University of Chester

School of Computer Science, Mathematics and Business Computing

MSc Information Systems


Research Methods 1,
Professional Standards and Issues


Task 5


A literature search is a detailed and organised step by step search for all the material available on a certain topic. The commonly recognised stages of a literature search are listed below. Comment on each one of them identifying their importance in any research activity.

Decide on a search topic

“Research is a form of problem solving, and the first step in problem solving is always identifying the problem.  In other words, what question do you hope to answer with your research?” (Empire State College, State University of New York, 2012)

This is typically the topic at its broadest, the general level. It is important to choose a topic that will engage and hold the attention. The guiding principal is that we journey from the general towards the specific narrowing our focus of research with each iteration of the process. The focusing is achieved through the addition of concepts.

Text Box: Figure 1 the research processChoosing a research topic is important as it effects your time, and you do not want to waste that. You may consider the assignment of a topic an advantage, but most probably you will choose a topic that is of interest to you. It is the personalisation of the topic that increases its’ value.

It is important to have an end goal in mind when choosing the research topic.

Identifying the scope of the search topic

The key at this stage is one of management. Topics can become unwieldy and un-manageable if they are too broad or too narrow in scope. Scope can be considered as width or breadth, it is a broad hoop with which to ring a topics boundary. Scope is the application of concepts to limit a topic area.

Scoping and topic selection are key to building a solid foundation from which to carry out the research, it is probably a 60:40 split in importance for these two early stage variables.

Identifying the keywords to use while searching

It is important to identify the vocabulary and lexicon of the topic, as one reads generally on a topic it is useful to compose lists of words used in the description of the topic. It is inevitable that we will redefine and refocus our topics, most likely more than once, and these keyword lists will prove invaluable in your continued research. Current search systems support complex Boolean logic statements, allowing for a sophisticated resolution in granularity.

Consider what type of information you want

This is a simple exercise in information needs assessment; first, understand what information is needed then select the most appropriate information to fit the needs.

Think about where to locate the relevant information sources

sources of information are all around, having chosen our topic added conceptual refinements in scope, identified our keywords and understand the information we need to research we set about making choices in our sources of information. Informational sources have a value structure, in that a difficult to find, creditable, verified sources is more valuable than convenient un-verifiable source. Examples of information sources: friends, colleagues, peers, newspapers, blogs, journals, magazines, libraries and encyclopaedias.

Plan out the stages of the search (considering time and resources)

•          Select Topic

•          refine with concepts

•          identify keywords

•          select valuable sources

•          search

•          review

•          evidence

•          analyse

•          was the search successful?

•          Summarise findings

In the ideal, we would have limitless time and endless information sources; practically we are bound by deadlines and our ability to absorb and process the information we uncover, it is as always an issue of balance.

Carry out the searching

Be methodical and diligent, but above all enjoy it, this is where you really are panning for gold. For it is these nuggets of information, that will go one to assist in your knowledge development. Do not be daunted by the initial deluge of information and comment, the search is the journey and fine tuning is necessary for changes in course as you navigate through the search process. Consider the use of logic when stringing together search phrases, lexicological searches may provide un-expected relevant information.

Review your progress

It is very important to take the time to review your progress in a planned methodical manor. Research is a cyclical process and as such needs closure of the loop. Summarily record what has been learnt together with references for further research. Ask questions of your research to date:

·         am I finding valuable information?

·         is the information that I am finding relevant?

·         do I need to refine my searches?

Think of resources needed to obtain copies of the information

I think the two key resources for obtaining copies of information, are: time and ingenuity. As I mentioned earlier: information has many forms: a conversation, a book or a digital source. So each form of information has its’ own demands and technical challenges in obtaining a copy. One could record a conversation, buy a book and select, copy and paste a digital source.

Read, evaluate, reflect, and absorb

This is the core to successful research; having spent time developing a framework implementing it through searches, it is time to enjoy the fruits of our labour. This is the opportunity for real knowledge development, we need to consume our pertinent information, measure it, contextualise it and learn from it. We may if you choose add a further refinement of testing our new gained knowledge.

Consider if suitable and useful information has been found

Because our research is a planned, methodical activity; we have a suitable framework for the measurement of information value. It is the development of this framework that is important in the simplification of our information evaluation. The information we seek has criteria that it needs to meet, this is done before we carry out any research activity, so that we can rationally and consistently evaluate the outcomes.

Summarize your findings

This is the final objective of your research, it is here that we present the emerging, or discuss the general structure of our topic. We point out the similarities or highlight the differences in the field; we can also present trends and theories. It is also in this stage that we identify further questions for research.