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What do you need to do?

This guide will get you started with finding academic references for your essay.

It's important to understand your assessment before you start searching. Reading through the details in your course outline and course website will help you:

  • Know what you need to do
  • Know what types of resources you need 
  • Understand where to search

Plan your search

Planning your search will help you find information more efficiently. Start by:

  •  Identifying the main concepts in your research topic.
  •  Thinking of any alternative concepts or synonyms for each concept.
  •  Connecting your concepts together using AND and OR to form a search.

A table or mindmap can be a useful strategy for doing this. 

For example, you could create the table below if your topic was

How does the avant-garde (& Modernism) relate to comics?

Main concepts

Concept 1

Concept 2

Synonyms (similar concepts)



funny papers



Tip: As you search, you may come across more concepts or synonyms you can incorporate. Don't be afraid to change or modify your search as you go.

Connect your keywords

Now you need to connect your search concepts together to form different search strategies. The below table summarises how they work:

Operator words What it does Example
  • Narrows your search.
  • The more concepts you connect with AND the more focused your search will become.
comics AND avant-garde
  • Broadens your search.
  • Includes results that use different terminology.
comics OR funny papers OR funnies OR strips 
  • Removes concepts from a search.
  • Not recommended as you can potentially eliminate relevant results.
comics NOT anime

Watch or read the below for more information on how to put together a search using operators:

More help

Watch Plan your search  (2 min 26)
Read: How to plan your search (pdf)
View the Writing your assignment page for more info on interpreting your topic and planning your search

Start your search

After you build up a search strategy, you can start to apply them in search tools, such as the example searches below.

   Library catalogue

The Library catalogue can be a useful starting point in locating information.

Put your search in the basic search box, group your alternative keywords inside brackets

Alternatively, use the advanced search to split your concepts on to different rows

Use Refine my results on the left hand side to narrow your results. Here are some examples:

  • Show Only - Peer-reviewed journals
  • Resource Type - Book chapters
  • Publication Date - limit to the last 10 years

The Library catalogue does not list everything we have access to. Try a database when you are not finding relevant results in the Catalogue, or in order to restrict your results to a specific discipline, topic area or material type.

Here is an example within ProQuest Central Proquest Central is a multidisciplinary database which covers 160 subject areas including film, media, screen and cultural studies. Ensure that you only use references from this database that are from the relevant subject areas, however, as you may find a seemingly relevant reference from a source from an unrelated subject area which would not be appropriate to include within your literature review.

Example Advanced Search

  • Put a different concept on each line.
  • Use OR to connect any similar terms (synonyms).

  • Tip: Use the Find it button to try and locate full text articles.
   Google Scholar

Try Google Scholar to find scholarly information. An advantage of Google Scholar is that it provides access to the full text of many UniSA scholarly (academic) articles if you connect via the link above, or from the Library home page.

The Advanced Scholar Search option gives more flexibility when you search. To access it select the menu (three lines) in the top left hand corner of Google Scholar. This menu will appear once you do an initial search in Google Scholar.

Here is an example:

Scholarly sources

You need to find scholarly references to support your assignment. To learn more about what scholarly sources are, watch this video (2 min 22):

Evaluating information

It is important to evaluate the information you find. Watch this short video (3 min 16) for more information view the Evaluate page.

Writing essays

Now that you have done your research it is time to put all of your information together.

Study Help is an online hub packed with resources to help with assignments and study skills. Watch the below short video on Essay writing


Referencing roadmap banner. Navigate to the referencing roadmap resource.

You must appropriately cite (‘acknowledge’) all references used in your assignment to avoid plagiarism.

Further Assignment Help

The Student Engagement Unit has created a suite of resources called Study Help that can help you understand different assignment types and study skills.