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Business (HE): Research report / Dissertation

Research help

This guide is intended to help you as you plan your research right through to your final submission.  
It covers all stages from choosing a topic, literature searching, writing your literature review, keeping track of your research.
For general help with Study Skills, click on the Study Skills tab at the top of the page.

Writing your research report / dissertation

If you know the area you are interested in, revisit some of your textbooks. Many contain case studies or discussion questions that you can use to get ideas.  For example, Mullins Management and Organisational Behaviour includes case studies and discussion questions; Johnson's Exploring Strategy includes case studies from businesses, and key readings. The most recent marketing books will look at recent trends - for example, see Dibb's Marketing which includes a Topical Insights talking point.

Find out what the current issues are by browsing through our magazines in the Library such as Winning Edge for marketing, or Travel Trade Gazette for tourism.  Online, you can find very recent articles by restricting your search in Discover to very current information, or limit your results to Trade Magazines which tend to have more news and commentary.  

Internet searches are very useful to identify key topics in the news and reported in online trade magazines. Keep an eye on the CIPD website if you are interested in HR, and sign up to email alerts from their organisation. Most newspapers have a business section such as the Guardian or the Financial Times

Once you've decided on a topic, you should start doing some preliminary research to get an idea of what information is available.  Think about the type of information you need - this will direct the type of search you need to do. 

For scholarly articles which apply theory to primary research, use Discover.  You will need to make decisions on how recent your research needs to be, bearing in mind that there may be older pieces of research that might still be useful.  You can also narrow by keywords, if you want to specify a company or a particular issue such as "job satisfaction" or "online marketing".  You will also need to think about alternative terms - create strings of related terms such as "online marketing" OR "internet marketing" OR "e-commerce" OR "e-business" to make sure you pick up on all the articles in your area. After running your search, click on Academic Journals in the Source Types list to restrict your search.

To find articles or commentary from the industry itself, look at serious magazines such as Marketing Week or Forbes. Select Trade Magazines in the Source Types list. These are useful for the latest news, trends, profiles of key people in the industry, and career information.

To find industry reports  use  Business Search Interface.  Click on Industry Profiles and search in the box or browse. It's usually best to select the By Title, Subject & Description when searching.  Use terms such as Mobile Phones, or Retail Banking. Reports can be looking at one country or may be global in outlook. These include lots of really useful information such as market analysis, financial data for the industry over 5 years, customer data, market segmentation, outlook with predictions for five years into the future. Some include a Five Forces Analysis, leading companies, and country data.

To find Company Profiles, from Business Search Interface, click on Company Profiles and type the name of your company in the box - for example Apple.   These reports include information on the products and services, top competitors, and a SWOT Analysis.

For Statistics, use the National (government) statistics which are available online from the ONS National Statistics pages. For other useful statistics sites, including regional, local authority or ward, click here

For Country Information, check Business Searching Interface.  Click on Country Reports for geographical, political, economic, corporate, & environmental information - click here to view the report for Ghana

If you are interested in a topic that is changing fast, it can be useful to set up emails or follow an organisation on Twitter to get the latest information.  Click on the 'Keeping up-to-date' tab for more information and some suggestions. 

Finding the right keywords


Find 2 or 3 good articles in Discover and check them in Emerald. Emerald gives additional information such as the number of times cited and the number of times downloaded which can tell you if it is considered to be an important article. Emerald also gives a list of the references in the article, which can help you read more widely. Click on the title of the article and click on the link to References. Here you will get a full list which you can follow up if anything looks relevant.

Emerald also has a brilliant feature of linking your article to any new articles that cite it. Click on the link Cited By to see more recent articles. You may not be able to link to them directly, but you can use the A-Z journals list to see if we have access to them. This lists all the journals you have access to with the links to access them online.

However, as your research will focus on a very specialised area, you may find that not all information is available in the library. If you find an article on Google Scholar first check if it is available in the library. Find the name of the journal that the article is published in. Go to our A-Z list of journal titles and type in the journal name. If we do have that journal you will see a link that you can click on to browse the volumes.

If you can't find the journal, or if you find a book mentioned on a website or Amazon, you may be able to order it on Inter-Library Loan. Click on our Moodle ILL page hereand fill in the form.

Set up Google Scholar links


A literature review is a survey of all the significant research that has been published on your topic.  You can use it to identify current issues or problems that you would like to research further, and show that you understand the background to your topic.  It is also useful to read how other researchers have carried out their research - how they gathered primary research, their methods of analysis, any problems they encountered - as well as what their findings were. You can see how theories have been applied to real life situations, and perhaps decide to use similar methodologies or approaches in your own research. 

Remember that you are not expected to read everything that has ever been published on your topic.  Read selectively, and only discuss the research that directly applies to your topic or that contributes to your understanding.  You may want to narrow your research by:

  • Date:  does the article report on recent research?  You may decide to focus on articles that have been published in the last 5 years, unless there are older key texts in your field
  • Recommended texts: has the article or author been mentioned by your supervisor, or has it been cited by other authors in their own research (check if an article has been cited by using Google Scholar or Emerald)
  • Relevance:  does the article match more than one of your keywords?
  • Location: do you want to only read research published in the UK?
  • Authority: you should ensure that you review mainly at scholarly information rather than websites or news articles. 

You will not have time to read every article that you find in a database search fully to select which articles to review.  Get used to scanning articles or reading just the abstract to decide if it is relevant.

Finally, remember that a Literature Review is not a summary of every article.  Once you have selected the best articles for your review, read through them carefully and identify the sections that are relevant. When you are writing your review, use sub-headings to identify themes, and use the sections of the articles you have identified as evidence in your discussion - noting where authors agree or disagree on a topic, where findings differ, and linking them to form an argument. There is a good discussion on how to write a literature review in the books listed below which include examples and ideas to organise your approach. 

There are many tools to help you organise your work.  You can save references in Word which can be easily imported as citations or into bibliographies. You can create profiles in Discover, EBSCO databases and Emerald to save items to view later, and export citations.  If you have a large number of articles, websites and book records to keep track of, we recommend you start using referencing software.  Using something like Menderley will allow you to create your own online library, where you can store and manage everything you want to keep in one place, saving you time.  Referencing software allows you to:

  • Collect, store and manage references in folders
  • Manage via a web account which is accessible via any device linked to the Internet
  • Easily cite references and create bibliographies in a range of reference styles
  • Link directly to the full-text or PDF of the document. 
  • Add personal notes or highlight text

Read the guide below for more information and guides on setting up Referencing management software. 


Before carrying out primary research, there are a number of decisions you need to take.

  • What is your research methodology and why are you choosing it?  For an explanation of the research onion, and how your research approach will affect your project, see Chapter 5 of Doing Research in Business and Management. 
  • Think about sampling.  Read chapter 6 of Doing research in Business and Management to understand the importance of how you will actually collect your data. 
  • For practical help on gathering data using questionnaires, interviews or observation, read sections 6.3, 6.4 and 6.5.  You can also look at Doing Your research project which guides you through designing and administering surveys (chapter 10), interviews (chapter 11) and observation (chapter 13). 
  • Make sure you are gathering information ethically. Most research books will include a chapter on research ethics, or for more information you can read the Student's Guide to Research Ethics linked below.