around the phrase.
  • For example: "working mothers"


  • Truncation is used to search for plural terms or words with spelling variations. This will increase your search results.
  • The truncation symbol that is generally used is a *
  • Use a symbol to replace the ending of the search keyword. For example: Communicat*, will find Communicate, Communicates, Communication, Communicated, Communicating.
  • Other alternative symbols may be used such as ?, $, !, #


  • Using a wildcard is a search strategy that requires a symbol to substitute for one or more letters in order to search for spelling variations within a word.
  • Use wildcards to pick up words that have different American and English spellings. For example Colo?r will find Colour and Color

Once you have found your keywords you need to create a search query. A search query simply involves combining your keywords using Search Operators AND, OR, NOT when searching the library catalogue or databases. These search operators will help you to broaden or narrow your search.


  • Combines keywords in a search
  • Finds records containing all of the keywords
  • Produces fewer results
  • For example, searching using AND will provide results that contain both keywords: Carbon tax AND Australia
  • The AND operator will only find records that include all of the keywords. This will narrow your search
  • Use AND to combine your different keywords Carbon tax AND Australia


  • Combines alternative keywords or synomyns
  • Finds records containing either or both keywords
  • Produces more results
  • For example, searching using OR will provide results that contain both keywords: Carbon tax OR Emissions tax
  • The OR operator will find records that include either keyword. This will broaden your search
  • Use OR to combine keywords with similar meaning (synonyms) and other alternative search keywords


  • Use to exclude a keyword
  • Each record retrieved will contain the first but NOT the second keyword
  • For example, searching using NOT will provide results that contain the keyword Australia but excludes the keyword Australasia.
  • The NOT operator ensures records that include the first keyword, but not the second keyword are found
  • Use NOT with caution because you may inadvertently exclude useful material

Before moving onto the next tutorials, ensure you understand the following:

What exactly are you required to do? Read the assignment task & the assignment marking criteria sheet carefully
What type of assignment is it? Is it an essay, report or oral presentation?

When is it due?

Plan and allocate time for researching information, writing the draft assignment, checking and editing the finished assignment.

  • Use the assignment calculator to help you plan your assignment.

How long should the assignment be?

How many words or approximate number of pages?

Remember to talk to your teacher if there is any confusion.


Video Tutorials

© TAFE Queensland 2017. All rights reserved.