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Support for dissertations and research projects

A guide to resources and support for undertaking dissertations or research projects

What is different about dissertation research?

The research process for your dissertation requires a different approach from that you'll have used during your taught modules.

Rather than being guided to relevant sources by a lecturer, you’re responsible for finding, selecting, evaluating and managing all your research sources.

You'll be using many more sources than you'll have consulted for smaller pieces of assessed work, and perhaps different types of information from those you've used previously, so you need to think carefully about your approach to your information gathering and management activities.

Where should I start?

If you're unsure where to start, then some background reading should help you get underway.

Start by looking at broad themes and topics of interest, viewing sources like textbooks, subject dictionaries and encyclopaedias which examine larger fundamental concepts, before narrowing your search to look for specific research in your area of study.

If you find some really useful material, such as relevant articles or books, you can mine these for all sorts of other useful related sources. For example:

  • Has the author written additional material on the topic?
  • Does the work have useful keywords or subject terms you can use for further research?
  • Does the work have references or a bibliography you can use to explore related material?

What is a literature review?

A literature review summarises and analyses the literature you've found through your research. In a literature review, the literature itself is the subject of discussion. The aim of a literature review is to demonstrate that you’ve read, and have a good grasp of, the main published material concerning a particular topic or question in your field.

A literature review isn’t a straightforward summary of everything you’ve read on a topic. It’s an evaluative analysis of what’s been discovered in your field. The review should describe, summarise, evaluate and clarify this literature.

Research and Writing Skills for Dissertations and Projects is a UCL Moodle course available to all UCL students and looks at the skills associated with researching and writing an extended piece of work. Module 4 focuses on the literature review process.

Why are literature reviews important?

When academics and industry professionals conduct research, they usually publish the work in books, journal articles and conference proceedings. For the most part, this is the 'literature' you need to find and review. A literature review sets the scene for your work. It places your research in context and shows how it relates to and builds upon the work of others. It’s also your chance to tell people why your work matters, why it’s relevant, and how it contributes original research to your field.

Importantly, a literature review helps you find out how to do research. It shows which research methods have worked in the past and which ones haven’t. This can be a big help when planning your own research strategy.

What is a literature search?

For your dissertation, you’re likely to need to perform a literature search. A literature search is a well-thought-out, organised search and evaluation of literature available on a topic.

A well-structured literature search is an effective and efficient way to locate sound evidence on the subject you're researching. 'Literature' can include journal articles, newspaper articles, official publications, conference proceedings, archives, book chapters, etc.

View the literature searching page on this guide for further details about planning your search, common search techniques and developing a search strategy.

Should I conduct a ‘systematic review’?

Systematic reviews are a type of literature review that follow a very rigorous and systematic searching, screening and analysis process. You can find out more about the process on our guide to systematic reviews.

Usually a systematic review addresses a focused, structured research question to inform understanding on a particular topic and often to support evidence-based decision-making in that area. To do a full systematic review can be an extremely time-consuming process and requires a lot of resources, but you may want to incorporate some similar methodology, such as systematic approaches to literature searching or data analysis, without necessarily carrying out a full review. This can be considered to be a systematic style review, or a “light” systematic review.

Can I get help with researching my dissertation?

Your Subject Liaison Librarian or Site Library can provide support for your dissertation through their subject guides which offer guidance on accessing quality academic resources. Send them an email for personalised support or book a one-to-one appointment.