Researching Your Project

About


No matter what type of project you undertake, you will be required to find and read the relevant information sources on your topic (you may find this is referred to as “the literature”). The literature will help you narrow down your project, inform your research question(s) and decide on your methods. The literature is also important in establishing your ideas, arguments, outcomes, recommendations etc., that may form part of your work. For some projects, you may be required to write a separate literature review chapter, as well as incorporating information sources throughout your work. If you are unsure, check your module handbook, with your school, or with your project supervisor.

 

What is “the literature” and why is it important?


The literature usually refers to:

  • Key published works such as academic journal articles and books that inform the understanding of your topic

  • Other discipline appropriate sources e.g. performances, business reports, newspapers, broadcasts, conference proceedings, professional guidelines and protocols, data and statistics

  • Although it is less common to use primary research in the initial scoping of your project, sometimes it might be appropriate to use information such as personal correspondence (e.g. emails) or initial user testing (e.g. focus groups). Always check with your supervisor

It is important as it:

  • Helps you develop an in-depth understanding of your topic and the range of issues that may inform your project

  • Provides background material to identify gaps, weaknesses, problems or controversies that need to be addressed/your research will address

  • Identifies key concepts, theories, definitions, or models that will be useful in helping you understand the information you discover in your investigation

  • Contextualises your own research and shows how your research relates to what has already been written and researched

  • Provides a framework to analyse and make sense of primary evidence

  • Provides supporting evidence for the arguments you want to make

  • Convinces the reader that your research questions are significant, important and interesting, and will make a contribution to the area being investigated

 

Searching For Literature


Using appropriate and relevant information sources will help to strengthen the quality of your final year project. You need to demonstrate that you have read widely around your topic and have identified the key research that has been carried out in your area.

To help guide your searches, you might find it useful to write a list of questions for your topic. This can help you see the bigger picture and broaden your understanding of your research area.


  1. Write your topic or question at the top of the page. It does not matter if you only have a broad topic or a very specific question at this point

  2. Write down as many sub-questions as you can think of that might help you to answer your bigger question or to think about related areas you will need to find information about. Think about who?, what?, where?, when?, why?, how?, so what?, what if?

  3. You will likely not know the answers to these questions. This is a good thing at this point. This strategy is broadening your research and enabling more critical and creative thinking

For example:


Initial question:

  • To what extent does art therapy improve the lives of people living with dementia?

Sub questions:

  • What is art therapy? Does it have one definition or several?
  • Who delivers art therapy?
  • What are the aims of art therapy?
  • What difficulties do people with dementia face?
  • What would improvement look like?
  • How can I test how far art therapy can help? Who has researched this and with what methods?
  • Does it depend on gender?
  • Does it only work in the early stages of dementia?
  • Why art therapy over other therapies?

This can help you recognise whether the question you currently have is too broad or narrow. Once you embark on your reading, you should find ways to refine your research question.


Library Search

Searching the Library catalogue is a good starting point for finding a wide range of academic information on your topic.


Searching databases

Databases contain subject-specific information, usually journal articles, but also specialist information, such as law reports or market research reports. Depending on your project or subject area, you may have to use more than one database. To find a list of databases in your subject area, go to our subject resources page and select the relevant subject from the list.

To ensure that you find the most relevant information, including journal articles, you need to carry out a comprehensive search in databases that are relevant to your subject area.

Check our guidance on searching for information if you need more help and advice.


Citation searching

Citation searching (or cited reference searching) allows you to follow the development of an idea, or theory, through the literature. It enables you to:


  • Find out whether articles have been cited (and used) by other authors

  • Discover references to a particular author

  • Find more recent papers on the same or similar subject

  • Discover how a known idea or innovation has been confirmed, applied, improved, extended, or corrected

  • Ensure that your literature review is comprehensive

Several databases allow you to carry out cited reference searching - providing you with a list of articles that cite the article you are interested in. These include Web of Science (covering the citation indices for science, social science and arts and humanities), Google Scholar and the OvidSP databases.

While cited reference searching can be a useful complement to your database search, be wary of depending on it too heavily; if you only look at the papers everyone else has cited, it may distort your findings.


Special Collections and archives at Leeds and beyond

Archives can provide a rich set of resources to use in your research. We have a number of archives right here on campus that provide a rich collection of rare books, manuscripts, textiles and business information:

  • Special collections (Brotherton Library): home of hundreds of thousands of rare books, manuscripts, archives and art

  • Feminist Archive North (Brotherton Library): through original source material, find out where feminist ideas began and how feminist politics were put into practice

  • ULITA (Maurice Keyworth Building): an archive on international textiles, the purpose of which is to collect, preserve and document textiles and related items from many of the textile producing areas of the world

  • Marks and Spencer Archive: the collection contains over 71,000 items, dating from 1884 to the present day and comprises not only written, photographic and digital records of the company’s development, but also artefacts which represent key aspects of the its activities

You can of course make use of archives outside of Leeds. You can use The National Archives' Discovery search to look for relevant material. The Library have created a useful guide on how to use archives for research.


What if there is limited literature on my topic?

If your project is very contemporary, requires information that is not formally published, or it has not been researched widely, you may find it difficult to find appropriate sources. We recommend you:

  • Think more broadly about your topic and what type of information will help you to build up an understanding of the issues that impact your project – writing a list of sub-questions can help move your search forward

  • If you are looking for commercial information, consider contacting relevant businesses or professional services and searching for trade publications

  • Speak to your supervisor and/or a Learning Advisor in the Library, who may be able to recommend places to find relevant information
 

Critically Reading The Literature


Reading Critically

You need to engage critically with the literature. Reading critically is about questioning the arguments, ideas and evidence presented; comparing it with other sources and any research data you have collated yourself. You need to evaluate that evidence, synthesise the various arguments and ideas and start to develop your own ideas and insights.


Video - Why is it important for students to critically read their literature review sources?


If you are unsure about what critical thinking is, please look at our critical thinking guide which introduces you to a model for critical thinking.

When reading a text, you need to start with some descriptive questions that will give you a general overview of what the text is about. You then need to ask more analytical and evaluative questions to help you engage critically with what you are reading. This list of questions will help you get started. This is not a comprehensive list and you may need to adapt or add your own questions for your subject.

There are a number of critical questions you may want to ask yourself when reading texts:

Description
Who is the author? What is the aim of the text? When was the research undertaken?
What are the author’s main arguments? What conclusions have they reached?

Analysis
Are there any assumptions being made? Is their argument based on evidence? What kind of evidence have they used? Is it reliable and relevant?
Have different perspectives been considered? Have they supported their arguments using a number of different sources? What methodology has the author used to reach their conclusions? Is it appropriate? Are there weaknesses to their approach?

Evaluation
Does the evidence really support the conclusions reached? Do you think this evidence is strong enough to support their argument? Why it is significant?
Do you agree with what you have read? How does it relate to other things you have read? How does this compare to what is already known?
What are the implications? How does it relate to your research project?
 

Critical Appraisal


If you are reading literature within the field of Medicine and Health, you may be expected to critically appraise it. Critical appraisal is the process of systematically examining scientific literature to assess its trustworthiness and reliability. If you have found an article that appears to answer a clinical question, how do you know that its findings are reliable?

Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP), 2018.

The Critical Appraisal Skills Programme has developed a series of checklists that help you to critically appraise different types of study design, e.g. randomised controlled trials and systematic reviews. Alternatively, refer to the critical appraisal guidance that you have been given by your school.

 

Reading Strategies


You will probably find that you have a lot of material to read through for your research project, which can feel overwhelming. There are different strategies you can use to help you to make your reading more efficient and to decide which sources are relevant to your project.


An initial evaluation

For all sources, conduct an initial evaluation to help you decide if it is worth reading. Questions to ask might include: What is this source about and is it relevant?; is this written by an academic or other type of expert or specialist?; what is the date of publication and does that matter?

Skimming:

  • Speed = Fast

  • This technique can be used to extract the main ideas. If you are reading an article, read the abstract first to help you decide whether it is worth reading further. If there is no abstract, read the introduction and conclusion. If it is a book, you could skim through the table of contents to help you decide if it is relevant

Close reading:

  • Speed = Slow

  • This technique is used on the texts you select as highly relevant. You should be carrying out focused, concentrated reading - analysing, evaluating and questioning the text. You will probably need to read these articles more than once

  • If you are reading your own copy of a text, don’t just underline important sections, add meaningful annotations

 

Grouping your reading into different areas


When you begin the process of reading your texts, you may want to start grouping them together based on their similarities and connections. For example, you may want to start grouping together all those texts that:

  • Support a similar argument

  • Were published at a certain time

  • Discuss certain themes

  • Have similar methodologies, e.g. qualitative vs. quantitative

Grouping your reading together can also help you to start thinking about how you are going to structure your literature review or the main chapters of your project.

Imagine you are undertaking a project on the impact of second homes on local communities. You could start to group your reading into the following themes.

Themes Relevant references
Positive effects on the local community Gallent et al. (2004), Hall & Muller (2004), Kalternborn et al. (2009)
Negative effects on the local community Paris (2009), Norris et al. (2010), Bieger (2007)
Social impact and community interactions Norris & Winston (2009), Ball (2005), Hall & Muller (2004), Commission for Rural Communities (2006)
Implications of new build homes Wallace et al. (2005), Hall & Miller (2004)
Pressure on local housing markets Hall & Muller (2004), Gallent & Tewdwr-Jones (2001), Paris (2009)

There are a number of different note-taking methods that can help you categorise your reading. You could write keywords in the margins or use a note card system, where details of each reference can be added to a note card and filed under keywords. Alternatively, you may want to use reference management software, e.g. Endnote, to help manage your references. In EndNote, you can add notes to each reference to help you categorise your texts into relevant areas. For guidance on using EndNote to store your references, please see Organising Information in the Managing Your Project section.

Many students find it difficult to take the leap from reading for their dissertation to writing. Not only can this process of categorising and grouping help to structure your project and/or literature review (depending on the nature of your project); it can also help you to take that sometimes daunting step of putting pen to paper.

The Literature Review: A step by step guide by Ridley, 2008.

 

Research Methodology And Methods


All projects require you to research the literature as part of your project, and some projects will be entirely literature-based. However, you will need to become familiar with the different methodologies and methods used to undertake research in your subject discipline. It is important that you discuss and seek guidance from your supervisor as to what methods you should use to answer your research question.


What is the difference between methodology and methods?

Put simply, the methodology is the general approach you will take to answering your research question such as whether you will use a quantitative or qualitative approach. It is the concepts and theories that underpin the methods you are using.

The methods are the specific techniques or processes you will use to undertake your research such as interviews, examination of the literature, questionnaires etc. For example:

Methodology:

  • Ethnography: A qualitative approach which studies how people live and make sense of their lives, including how they interact and behave within particular settings

Methods:

  • Participant observation

  • Writing field notes

  • Conducting interviews

Choosing your method

Decide on your research question and what you want to find out before deciding on the research methods to use. Choose an appropriate methodology for the purpose of the project:

  • Quantitative methods, such as experiments or questionnaires, are appropriate for collecting measurable data to analyse, and are usually used to test a hypothesis or theory or make generalisations

  • Qualitative methods, such as interviews or focus groups, are appropriate for trying to understand feelings, opinions and experiences, and consider the underlying reasons and meanings

  • Literature-based methods can be used to analyse and evaluate research already undertaken, to answer a research question. You might also draw from a rich array of primary sources e.g. diaries, photographs, paintings, notebooks etc.

You might use a mixed-method approach, particularly if just a quantitative method doesn’t provide enough rich data.

Evaluating past research papers and considering what methods have been used for similar investigations can be really useful.

Here are some examples to illustrate:

What are you researching? What methodology? What methods?
Experience of parents of people with anorexia nervosa (Psychology) Qualitative: Phenomenological Semi-structured interviews and interpretative phenomenological analysis with five parents to generate themes
The effect of antioxidants on lipid stability of frozen-stored meat products (Food science) Quantitative: Experimental Buckwheat hull extract was used to enrich fried meatballs made from ground pork. During 180-d storage of meat products, lipid oxidation (peroxide and 2-thiobarbituric acid reactive substances [TBARS] value) was periodically monitored
Quantum effects in biology (Physics and Astronomy) Literature-based A review of theoretical and experimental work that has aided understanding of quantum effects in Biology. Using this as a ground for discussion regarding their biological relevance
Sporting masculinities and power relations within sport (Sociology and Social Policy) Mixed: Literature-based and qualitative Semi-structured interview with a professional footballer and analysis of five professional sportsmen’s autobiographies
Perceptions of Fairness and Satisfaction in Lawyer–Client Interactions Among Young Offenders in Hong Kong (Law) Mixed: qualitative and quantitative A survey of 168 young offenders aged between 14 and 21 years. Supplementary interviews with 30 young defendants

Writing up your methods section

This will depend on your individual project and particular discipline. Not all projects require you to include a separate methodology section or an extensive explanation of methods used, check with your supervisor if you are unsure. However, if you do, as a general guide you should include:

  • A description of the specific methodology and methods used. This will include a description of your materials/equipment, the procedures that were followed and how the data was collected

  • An explanation and justification of why, given your available resources, this was the most appropriate approach to answer your research question

  • Explanation of how you processed, interpreted and analysed that data

  • Limitations to your methods, such as time, access or expense

Be as specific as possible. Anyone reading your methods section should be able to replicate your research.