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Research skills tutorial

Your guide to success!

Step 1.1 Identifying keywords

Keywords are the significant words (two or three) in your assignment topic that tell you what information you are looking for.

See the example below; the keywords are in bold.

"In Australian culture, the 'typical Australian' is portrayed as a bushman, who wears thongs and a singlet and holds a can of beer.

Compare this portrayal of the typical Australian with current Australian popular culture and comment on its influence on how Australians are portrayed by international media."


The topic is about the portrayal of Australians in international media and the influence of the 'typical Australian' image.

To work out if a word is a keyword, look at the word in the context of the topic. In the example above, portrayal is not a keyword as it does not mean anything about Australian culture.

Words such as 'advantages', 'influence' or 'relationship' are words that may have many meanings in different contexts. They are not keywords, but can tell you the nature of the information you need to find.

If you don't know the meaning of a word, find the definition in a dictionary.


Working out what is required

After you have identified the keywords, look at the topic to find words that will tell you the type of information you need to find.

Read the question carefully and note words that may indicate what you are required to do.

Here are definitions for some common words used in assignment topics to describe what you need to do:

  • Compare - 'to note the similarities and differences of' (Macquarie Dictionary, 2001)
  • Contrast - 'compare by observing differences' (Macquarie Dictionary, 2001)
  • Analyse - 'determine the elements or essential features of' (Macquarie Dictionary, 2001)

Also note the word limit of your assignment.

If you need to write a 500-word essay, you may only need basic information, which you can find in reference books (encyclopedias or textbooks).

If you need to write 10,000 words, you may need to find different types of information from many sources (books, journal articles and internet sites).


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