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Boost your research skills for your Built Environment dissertation

You will find out about:

  • Why we need to make a plan.
  • Information about the search cycle.
  • The range of information you need to consider.
  • The differences in literature types.
  • How to set up Saved Searches in Library Search.

1. Make a plan

You need a plan! 

Trust your librarians and teaching team on this one! 

                             Activity 1: Answer the poll!

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

Tell us, why do you need a plan for researching for our dissertation?
It will make the process feel more manageable and achievable.: 1 votes (100%)
To maximise the time we have!: 0 votes (0%)
To be able to cope if anything goes wrong.: 0 votes (0%)
We don't need a plan, I can find a few sources, ask a few questions and connect the information! All will be fine!: 0 votes (0%)
You can break down you time into sections and plan how long you need for each time.: 0 votes (0%)
You are less likely to caught out by anything unexpected.: 0 votes (0%)
No need to worry! I can research without a plan as there is lots of information available using popular search engines.: 0 votes (0%)
Total Votes: 1

How to begin making a plan

There is an fantastic resource called Sage Research Methods Books and Reference which has lots of useful content but one of the tools we really like is the Project Planner!

The Project Planner is in the Tools section of the resource and takes you through planning a research project from beginning to end! Take a look at it but if you use it ... you still need to make sure that you are following your dissertation brief.

Sage Research can also help in more ways! For example, do you need to know your ground theory from your random sampling?

You can also use the resource to look up research terms and find out all about them with definitions and research related books. Prefer videos or podcasts? The resources has research information available in video and podcast formats!

2. Does your dissertation include a literature review?

Many dissertations include an element of a literature review.

This guide support undergraduate and MSc dissertations / projects. The dissertation brief for the undergraduate and the MSc programme will have some common elements but will also have unique features.

Before you begin, check if you are required to write a literature review and in what depth. For example, you may be required to write a more detailed literature review at MSc level than you are required to as an Undergraduate student. If you are in any doubt... check before you begin!

3. The search cycle

Lets think about our search for information as as search cycle.

Researching for information has different steps and we may need to refine a search before you find the information you need. Using the search cycle approach is useful for helping keep a logical and methodical approach to searching for information.

You may find it easier to picture it as a circle and the video here presents the idea visually.

                             Activity 2: Watch the search cycle video

4. Break the process into steps!

You can break researching your topic into 3 steps

  • Break down topic into key concepts and identify keywords.
  • Identify and search key sources, refine your keywords and filter results.
  • Citation searching with the databases.
At each stage you need to keep a record of the information you need to cite and reference.
To help give you some guidance, we have put together a plan in the My research approach document.
Take a look to see how we would approach searching step by step.
If this approach does not suit your way of working, it is OK to use an alternative approach as long as you
have a plan.

5.Think about what type of literature you need!

Reflect on what type of literature you need to answer your research question.

You could draw on:​

Textbooks, industry reports, financial information, technical reports, professional bodies reports, journal articles, conference proceedings, raw data, contracts, statistical data, maps, datasets, newspapers or trade publications and more​.

 All available within the Library collections using Library Search, the specialist database and sources listed on your subject guide.

6. Figure out your search terms!

Before you search you need to figure out what combination of search terms are going to find the information you need.

This is a visual representation of how you can map out search terms and identify alternative words.

You can see that we have split the research topic into two areas and then added in alternative words.

We use alternative words to ensure that we find as much information as possible. Alternative words also ensure we find all the different ways researchers and writers can refer to a similar topics.

Below you can find two versions of the above image.

There is a version used in this box and a blank version for you to complete using your own research topic.

7. Decide how to keep up to date with literature

Imagine this scenario*

Imagine if today, you fell over in the street and needed medical help. What would your reaction be if instead of an ambulance, two historical medics from a different historical period arrived to treat you?

You may be surprised by the treatment options offered as they are unlikely to be current or found in NHS clinical pathways, guidance or listed on NHS Choices. Would you want to be treated by historical medics?  We think you would not!

We keep up to date with literature to make sure:

  • our knowledge is current.
  • we are not relying on superseded information.
  • we are aware of developments in your field.
  • you maintain the continuous professional development requirement of your career.

*The inspiration for this idea comes from the wonderful BBC series - Horrible Histories - which included a recurring sketch related to historical paramedics from many historical periods treating people in modern times.

8. How to create saved searches in Library Search

Let's put some of this knowledge into practice!

This is a picture of a light bulb.                Activity 3: Set up a Saved Search related to your literature review in Library Search.

  • It its likely that you may need to refine your search before you set up your saved search.
  • Experiment with search terms and filters.
  • Once you are happy with the search and it is returning relevant information then save the search.
  • You can delete searches at any time.
  • You receive the results as an email once a week with items that have been added to Library Search that match your search criteria.

9. Move beyond the library collections

Sometimes a dissertation topic may require you to move beyond the library resources.

It may seem an unusual thing for a library guide to suggest but its a valid practice for research to make sure you are finding the complete picture.

You may need alternative sources to triangulate, confirm or disagree with what you are finding in academic or professional publications. But... you need to protect your academic credibility and you need to evaluate the content and make sure it is appropriate!

You may need to draw on:

  • grey literature. 
  • government reports.
  • reports by think tanks or independent organisations.

You are not likely to find this material in the library collections and you may need to use any popular search engine to find this.

Take a break!

Congratulations you have completed four sections! 

Time to take a break - maybe take a look at the BFI Player!  Remember to come back to the guide though, we still have work to do!