How to avoid screen fatigue

Girl with head in hands looking at laptop screenIf you find that your eyes feel tired, you feel headachy, struggle to concentrate or have neck and back pain, one possible explanation could be screen fatigue, say our Study Advisers.

Our devices help us to study and stay connected to each other but, unfortunately, they can also tire us out and limit our productivity. Screen fatigue can be avoided by putting some simple strategies in place, read on to find out more!

Tip #1: Take breaks

As with any kind of study, it is important to take regular breaks. To avoid screen fatigue, making clever use of your breaks can help. For example:

  • If you take a ten-minute study break from writing up an essay on your laptop, try to take that break away from screens. Avoid the temptation to look at your phone in your break and instead try to do something physical, even if it’s just emptying the dishwasher or making a cup of tea.
  • If you have time for longer breaks, try taking a walk or going for a run. This will give your brain and eyes a rest from the screen but can also relieve aches and pains from poor posture adopted while working on a screen.

Tip #2: Plan screen and non-screen time into your studying

Planning your studying with a timetable, to-do lists or planners is a useful practice and might be something you are already doing (see our advice on Organising your studies). However, have you considered planning your study with regards to screen time? For example, you could:

  • Mix and match your studying activities for the day to include some screen and some non-screen activities. For example, you could spend an hour searching for journal articles for an essay, take a break and then spend another half an hour sketching out an essay plan on a piece of paper.
  • Think about activities that you could switch from online to offline. Could you print out a paper to read instead of reading it from the screen? Could you make that meeting a telephone call instead of a video call?

Tip #3: Watch out for triggers

You will, of course, need screens every day to study and stay connected, but look out for situations where you end up online unnecessarily:

  • Turn off notifications. Do notifications on your email or phone pull you back to screen? Could you turn some of them off? Even just turning off notifications temporarily while you are working, off-screen can help.
  • Buy an alarm clock. If you use your phone as an alarm in the morning, it can be very easy to drift onto the internet after turning it off. Buy a simple alarm clock instead and remove the temptation.
  • Seek offline distractions. If boredom finds you picking up your phone or opening an internet browser, watch out for this, and try to replace these activities with something else – listening to the radio, calling a friend or even doing some colouring in a book will give you a break from the screen.

For more

Watch the Study Advisers’ new short videos on Organising your studies and Taking notes from videos and see our Covid-19 Guide.

Visit our Study Advice website for more resources, to book a 1-2-1 or attend a webinar this spring term.

Study Advisers

This article is also available on the Student Services News Blog as How to avoid screen fatigue.

New Year Study Advice: have a plan

Computer-generated laptop,, file, calendar, diary imagesCovid-19 has brought with it new ways of working and learning for all of us. A term in, it’s time to reflect on what has worked and what new strategies we need to try to keep on top of our studies. Our Study Advisers have some new videos to help you and some top tips to starting the New Year on the right track.

Tip #1: Make a plan

If you don’t have a study timetable, now’s the time to make one. Follow these 5 steps to make a workable weekly plan and ensure you keep on top of your studies this term:

  1. Make a note of everything you need to complete each week. For instance: watching videos, attending seminars, working on assignments, and reading around your subject.
  2. Allocate time. Work out how much time you have for each task each week. You should see studying as a full-time job, so aim to allocate 35-40 hours a week to studying.
  3. Schedule in time. Using a weekly planner, add in your fixed appointments, then begin slotting in your other study activities. Use the times that you are motivated for study and mix up reading, writing, and listening task within a day.
  4. Making it easy to stick to. Try to have a set routine, starting study at the same time each day, plan in regular breaks and move things around if your plan is not working for you.
  5. Plan backwards from assignments. Give yourself weekly targets to work towards. Try using a termly planner and put it up near to where you study.

Tip #2: Take more effective notes

With lecture content now likely to be recorded, you need to develop different note taking skills to what you might be used to. If you’re finding that watching this content is taking longer than you hoped it would, try these things before, during and after watching:

  • Before: Access the slides and familiarise yourself with the content. Decide if you will write on the slides or pre-format a document with some headings on.
  • During: Decide whether you will hand write notes or create them online (perhaps using OneNote). Watch the video without pausing, if you miss something critical just jot down the time and re-watch that bit. Your notes must have a meaning to you, so just note down anything that springs to mind when your lecturer is talking.
  • After: Spend a few moments summarising what you have just learned. Consider how it fits in with what you already know and other areas within the module. Pattern notes or a mind maps work well for this. Remember to file your notes away in an organised way,

For more

Watch our new short videos on Organising your studies  and Taking notes from videos and see our Covid-19 Guide

Visit our Study Advice website for more resources, to book a 1-2-1 or attend a webinar this spring term.

Study Advice

COVID-19 update: Your Library this summer

Refurbished Library building with extensive glass front and silvered cladding, behind young, llight green trees

You can borrow print items from the Library building with our ‘Click & Collect’ service.

Library services online

All of our existing support and electronic resources will continue to be available and delivered to you online over the summer. This means that you can still:

Loans and returns

Return loans in the Book Drop flap to the right of the Library front doors

We will renew all books for the entire summer vacation so do not worry as you will not have anything overdue or running up fines! All items will be due on 30 September 2020. If you have already returned items via our Book Drop (right of Library entrance) be assured they will be removed from your Library account as soon as we are able to get back in the building to process them.

We are investigating whether we can accept postal returns of books over the summer and will provide more information if we are able to do so.

Click & Collect service for print items. For those of you writing dissertations, we understand accessing materials is very important. We are providing a service for you to request items (from 13 July 2020). You can still ask your Academic Liaison Librarians whether they can source an alternative option for you.

Further information

Any updates on access to the books or changes to any services will be publicised on our website and Library blog so keep an eye out for news.

Stuart Hunt, Director

5 tips for starting your dissertation

So, you may have just finished your exams but now you have to turn your attention to your dissertation. Where do you begin and how can you ensure you stay on track? Below are our Study Advice and Library tips to help you get started and stay focused.

Tip #1: Have a plan

Having a plan not only helps you to stay on track but weekly goals keep you motivated. Work backwards from your hand-in date and remember to build in extra time for proof reading and final touches. Our videos on managing your time offer some tips to get you started.

Tip #2: Start with something small

To help you get going, start with a task that you can get done easily. This might be something simple, like setting up a Word template or printing off a couple of key articles. Being able to complete one task can give you a sense of achievement and motivate you to tackle more challenging ones.

Tip #3: Think about the information that you need…

….and how to access it! If you are carrying out a literature review, or analysing documents or literature, make sure that you are familiar with the key online resources in your subject area. You can find out more about what’s available to you, as well as contact details for your Academic Liaison Librarian, on your Library subject guide. Look at the COVID-19 page in the guide for top tips on how to access resources when off-campus.

Tip #4: Think more, read less

It’s important that you think critically about you’re reading. This requires you to see the links between various theories and consider what they mean for your research question. So, when taking notes remember to not only record a summary of your reading but more importantly note what you think about what you have read. This will help you when you come to write up. Our video on critical note taking offers some advice on this.

Tip #5: Attend our webinars

In Week 7, the Study Advice and Library teams are offering a series of webinars just for Master’s students. These will help you to get to grips with:

  • developing your research question,
  • planning your literature review,
  • finding information, and
  • managing your references.

Our short webinars run at 11:00 and 14:00 each day, Monday 1 June – Friday 5 June. To find out more and join the webinar check out our Master’s Dissertation Fair guide.

Study Advice and Academic Liaison Teams

Online Master’s Dissertation Fair: 1-5 June

Web page screen shotWondering how to start researching and writing your dissertation? Why not drop into the Master’s Dissertation Fair, run online by the Academic Liaison and Study Advice Teams!

Choose from a selection of different webinars at 11:00 and 14:00, Monday 1 to Friday 5 June offering advice on all elements of your dissertation planning, searching for literature, and writing. From choosing a research methodology to using reference management tools, these friendly webinars provide tips from the experts to put your dissertation on track for success.

​No need to book, just follow the links in the Master’s Dissertation Fair guide. Please connect 5-10 minutes prior to the session to ensure your access is working correctly.

More help available

Alternatively, you can also book a 1-2-1 session with a Study Adviser or Academic Liaison Librarian.

If you prefer self-paced online resources from Study Advice, try their suite of guides and video tutorials on literature searching, dissertations and major projects,

Discover key resources in your subject area in the liaison team’s guides: note the new COVID-19 tab showing additional relevant resources made available online during the lockdown period.

Study Advice and Academic Liaison Teams

Online reading lists update: report broken links

There’s a new online reading lists feature – you can now report a broken link to an e-book or online journal article directly to the Library from your reading list. A report is sent to the Library E-resources Team who will investigate the issue.

How to report a broken link 

If the link fails when you click the ‘View Online’ button on an online resource included on your reading list, return to the reading list and click the menu option on the right to see the ‘Report broken link’ option. 

You can choose to provide more information about the error message and, if you want the E-resources Team get back to you to let you know the resolution, leave your contact details. If you prefer, you can click ‘Report’ without leaving your email address.

Further information

You will find your online reading list in your module information in Blackboard.

Please be aware that not all items on online reading lists are available as e-resources.

Kim Coles, Academic Liaison Team Manager

COVID-19: Focus on study with digital tools

Staying focused when studying and revising can be challenging at the best of times, and likely to be more so under the current conditions. If the home environment is proving distracting, why not investigate apps designed to keep you focused and working productively? Alternatively, you could save time by checking out the Study Advisers’ favourite digital tools and selected guides:

Tomato Timer

Based on the Pomodoro technique (working for short, focused periods, followed by brief rest-breaks), tomato timers aim to promote productivity while maintaining mental alertness. A multitude of these apps are available – for simplicity try Tomato Timer and, for extra features, try Pomello.

Flora and Forest

Apps like Flora and Forest help you resist distractions from your phone while you study. Simply ‘plant a seed’ in the app, and watch it grow from sapling to tree – if and only if, you don’t touch your phone. Yield to the temptation of using your phone and the sapling dies! Successful repetition results in a forest, which, if you are using the Forest app, can earn you points towards planting a real tree with the ‘Trees for the Future Scheme’.

Written? Kitten! and Focus Writer

Overcome writers block with Written? Kitten! Write 100, 200, 500 or 1000 words and get rewarded for your efforts with a picture of a cute kitty. Alternatively, try Focus Writer, which enables you to set a daily target for the number of words you write on a blank screen; you can then measure your progress against this target.

Online planners

While there are no real substitutes for having a clear time-management strategy (see our Time managment guide for help with this), some apps can help you manage your workload more efficiently. Try  Microsoft to-do, for organising tasks and managing deadlines, and Trello for monitoring your progress.  Trello can be synched with Pomello, enabling you to see how much time you’ve spent on individual tasks.

Turn off notifications and pop-ups

Minimise interruption and distraction from unwanted notifications and pop-ups by disabling them on your devices – temporarily or permanently. Do this for android and iPhone via the ‘Settings’ function on your phone, and see this brief guide on how to disable web notifications.

Blocking social media sites

Manage social media sites that vie for your attention, with the help of social media blocking apps. Specific websites can be blocked at set times of day, or the entire internet switched-off while you work. See 10 best apps to help you stay focused for a quick guide to help you decide on a blocking app that’s right for you. That said, if you’re a fan of social media, use it as a motivational aim by saving it for a reward at the end of the day.

Study Advice

Linda Schroeder, Study Adviser

COVID-19: studying at home with young children

White speech bubble to left, yellow background to rightYou may have got used to studying at home in the last few weeks, but then younger family members had homework to do too. Now that it’s the Easter holidays, how can you maintain the same momentum with your studies when you have children or younger siblings to occupy? It’s going to be more challenging, but here are some tips from your Study Advisers – who are also like you, trying to work and study at home with families.

Tip #1 Be patient. Give yourself and your family time to adjust to your new circumstances.

These are extraordinary times. Up until now, it has not been the norm for families to be together all-day, every-day. Don’t worry if things don’t run smoothly to begin with. Be patient and give yourself and your family time to adjust to the new set of circumstances you find yourself in.

Tip #2 Find a routine that works for you and your family. Resist the urge to compare yourself with others.

Studying at home with younger members of the family means that you not only have to get yourself into a routine, but you may also need to establish routines for your family, this comes with its own set of challenges – especially if children get bored easily. At this stage, you may find it tempting to compare yourself to others – especially those who appear to have things under control. Resist the urge to do this. Remember, there are no right or wrong routines.

Tip # 3 Designate study/activity spaces for children

Just as you would for yourself, designate study or activity spaces for children; get them to create timetables and set themselves goals for things they’d like to achieve, this gives them a sense of ownership which can be motivating.

Tip # 4 Make the most of technology

Make the most of technology by tapping into the plethora of available apps, games, and websites, which are both educational and entertaining (TED-Ed and Duolingo are popular in our household). Also, don’t forget, children can connect with school friends online too.

Tip # 5 Be realistic about how long things take

When planning your workload for the day or week ahead, try to be realistic about what can be done in the time available and don’t get discouraged if things take longer than anticipated.

Child with a painted faceTip # 6 Ringfence study periods – this could be when children are occupied by a partner or siblings

Set aside fixed times in the day and week for study and make a commitment to stick to them. Try to avoid interruption/distraction during these times by enlisting the support of a partner or family member to keep children occupied.

Tip # 7 Make study active!

There are likely to be many competing demands on your time, so make study periods count by making your learning active. Avoid passively reading through or copying-out course notes and other texts. Instead, do something with the material you are learning – such as applying it to solve problems and answer questions.

For individual help on managing your time and meeting deadlines contact us at studyadvice@reading.ac.uk or book a 1-2-1 appointment.

Linda Schroeder, Study Adviser

COVID-19: Preparing for take home exams?

Hand holds penciel on paperPreparing for take home exams? Follow our top 5 study tips.

Like many students, you may be experiencing a new type of exam this year: the ‘take home’ exam. In due course, you’ll be given more details about what this means for your course and we urge you to follow the advice your lecturers give you. Below are our Study Advice tips about revising and preparing for this form of assessment

Tip #1: Revise as you would normally

Right now, you should be revising as you would normally for your modules. Make a revision timetable and start going over the content. You won’t have long between having the paper and submitting your answer; the exam will be available for 23hrs in most cases but you are strongly advised only to spend the normal exam duration actually working on it. So now is the time to reflect on what you’ve learnt. It’s also important that you revise according to the type of exam you’re taking, we have videos covering all types of exams, from MCQs to essay based exams to help guide you.

Tip #2: Practice active revision

Make your revision as active as possible using a variety of techniques; make an online study group with friends, mind map the content, use post-it notes and revision cards to test key concepts. Whilst your exams will probably take a different form to previous years, you can still make effective use of past exam papers to test your understanding and application of knowledge. Above all, don’t waste time re-writing out your notes or just reading through content; these are passive techniques and are unlikely to help.

Tip #3: Be organised

It’s likely that you won’t have long to submit your answers, once you are given the paper. Make sure you create a system for organising your notes on any particular subject; you’re going to want to access the most relevant information as quickly as you can.

Tip #4: Watch for unintentional plagiarism and collusion

It’s OK to revise with others (in fact this can be an effective way of testing yours and your friend’s understanding) but once you have been issued with the paper, it’s important that you work on it alone. You will be asked to submit your work through Turnitin, which will match your work with others that have been submitted, as well as information from the internet, books and journals. Make sure it’s all your own work, as you would any other assessment.

Tip #5: Prepare for the day

You may be given a set time to sit the exam and submit your answers. Make sure you are fully prepared beforehand by:

  • Ensuring you have somewhere quiet to work, where you won’t be disturbed
  • Checking you have the technology you need: access to Bb, Turnitin and Wifi
  • Having access to all the material you need. I’d also suggest a clock to ensure you’re keeping on track
  • Ensuring you fully understand the format of the exam, how you are being asked to submit answers and have done any trial runs that have been made available to you

Good luck!

Dr Sonia Hood, FHEA
Study Advice Manager, Study Advice & Maths Support

COVID-19: 5 tips for studying @ home

Reading glasses and pens rest on an open bookStudying at home requires self-discipline, organisation and effective time management strategies. Follow our Study Advice top 5 tips to make the most of your study time at home.

Tip #1: Set up your home office

Make sure you have somewhere dedicated to studying. Set up your desk and keep your device, books, paper and stationery to hand. Try to keep the space separate from where you relax, even if it is just a corner in your bedroom. Leave it tidy, so it is more inviting to return to the next day.

Tip #2: Create a study timetable

It’s important to allocate time to study (and time to relax and do exercise). Think about when in the day you’re more effective (for most this is the morning). You might want to consider, for instance, taking a couple of hours off every afternoon to take some exercise and return to your studies in the early evening. Make sure you add in regular breaks and rewards along the way. For more on creating a timetable, watch this short video.

Tip #3: Set yourself weekly goals

It’s important to know what you hope to achieve each week – especially if you are working on a project like a dissertation or revising for exams. Goals help to ensure we stay on track but also help to motivate us to keep going and give us that sense of achievement. Work backwards from your deadlines to determine where you want to be at the end of each week. If you have a shorter deadline (like an assignment to write in a week), instead set yourself some daily goals. This video will help you do this.

Tip #4: Work with others

During these times, it’s important to continue to connect with others. Keep in touch with peers and motivate each other. Arrange daily catch-ups, virtual coffee chats or perhaps some revision groups, where you can test each other’s understanding. Do share your study goals too, as you are more likely to strive to meet them once you’ve declared them.

Tip #5: Use the advice and support available

It might feel that you’re on your own, but all the central services are still running.

Make the most of the support and expertise on offer and ensure you get the grades you deserve.

Dr Sonia Hood, FHEA
Study Advice Manager, Study Advice & Maths Support

Get Library help with exams and dissertations

figures at table beween book shelvesThis time of year, we know many of you are busy preparing for exams or working on those dissertations. Why not take a moment to check out the advice and support that we have on offer; it could save you time in the long run!

Our Study Advisers have a series of video tutorials and study guides providing essential advice on effective revision techniques or dissertation writing. Or why not visit us on the Ground Floor of the Library and collect your free year planner to help you plan your revision, or those dissertation and major projects

Your Academic Liaison Librarian can point you towards the best sources in your subject to find good quality literature supporting your work. Take a look at the guides they have created to your subject resources.

We can also offer you individual advice:

Find out more on our Library website or come along to our Study Advice Desk on the Ground Floor of the Library and find out how we can support you.

Sonia Hood, Study Advice Manager and Rachel Redrup, Academic Liaison Librarian

Cite it right and avoid unintentional plagiarism

You may think that advice on avoiding plagiarism doesn’t apply to you, because you’re not planning to buy an essay from the internet, or copy someone else’s work. But you may not be aware that it is possible to plagiarise unintentionally if:

  • you’re not aware of the differences between referencing at university and any referencing you may have been used to doing previously;
  • you haven’t been meticulous about keeping records of your reading;
  • you don’t know how to use references in your academic writing to support your discussion and critical analysis.

It’s important to take referencing seriously and not just guess, or assume that you know how to do it. The consequences can be serious with marks deducted – it can even lead to accusations of academic misconduct.

However, it can be confusing when you have advice and guidance on referencing from so many different sources. It’s tempting to just Google it! But that’s far less likely to give you the right answer than guidance produced at your own university. You should always check your own Course Handbook first for advice (it will be on Blackboard).

Our Citing References guide combines previous guidance from the Library and Study Advice to cover the why, what, when and how of referencing in a single place. Study Advice video tutorials on referencing are embedded in the guide, which includes:

You could also look at The Academic Integrity Toolkit, which shows how understanding referencing is an important part of studying at university and ‘becoming a graduate’ generally. The Toolkit includes tips, explanations and exercises (with answers) to help you develop your understanding of essential skills including:

If you’re a Part 1 undergraduate and have enrolled on Study Smart, you could also go back over the relevant guidance in Week 1.

The guidance below focuses on three important points to help you avoid unintentional plagiarism.

References in a footnote1.Know when to include a reference

Whenever you include an idea that you have gained from your reading in an assignment, you must ensure that you reference it correctly, both in the text and at the end in your reference list or bibliography. If you use the original words you have found in your reading, you must mark them with quotation marks, even if you only use part of the sentence. It is not enough to give the details of where the words came from; they must be marked out, or it will look as if you are claiming them as your own words. If you are writing the idea up in your own words, don’t be tempted to just change a few words. If you use quotations inadequately or paraphrase badly it will certainly be viewed as poor academic practice and may subject your work to penalties. It may even be seen as plagiarism.

Watch this brief video tutorial on using paraphrases.

See Library and Study Advice guidance on using quotes and paraphrases.

2. Develop good note-taking practices

Ever looked at your notes and thought, “I wonder where that came from?” or “I wonder if those are my words or copied from the text?” It’s frustrating when you can’t be sure – but it could cause you problems if you use the material without being able to reference it accurately. To avoid this, make it a habit to have good record-keeping practices. Always note the details of each text you use (author, title, year) when you start writing notes on your reading; include page numbers as you go along, even if you are not copying text directly but writing the ideas in your own words; have a system of markers to indicate if something is a quote (put in quotation marks), an idea explained in your own words, or a query or new idea stemming from what you’re read (perhaps an asterisk *). The Study Advisers have guidance on effective note-taking and a brief video tutorial on critical note-taking with more suggestions.

If you’re using an e-book, you may be able to make notes electronically as you’re reading the text. See the section in our LibGuide on Studying with e-books for more information. If you have an online reading list, you can also make brief notes on this – our LibGuide page on What else can I do with my list? has details.

You might also consider using reference management software to keep details of your reading including all the bibliographic information. EndNote and Mendeley work with Word to create citations and bibliographies for you.

3. Know what to do if you can’t find all the details of a reference

bibliographic details screencast screencapIf you have a quote but don’t know where it came from, try typing it into Google. You may find it’s better to use a short phrase rather than the whole quote; try to find a grouping of words that is less common. If you have some details of the text, you could try looking at your reading list or searching the Library catalogue. You can also look back through your Library account to see the titles of books you’ve borrowed. If you have the author and title of a journal article or even just the title of the journal and a date it may be possible to find the complete reference in Summon or one of the Library’s databases. What you must never do is invent details, or include things in your assignment if you cannot be sure about the source. This may lead to accusations of academic misconduct.

For more help watch this brief video tutorial on how to find bibliographic details.

Need more help?

If you’re still confused, or you have a specific question about referencing that isn’t answered in our guide, you can always contact your Academic Liaison Librarian or the Study Advice team to discuss this in person. Just remember to do it in plenty of time – the day your assignment is due to be submitted is not ideal!