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Early years (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

Find out what the current issues are by browsing through our magazines in the Library such as Nursery World for government policy and features on new practices and projects, or Practical Pre-School for news and topical reports which you may decide to investigate further.  Online, you can find very recent articles by restricting your search in Discover to very current information, or limit your results to Trade (Practitioner) Magazines which tend to have more news and commentary. You can sign up to a weekly email from Childlink for the latest news and research, or you can simply browse the latest news, documents and research on Childlink's home page. 

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, Brock's Perspectives on Play includes case studies and reflective questions which you may want to follow up in more detail; Daly's Early Years Management in Practice includes case studies and 'think it over' questions. Find recent editions of books on your topic which will discuss the latest research and debates.   Most textbooks include key articles at the end of each chapter - it might be worth reading a few of these to get ideas. 

Once you have identified a topic, log on to Discover and run some basic searches to see how much research is available on your topic. This will help you narrow down your ideas and start working out some possible research questions.  For more advice on how to devise a research question, the following textbooks may be helpful:  

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 studies that might still be useful.  You can also narrow by keywords, where possible using specialised terminology such as "heuristic play" or an issue such as "per pupil funding".  You will also need to think about alternative terms - create strings of related terms such as "preschool" OR "early childhood".  Use official terms if possible, and if a term is shortened to its initials, use both versions - for example "early childhood education and care" OR "ECEC"  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 practitioner magazines such as Nursery World and Practical Pre-school in the library - or search their websites.  Use the Childlink database and use the search box to find relevant articles.  In Discover, select both Magazines and Trade Publications in the Source Types list - however, be aware that many of the results may refer to US research. Practitioner resources are useful for the latest news, trends, profiles of key people in the industry, and career information.  Also keep an eye on the key government departments - Ofsted, Department of Education, and the Standards and Testing Agency (for information on the EYFS). 

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. 

Find 2 or 3 good articles in Discover and check them in Google Scholar.  (For more information on Google Scholar, go to the Articles & Journal tab at the top of this page, and click on the Google Scholar tab).  Find your article, and click on the link to 'related articles' to find articles on a similar topic, or click on the title of the article to view the references. Google Scholar 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 check by setting up Library Links (see the video below) which will tell you if the article is available in our online library.   You can also check by logging in to our A-Z list of journal titles and typing in the journal name. If we do have that journal you will see a link that you can click on to browse the volumes, and find your article.

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 properly read every article that you find in a database search 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

For links and guidance, click on the tab on Referencing management software. 


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