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HCS531 Research Skills Guide: Assessment Item 1

What are you being asked to do?

In this assessment, you are being asked to demonstrate a critical understanding of historical and contemporary professional knowledge in human service work or social policy; and its relevance to contemporary policy and service development.

Assessment Item 1 (Annotated Bibliography) asks you to:

  • Identify an issue or problem in a specific area of human service activity and associated social policy.
  • Locate a minimum of 10 books, journal articles, research papers or government reports relating to the problem or issue.
  • Write an annotated bibliography summarising the resources you have found.

The research you conduct for Assessment Item 1 can form the foundation of Assessment Item 2 so you might like to familiarise yourself with both assessment tasks from the outset.

For comprehensive instructions, you MUST view your Subject Outline. Make sure you have a very clear understanding of what you're being asked to do. If you're unsure, ask your lecturer.

Plan your approach

Planning your approach from the outset can keep your research focused and save you time. Below is an example of the steps you might take to conduct your research.

1. Understand the Assessment Task.

Refer to your Subject Outline and your topic modules for clarity. 

Take a few minutes to conduct a topic analysis. Brainstorm a list of keywords you might try to search for. Give some consideration to synonyms and related terms, as well as, phrases researchers or professionals might use to describe your issue or problem.

1. Identify an issue or problem in a specific area of human service activity and associated social policy.

You might choose an area that interests you or that you'd like to learn more about. If you're unsure of different types of human service activities, conduct some background research into the topic. Make sure you choose an area of active policy.

Background research. Search Google and Primo Search for general information on your issue or problem first to develop your understanding. As you learn more, write down keywords that could be used to search for your topic. Combine your keywords with search techniques to refine your results.  

4. Conduct targeted research.

Conduct independent research to locate 10 resources relating to your issue or problem using Primo Search, the Library databases and Google Scholar. Keep notes about your search process. These will be useful when discussing the research parameters you defined and the criteria you applied when selecting each resource.

6. Evaluate the resources you use. 

Evaluating information is a critical skill. The CRAP Test evaluation framework has some prompts to assist you with evaluating the resources you locate. 

Managing your scope

Think carefully about the scope of your issue in relation to your assignment parameters. 

When your topic is too broad. 

If you have identified a general topic, set limits to narrow your focus until you find an issue to discuss. For example:

  • If the client group involved is diverse and widespread, try to focus your attention on one section. Specify an age range, gender, ethnicity, geographic location, etc. Discuss how your issue specifically affects them. 
  • If the issue you're discussing is affected by several different subsections of your policy, or your chosen policy is broad and has a lot of implications in your service area, choose one in particular. 
  • If you've already identified a specific client group, you could look at the way the issue or policy affects one area of their lives e.g. housing, healthcare, service access, etc.
When your topic is too narrow.

If your topic feels too specific, try using the techniques above in reverse to remove some of the limits. For example:

  • If you planned to talk about only one age range, broaden it, or talk about issues for multiple age groups.
  • Talk about both genders, or clients in a bigger service area e.g. all of Australia, instead of only New South Wales.
  • If you don't have any limits to easily remove, think about whether there's a second client group that faces similar challenges or experiences the same issues and see if you can broaden your focus to include them - you might need to clear this with your lecturer. Sometimes client groups can be very interwoven, and this can be a useful way to add more to your topic.

It's important to be flexible, and not feel too locked into the first version of your research question or topic. You can adjust your question to fit what you find; look for themes in the research, and articles that agree with each other or disagree in interesting ways. 

What is an annotated bibliography?

The CSU Guide to Writing Your First Assignment (opens as pdf) describes an annotated bibliography as follows:

Annotate means to ‘make a note’, and biblio refers to ‘book’. Simply stated, an annotated bibliography is a list of sources or citations with a brief evaluative summary (annotation) about each source. Its purpose is to describe and evaluate a full text in a way that provides sufficient information for the reader to make an informed decision about whether they are likely to benefit from reading the full text (p.7).

Link to Annotated Bibliography video

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Where can I find information?

Here are some resources you may find useful:

  • Annotated Bibliography by the University of New South Wales describes the purpose of an annotated bibliography; breaks the task of creating an annotated bibliography into many smaller parts; includes focus questions; and offers an example annotation.
  • Writing an Annotated Bibliography by Queensland University of Technology breaks the task of creating an annotated bibliography into three sections.

A quick search in Google will reveal a number of useful resources about how to write an annotated bibliography. Keep an eye out for resources by educational institutions, particularly those ending in