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SOS: Research assignments

By Lauren Condon on 30 May 2017HSCStudy tipsHSIENSWblog

Research assignments, take-homes, hand-in assessments. Whatever you call them, let’s get down to business.

Term 2 is definitely the time to have a look at these ‘take-home’ assignments and work out how on earth you’re actually meant to start and finish them. 🤷‍

So, here is your step by step guide (and don’t worry, we’re taking baby steps).

1. Start ASAP

The thing about these hand-in assignments, is that you can’t really wing them like an exam - although that’s not the best idea either. You actually have to do the work and the best advice that we can give (that you will probably ignore) is to start as early as possible so you have enough time to work through the steps.

You can trick yourself by putting an earlier due date into your diary or just dedicate one school night to getting started so you've at least thought about your idea and set some work in motion.

When you start, you also have to read your assessment notification so carefully to make sure you are following all instructions. Answer every question, include the number of references/sources that were asked for and make sure you’re referring to any kind of source material they have given you. Basic stuff!

2. Start with the syllabus

If you’re not sure how to start answering your question, well, it all comes back to our very best friend: the syllabus.

So, say your take-home essay question for Studies of Religion is:

Demonstrate how Muslim adherents are guided by their principal teachings on peace, to achieve both inner peace and contribute to world peace.

If you have a close read of the SOR syllabus, you’ll see the principal teachings include the Six Principles of Islam, the Five Pillars of Faith and you’ll be given the exact ways that Muslim adherents are guided by these teachings: through their significant practice and ethical teachings. Boom. So, when you’re researching, this is where to start.

It’s the same if you’re tackling a multi-question, investigative Chemistry assignment:

You can match the question...

“There is a need to continue researching and developing battery technology as cost-effective, sustainable clean energy source.
Critically evaluate this statement using information from your research."

… to the syllabus dot point:

Just like the religion essay, the syllabus is going to give you some serious clues about where to begin your research, what your argument will have to consider AND how you can use this research later on in your HSC exams. Bonus!

3. Research efficiently and effectively

Okay, so here comes the research bit. You don’t want to waste days researching so let’s do it properly!

  • Research efficiently

Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Search your keywords in a database of ejournals like JSTOR (or whatever your school can give you access to) to find some very legit articles and book chapters with your info.
  2. Start by reading wikipedia articles just to get your head around the topic BUT then go to the references at the bottom of the wikipedia article to go straight to the good information.
  3. Start with any resources - textbooks, book excerpts - that your teacher has given you because you know they're solid before doing your own research.

You'll find out what works best for you really quickly.

  • Take notes straight into your word doc

When you are skim reading your journal articles, newspaper articles or book chapters and you see something that looks super relevant to your question then pay attention. Write it out in your own words WITH a sentence about why it’s relevant to the question (this is so important!). Don’t forget to pull out some specific examples as well as any killer quotes or ideas.

  • Reference as you go

Whenever you take those notes, always reference the information as you go. It will save you so much time at the end! Just throw the information into a website like, copy the reference into a bibliography at the bottom of your word doc and also just put the author and date next to the note you’ve written out. This was make it so easy to reference perfectly because your bibliography will already be done and you can easily in-text reference specific information if you have to (which will cover you nicely against any plagiarism!).

4. Organise your notes into an essay/answer structure

So, you should finish with a lovely word document full of information, ideas and references - yay!

Now it’s time to rearrange your notes and put all the similar ideas/examples together (use a few highlighters if you’ve taken notes on paper). Because you understand how to answer the question from looking at the syllabus, these notes are going to give you your body paragraphs, all the evidence you need AND your overall argument. Cool, right?

Once you’re done, you should be looking at your page and seeing a super clear structure with all your paragraphs, everything you want to say in your paragraphs and all the evidence and examples you need. Now, it’s just time to write it out in full sentences, fill in anything else you need (introduction and conclusion if it’s an essay) and you have a killer draft!


So, there you have it. Conclusive proof that research assignments can be pretty frustrating but are always 100% manageable. The secret is just starting early, checking in with the syllabus and doing the research properly. And hey, these are the last ones you will have to do for ages so... you may as well nail them! 💯💯

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