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Research Skills

Where to begin?

Knowing how to plan and carry out your own research, as well as how to identify and assess the reliability of your source material, will be a key part of success in your sixth form studies. 

Whilst you may have a course text book, or resources provided for you by your teacher, independent research or 'reading around the subject' will also be essential. 

By doing so, you will not only deepen and consolidate your understanding of your syllabus content but also identify particular areas of interest and enjoyment which you may wish to pursue further. Even at an early stage in your sixth form career, this can help you to begin the process of deciding how and where you may wish to continue your studies in the future. 

The links and resources below will help you to discover more about how to identify and evaluate sources of research material. 

Finding resources

The following pages from Newcastle University's library include some useful advice on identifying reliable sources.

Listed here are some of the most common resources that you may be able to use for research, along with the positives and negatives of each one.

You can explore further the skills needed to evaluate possible resources and decide which will be most useful and reliable to you here:

Reading Techniques

Reading academic materials can be more challenging than other forms of reading. The following resource from the University of Bristol explores how to make reading work for you and is accessible, interactive and really useful!

In general, though, there are 3 different ways of approaching reading a text which can help you to target the information you need. These can be particularly useful if you think there’s too much to read everything in detail. Decide what your motivation or purpose is, set up your questions, then decide on your approach.

These 3 ways of approaching reading can be called Dolphin, Shark and Whale, because the three ways have similar approaches to these animals. The trick with all of these approaches is to decide when to do each one, when to be a dolphin, a shark or a whale.

  • Dolphins often swim quickly, diving in and out of the water, moving rapidly and exploring. Sometimes reading is the same. It can be helpful to read quickly and rapidly, not going deep, exploring and evaluating what you are looking at.
  • Sharks can move purposefully and in a direct way to target exactly what they want. They are sleek, efficient and accurate. Sometimes academic reading needs to be just like that. Decide what you want to achieve and target that result. Be efficient and don’t read things that won’t help you.
  • Whales are the masters of deep diving, they go in deep and stay immersed for a long time. Whales also filter out and digest large amounts of food. Academic reading can be like this sometimes. Perhaps you really need to understand something in depth, or spend a long time analysing and getting useful information from a resource.

When to be a dolphin, a shark or a whale

There are times when you need to skim through something, times when you need to pass quickly and efficiently through the reading and times when you need to really immerse yourself and go deep.

Skim reading

This is where you use rapid reading techniques to get the meaning, or idea of what something is about. Move rapidly over the article, use a pen or pointer to guide your eyes. This stops them getting so tired. Try and take in more than one word at a time. Often, we can just force ourselves to speed up. We’ll understand less, but that’s OK. When the words get more relevant, then maybe slow down and start to make notes.


This is about using clues the format of the text has given you. It means looking at headings, tables, charts, indexes and images to work out which bits are helpful for you to read. Look for key words to see where the text becomes relevant to your aims.

Start with the abstract or summary. This should be a quick account of all the major aspects of the work. It will give you a snapshot of the authors’ aims, their methods, what they achieved (results) and their conclusions. Then look at any headings, sections, table headings. Look at charts, graphs, images and look at the legends (the title and explanations underneath). 

Use all this information to get a picture of what is happening in the sections you are reading.

In depth reading

This is when you really need to engage with the text in detail. There might be very precise information or wording that you need to read, You might need to carefully examine somebody’s argument, evidence, ideas or conclusions. You’ll need to take notes and reflect on what they say.

The following pages from Sheffield University also explore the different reading skills and techniques you may need to develop an understanding of your research materials: