Research skills

I am in the process of completing a Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert) in Business and Personal Coaching. I completed the practical element of this course back in 2018 and now all that's left is to write the essays. There are three in total:

When it comes to this kind of academic work, and talking to my peers about their experience of it, I am incredibly grateful for the research skills I learned in my previous career as a librarian. There are things that I know, that I probably take for granted, that really help to ease the process. I've shared all of them before when helping people with their research, but now seems a good time to bring them together in one place.

Accessing electronic resources

It's no secret that the myriad of systems used to access electronic resources through the library make for a less than intuitive experience. Add to that, the fact that the kind of course I'm doing doesn't allow full access to library systems; more often than not I come up against an “access forbidden” alert. It's frustrating to say the least, but here are some ways around it.

Firstly, I found out exactly which packages I have access to and now, instead of searching the whole catalogue, I search specifically within these databases. This works best in the early stages of research when searching by topic rather than for a specific article.

If you're a fellow student on the PGCert for Business and Personal Coaching through the University of Chester, those databases are: ProQuest, Wiley Online Library, Dawsonera and E-book Central

A similar approach at this stage is to use the Directory of Open Access Journals. This indexes peer-reviewed journals that have no barriers to access.

When it comes to looking for specific articles, I use the Unpaywall extension. This highlights whether an open access version is available if you've found an article you want to read in a paywalled journal.

Sometimes you have to accept that it's not possible to get your hands on the exact article you're looking for. Using these approaches there are usually plenty of alternatives that are good enough.

Locating print materials*

I'm affiliated to a university in the north west of England, but as I live on the other side of the country accessing their print materials isn't an option. Thankfully, there are other ways to get hold of books you can't get electronically.

Use WorldCat to find local libraries that hold the item you're looking for. Many university libraries allow walk-in access to visitors, especially those affiliated with other academic intstitutions.

I also search directly on the catalogues of university libraries near me. You may not be able to borrow, but you should be able to use the library for reference. And if, like me, you live near the place that you did your undergraduate degree then you may be able to borrow books as an alumni.

Referencing

There's something about my nature that means I get a strange sense of joy out of referencing – I know this makes me an anomaly. I just like how methodical it is.

I know that for a lot of people both the purpose and practice just don't make sense. And sadly, most of the guides available make the whole thing seem more complex than it is and therefore even more confusing for beginners. Thankfully, lots of academic libraries provide quick guides that cover most of what's needed to get started. I'm currently using one from York St John University and I don't find I need more than that.

If you really want to up your referencing game, and have some fun in the process, check out RefQuest from Learning Futures and the Library at Western Sydney University.

*The caveat to this is that obviously during the pandemic physical access to libraries is probably not feasible anyway, but I think it's worth noting these options for some future date when we can just walk in somewhere and pick a book up off a shelf.


This is day three of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com

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