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Boost your research skills for your Built Environment dissertation

You will find out about:

  • How to be a strategic reader.
  • What is the peer review process?
  • How to read specialist sources.

1. The benefits of reading

This is a picture of books stacked in front of book shelves.Let's think about reading. 

It is a life long skill which we use every day. There are lots of reasons why we read:

  • necessity
  • relaxation or fun
  • wellbeing
  • to learn about the world
  • to find out how to navigate or complete a task

At university, reading is all about developing your understanding of your subject. It is about making connections between ideas and processes and understanding how a field has developed. 

Reading can also be very practical and technical for example reading to decipher a British Standard. To get the most out of your reading, we need to be active and engage with the information. This could be making notes or highlighting text or pulling apart articles into themes.

Be study kind!

Sometimes we are too tired to read and engage with the text. It is OK to take a break and come back to reading when you are refreshed. 

2. Be a strategic reader

Academic reading is an important part of the research process during your dissertation.

At first, the volume of content you need to read may seem like a daunting prospect, especially if you are new to your subject. Your tutors are aware of this so to help get you started on the research process, each module that you take has an online reading list, known as Reading List Online which we shorten to RLO!

This is a picture of a light bulb.                      Activity 1:  Use your dissertation reading list 

  • Sign into Blackboard. The link you need is handily provided below!

  • Go to your dissertation module site. 
  • Your module reading list is on your module homepage.
  • Click on the Module Reading List link and explore your reading list.

3. How to make sense of different sources of information

Before you get too far into the dissertation... reflect on what type of information you need to answer your research question.

  • What type of literature sources do you need e.g. original research or data?​
  • Do you need literature that professionals working in the field would use? 
  • Do you need secondary sources e.g. information that summarises topics or developments?​
  • Do you need technical, legal, regulatory or government information?​
  • Do you need information about recent advances in the field?

To make sure that we are all familiar with academic literature terms.

  • Academic journals are publications that bring together research papers and articles written by researchers from a particular field, subject or discipline. Think of these as magazines for academic researchers - each publication has a theme or title that helps researchers to identify where their research would fit best, with each issue focusing on a different sub-topic within this area.
  • A journal article is the individual paper, written by researchers, that report on the findings on research projects.

Let's build on the above and make sure that you know the specifics about the different sources of information we may need for our dissertation!

                             Activity 2: Know your terms!

You can find feedback on the quiz in Box 4. Answers in the Support section.

What is grey literature?
I have no idea!: 0 votes (0%)
It is literature that is harder to find and may not be published in mainstream ways.: 1 votes (100%)
It is anything on the internet.: 0 votes (0%)
It is older material.: 0 votes (0%)
Total Votes: 1
What is a review article?
It is a specific type of article that collects and analyses previous research on a specific topic, to create a overview of the current state of knowledge on that topic.: 0 votes (0%)
It is an journal article.: 0 votes (0%)
I am not too sure on this one!: 0 votes (0%)
It is an overview of all research published in a specific area.: 0 votes (0%)
Total Votes: 0
A conference paper is...
Based on a presentation delivered at a conference. They are frequently work-in-progress reports from a longer, incomplete piece of research. They can be published in journals or in books. They are often not subject to peer-review.: 0 votes (0%)
A journal article.: 0 votes (0%)
A promotional material marketing a conference.: 0 votes (0%)
I don't know!: 0 votes (0%)
Total Votes: 0
A trade magazine or publication is...
A publication that a person working in the specific profession would read on a regular basis.: 0 votes (0%)
A collection of journal articles about a specific subject.: 0 votes (0%)
Acollection of adverts with links to industry services.: 0 votes (0%)
I don't know!: 0 votes (0%)
Total Votes: 0

4. Why should I use journal articles?

If you still are unsure why you should use journal articles in your research...

Lets see if we can persuade you with this short quiz!

                             Activity 3: Answer the question below and you will receive feedback based upon your answers.

You will receive responses based on the tick boxes you have selected. The responses appear in the order in which you ticked the boxes.

Different types of articles

There are lots of different types of journal articles and it is useful to understand this and know what article type you are reading!  It can be difficult when you first begin working with journal literature to work out what type of article you are reading.

There are clues on the journal article to help you:

  • the article type may be mentioned in the article title.
  • there may be information under the abstract that lists what type of article it is.
  • there may be an article information or publication type section which has this information.

Where should I begin with journal articles?

Begin by reading review articles to help build up your knowledge and then move onto original research articles. Original research articles may be a little harder to read as they are written by experts within a field and assume a level of understanding that other researchers in this field have as standard.

5. What is the peer review process?

It is useful to understand what the peer review process is and why it is important.

Here, we are describing the peer review process in relation to academic publishing. 

If a journal is peer reviewed, articles are reviewed by peers (experts) within that field as part of the process for deciding if an article will be published in that journal. The peer reviewers may make recommendations for changes to be made to the article before it is accepted for publication. 

The peer review process is meant act as quality assurance for journal articles. However, with any process, there can be errors and sometimes even journals that use the peer review process will have to make corrections to articles or retractions.

Can Library Search help find peer review journals and articles?

That is a great question! Yes, Library Search does indeed include a peer review filter to help you narrow your search results and ensure you find peer reviewed content.

Is there anything I need to be aware of if I do this?

There is! If you use this filter, you will exclude publications that do not have a peer review process and this may exclude some publications aimed at professionals or trade magazines.

These publications will still have an editorial process but it will not be as rigorous as a peer review process. This does not mean you should disregard non peer reviewed material as you would be excluding some really relevant content. Instead, you make sure that you evaluate the content as you would for any other format of information!

This is a picture of a light bulb.                           Activity 2: Try this peer review filter exercise in Library Search. You can see how filters can help narrow your search

Step 2: Type - extreme weather - into the search box. Click on the magnifying glass or press return to run the search.

  • How many search results did you get?
  • On the 20th July 2022, Library Search returned 469,878 results.

Step 3: Now apply the peer review journals filters by selecting this filter in the Availability section.

  • How many results did you get when you applied this filter?
  • On the 20th July 2022, Library Search returned 246,621 results.

Step 4: Now narrow the results by choosing Articles in Content Type section. 

  • How many results did you get when you applied this filter?
  • On the 20th July 2022, Library Search returned 243,024 results.

You can see from completing this activity that Library Search filters like - peer review and articles - can help exclude information from your search results!

Using filters can help you feel more confident in the quality of the information you are using but you still need to evaluate the content and the claims made for yourself! You need to be a critical consumer of knowledge!

If you prefer to digest your information in a more visual way.

There is a really good chapter in this academic comic that covers and explains the peer review process. The book is related to science but the explanation will work and help you understand the process!

6. How to read journal articles and engage critically with the texts

A dissertation requires you to engage fully with lots of literature.

Here are a range of resources to help you understand how to read journal articles and engage critically with the texts.

This is a picture of a light bulb.                      Activity 3: Learn how to maximise your time and get help from experts!

Doing this now, may save you time when you are reading journal articles and making notes. Choose a resource to help you connect to the literature.

Take a break

Congratulations you have completed four sections! 

Time to take a break - maybe find a book on one of the curated reading lists to unwind with!