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Boost your research skills for your Built Environment dissertation

You will find out about:

  • The best piece of advice we could give about choosing your dissertation topic.
  • Where and how to find inspiration.

1. The best piece of advice we could give about choosing a dissertation topic

Choose a research area that you are enthused about!

This is the best piece of advice when choosing a research topic. You will need to research, read, evaluate and write on this topic. 

You may be writing 10,000 - 12,000 words on your topic! This figure is here to give you an indication of the volume of words you may be working with! Always check your dissertation brief for specific details!

If you choose a topic that you are not keen on or only have a passing interest in... it will be difficult to sustain the energy needed to read, research and write about this! It may even be difficult to get to the dissertation word count!

It is important that you choose a topic that you have an interest in whether its:

  • self healing concrete (of which we are quite interested in!)
  • dealing with endangered wildlife on construction sites
  • heat pumps
  • low impact housing...

...choose something you are passionate about!

2. Use your professional bodies as inspiration sources!

This is a picture of books and book shelves.

See the bigger picture!

You could head to books, course notes, lecture or seminar content. All good sources! However, what about checking out what is topical with your professional bodies or being discussed in journals and professional publications?

Professional bodies, organisations and websites are incredibly useful sources of information! The information will be tailored to your profession and can indicate key areas of interest, key issues and hot topics!  These publications and websites are rich sources of data!

Take a look around the organisations website today to see what is happening in your industry. Try the news, research, policy or campaign sections as well as the social media channels to find out what is key at this time to your organisation!

Here are a range of such organisations!

There are no descriptions with the links as the organisation name tends to explain the remit or interest of the organisation.

                             Activity 1: Choose and visit one of the professional bodies websites to find out what is key to your profession.

  • You could visit the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) website and see what they are putting out on their social media.
  • Scroll down the page to see the news section and read relevant reports or research. Below you can see an example of what is current with CIOB by looking in the organisations research section.

3. Find inspiration from the literature

You may have already run a few searches for information related to your dissertation.

From those search results, choose a couple of resources to read. We recommend you read around before confirming your dissertation topic to make sure you are still interested in the topic and understand the literature you are working with.

Depending on your level of subject knowledge, you could choose:

  • relevant section of a textbook.
  • specialist book.
  • journal review article.
  • original research paper.
  • or there may be another resource type in your search results that is relevant.


A journal review article on a subject is particularly useful at this point as it will give you a snapshot of what is happening in this field of research. 

If after your initial reading... you are still interested in your dissertation topic that is a good sign! If you are not, it's a sign to find a new subject!

Here are few sources of information we found when running our initial search about self healing materials or concrete.

4. Check out what has gone before you in previous dissertations!

You can search for dissertations using Library Search.

All you need to do is run a search and then apply one of the Content Type filters to narrow your results to Dissertations and Theses.

There are two relevant filters. The first is Hallam Dissertations: these are print or online dissertations by undergraduate and taught postgraduate students on Sheffield Hallam courses. Our print dissertation collection is very small and not representative of all courses, departments and levels of study. The collection is there to be used as examples of this type of writing.

The second filter is Dissertations/ Theses: this will be all available dissertations and thesis- including the aforementioned ones from Sheffield Hallam- but will also include dissertations from other universities and high-level theses for doctoral or research degrees.

Always make sure you check the degree level of the dissertation or these you are viewing as they can range from Undergraduate to PhD doctoral these.

                             Activity 2: Run a search in Library search and find a relevant online or print dissertation.

You can either run the search in Library Search or you can search a dissertation database.

Take a break

Congratulations you have completed two sections! 

Time to take a break - maybe time to take a drink - how about water or your preferred beverage! Take a look here to find out how beneficial water is for you!