Advanced Research Methods: Secondary Sources
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Advanced Research Methods: Secondary Sources

This series of articles considers research methods one can use at MasterÂ’s level and beyond. I want to talk about the realities of doing an extended research project and to give you some practical advice based on personal experience. IÂ’m going to discuss some of the techniques I used in my PhD. My research was in architectural history, but IÂ’ll explain some of the techniques of historical research which you might consider using in your work. IÂ’ll also try to give you generic advice about research design and methodology.

This series of articles considers research methods one can use at Master’s level and beyond. I want to talk about the realities of doing an extended research project and to give you some practical advice based on personal experience. I’m going to discuss some of the techniques I used in my PhD. My research was in architectural history, but I’ll explain some of the techniques of historical research which you might consider using in your work. I’ll also try to give you generic advice about research design and methodology.

Secondary sources

To begin with I would like to give some tips on finding secondary sources.  Whenever we research a subject we have to know what has already been written about it, or we could simply be reinventing the wheel.  To identify key texts use resources like these:

•Module guides/handouts from your course of study

•Library catalogue

•Other university libraries

•British Library catalogue (www.bl.uk)

•Specialist library catalogues (e.g. www.bfi.org.uk/)

•Academic databases (e.g. www.jstor.org)

Start with a few keywords and see what comes up.  If you can’t find anything immediately, widen your search field by using a wider range of keywords.  This allows you to assess the current state of knowledge on your subject.

A dissertation or thesis must to include a literature review, which is a survey of the key works in your field.  Who are the key writers?   How has the subject been approached in the past?  Overall, your literature review should explain the patterns in the literature. Crucially, you have to say how your work differs, what is original about it?

You also need to consider where your subject is likely to have been discussed, i.e. which academic disciplines does it impinge upon?  I was investigating architecture so obviously books on architectural history were useful, but I also used books on geography, urban morphology and industrial or economic history.  Very often a research project will fall within several areas.  The term for that is interdisciplinary research. For example, if your subject is animation you can obviously use books on animation practice or history to help you, but film studies is a whole other academic discipline that touches on animation, so you could also use books in that field.  Depending on what you’re investigating you might be able to use books on politics, advertising, sociology, gender theory etc.  Try to avail yourself of work in other fields.

You need to identify specialist resources in your field.  One of the best resources for me was the Royal Institute of British Architects’ website, www.architecture.com.  It searches the catalogue of the British Architectural Library at Portland Place in London and the RIBA search rooms at the V&A.  You can use this to search for published books and articles, as well as archival material. 

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Comments (10)

I admire the contents and your achievements needed to explain this contents.Thank you for this valuable information.Well done!

Informative and educational. Thanks Sir for your insightful writings.

Ranked #1 in Architecture

Thanks Roberta and Abdel-moniem.

I like the article, since research is a hobby.... admiration for the PhD....!!!! well done.

Excellent resources, have used several sites you mention during my mentoring of my niece who graduated with 3 degrees and stayed on the dean's list in spite of her learning disabilities and now a teacher of children with disabilities! Voted!!!

This is what I call very useful information.

Great ideas that I'll definitely use! You really have to be both creative and analytical when doing research.

Another good article about research methods. I'll return later for my vote, thanks.

Thank you Michael for this research work. Voted up. Thank you for your evergreen and affectionate friendship and support.

Valuable post! Bravo Michael!

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