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Public Services (HE): Dissertation help

Dissertation Research

This guide is intended to help you as you plan your research right through to your final submission.
 
For general help with Study Skills, click on our guide to books and online resources here.

Writing your dissertation

Finding a Topic

Find out what the current issues are by browsing through our magazines in the library (such as Police Professional or Fire) or restricting your search in Discover to very current information.  

The home page of Emerald lists the top requested articles of the week which might give you some ideas. Internet searches are very useful to identify key topics in the news and reported in online professional magazines. 

First Steps

The library catalogue is the best starting point to find books in your area of interest, and identify the key issues and ideas in your area of interest.  You can also search the contents of e-books by linking to the ebook supplier site: either Dawsons or MyiLibrary. click on both links and search using the Advanced option to do a Full Text search. 

Search Discover for scholarly articles, or find news reports, interviews and letters which report on public opinion. Official reports are often available online from the websites of organisations and government - look for the domain name gov.uk.

Find two or three good articles and search for them in Google Scholar.  This gives you links to more recent articles that have cited your article in their research.

Once you know exactly which topics you are interested in, start with textbooks and hand-outs to read as much as you can on your subject. These provide a general overview of your topic and help you identify the key ideas and issues you need to know.

Break down your dissertation statement into sections - mind maps may help organise your thoughts.   Identify the knowledge that you are lacking – “Know what you don’t know”.

Click here to access our Interactive Tutorial called Skills4Study for more exercises and ideas on critical thinking, reading and note-taking.

These 5 steps will help you to plan your search strategy when looking for information to support your assignment. 

Step 1: Identify the main ideas or concepts in your dissertation. 

'The privatisation of prisons has not been effective in reducing re-offending."

Concepts:  Prisons AND Privatisation AND Re-offending

Step 2: Identify keywords. You can direct library databases to look for your keywords in the title, abstract, keywords and subject headings of an article, which means that your results are more relevant than if you were searching for your terms anywhere in the full text.  To get the best results, you need to find the best terms possible.  Spend a bit of time identifying synonyms or related terms that best describe your topic. Think of the broader topic - eg New Public Management (NPM), government policy on crime, issues around punishment, public sector funding -and narrower or related concepts - eg. prisoner education, violence in prisons, overcrowding. 

Synonyms / Related Terms: Re-offending OR recividism.  Rehabilitation.  Offender management.   

Step 3: Decide which database to use.  We recommend that you use both Discover and Emerald.  Discover is a wide search which will include a number of legal and criminology journals.  Emerald is good for additional features, such as narrowing down by publication type.  If your topic is quite legal, look at Westlaw and LexisLibrary, which is good for criminology.  

Step 4: Use the Advanced Search function. This allows you to choose which fields to search for your results. For Emerald, the search defaults to a full-text search so it is usually better to click on Advanced Search and search within the abstract. For Discover, use the default search option but create a different search string for each concept or idea, eg:

Re-offending OR recividism OR rehabilitation. 

Prisons OR 

Privatisation

You should be prepared to run your search a few times to get the best results. Use speech marks to search for a phrase.  

Step 5: Check your results.  If you have too many, narrow by adding more search terms to focus your search, or restrict your results by date, document type (academic article, trade publication).   

Remember - you can save your search if you set up an account with the database, or keep a note of your terms.  You can also view your search history and combine different searches until you get the best results. 

The A-Z list of Electronic Resources for Public Services lists all the of the Library's online subscription (paid for) resources available, and some free resources.

Most of the databases provide access to secondary sources such as journal articles, which offer a variety of different perspectives on your topic, and be more up-to-date.  

  • Emerald -  use this database to find journal articles on public service management, social policy, politics, health and welfare, criminology & penology, immigration and town planning. 
  • Westlaw and LexisLibrary -  use these database to find case reports and legislation, and also journal articles on criminology & penology, and issues such as laws relating to the police, and legal aspects of immigration
  • Government publications & related bodies - the Home Office, the Law Commission, the Police Foundation, the College of Policing, the Fire Service Research and Training Trust, and other organisations all publish reports and consultation papers.  
  • InfoTrac Newspapers:  you may want to limit your search to The Times and The Independent, since these newspapers both have good legal content.
  • Using the Internet.  You must always evaluate information from the web.  Check the currency (is it recent?), authority (who has written it?), reliability & accuracy (could it be biased or misleading?) and keep a note of the URL and date of access.

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. 

Ask yourself - is your research appropriate and relevant to your study?  Use your findings to create your own logical and concise argument, illustrated with examples from recent events and policies, and supported by your wider reading.

Which Referencing Management Tool?

  

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 to save items to view later, and export citations (this will include Emerald references).  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

Some referencing management tools also have social networking features. 

Which referencing management tool is best for you?  The chart below may answer some of your questions, or click on the tabs for more detailed information and guides. 

Name of Software Use this for Notes
Microsoft Word - References tool                                                   Adding citations and references to your Word document as you write. Add details of the publication using a simple form with source types such as Book, Journal Article and Website. Select the output style (eg.Harvard). Can also generate bibliographies.  Good for shorter assignments and encourages you to keep track of all your references.                                      
Discover and Emerald folders Saving articles to folders which can then be easily accessed at any time. Create hierarchical folders to organise articles by module and topic. Provides a Cite feature so you can copy and paste references in the correct format.  Citations can be exported into Menderley or Zotero.  Good for easily retrieving articles which are available from Discover.
Menderley Adding documents that you have saved on your computer using drag-and-drop, or install the web importer to directly import from the web.  Organise articles into folders.  Menderley saves PDF versions where available so you can have an online library. You can also save directly to Menderley from Emerald.  Saves PDFs and offers a number of social features.

 

This is a very useful tool within Microsoft word and is worth getting familiar with as soon as you start writing your first assignment. 

In-text citation

Along the top of your Word document you will see tab called References (you may be familiar with using this to add footnotes).  To add an in-text citation, put your cursor at the point where you want your reference to appear. Click on References and choose Harvard.   Select Insert Citation.  Choose Add New Source. Choose the type of source that you are citing - book, journal article, web-site etc. Then fill in the details.  Once you have saved your citation, the information will be available for you to use again. 

Bibliography / Reference List

Once you have added your citations, you can create a bibliography with that information. Put the cursor where you want the bibliography to go, then select References and choose a format. Then click on Bibliography and click on Insert Bibliography.

Adding new citations

If you add new citations to your document, you can update your bibliography by right clicking anywhere in your list and selecting Update Field. 

What are folders in Discover?

When you search Discover (or any ESBCOhost database such as SocIndex or Business Source) you will notice that a small folder icon appears next to all your search results.  This icon allows you to save your results into a personalised account which you can access any time you log into any EBSCO database.  

This personalised account also allows you to save and re-run searches, and set up search and journal alerts so you can keep researching even when you’re not logged in!

Setting up your profile

Your first step is to create your profile, which will enable you save journal articles in your own folders.  This is separate from your library account.

Go to Discover@BradfordCollege which is available from the Library Webpages, the Library Moodle page, and as a link from the Library catalogue.   Click on the Sign in to Save Results link at the top of the page.

Discover search

The first time you do this, you will see a message ‘There are no results in your folder’.  Click on the link saying Sign in to My EBSCOhost.   From here you will see a log-in form and the option to ‘Create a new Account’.  Fill in your details and choose a strong password.

Saving items to your Folder

Click on the Back button to start searching Discover.  Remember you can limit your search by Date of Publication, by Source (Academic Journals, Magazines, Trade Publications, Books), and by Subject, Language, and more.

To save records to view at a later date, click on the Add to Folder image next to each record.  This may be a record for a book, journal or e-book.  Save as many records as you would like by clicking on the folder icon.

Viewing your folder

View your folder by either clicking on Sign in to Save Results at the top of the screen, or on Folder View in the top right of the screen.  You should see a list of all the records that you have saved and you can access the full-text from here.

The My Custom feature provides the ability to create numerous folders, each on a particular topic, in which various results can be stored.  You can also create sub-folders to manage more results.  Click on the New link to the right of the My Custom link. You will see a Create New Folder Screen to enter your topic name and a description if you wish.

You can now move your results to the new folder by clicking in the box beside the title of the result, and clicking on the Move To drop down list. You will see a list of your folders displayed.

From Folder View, you can go back to your search results by clicking on the back button.

For more information on Folders, click on the Question mark next to your name in the top left of the screen.

Printing, Email and Saving Your Results.

You can Print, Email, or Save your results.  You can also export to referencing software such as Zotero and EndNote Web. If you have Mendeley Desktop on your device, you can also download to there.   Click on the icons to the right of the screen.  .

About Menderley
 
Before you get started, this terminology from the Menderley help site is very useful.
 
  • Mendeley Desktop: Mendeley Desktop is the downloaded part of the software installed onto your computer. Download Mendeley Desktop here.
  • Mendeley Web: This is the Mendeley website where you can access the web version of your library, edit your profile and search for papers, groups or people. You can also access Mendeley's social features.
  • Sync: The process of synchronizing your Mendeley data across devices.
  • Web Importer: The browser bookmarklet that lets you quickly import documents from anywhere on the web.
  • Word Citation Plugin: A plugin you can install that allows you to create and format your citations and bibliography according to your chosen style.

Starting Out

  1. Create an account at Mendeley.com, download Desktop to your main PC or laptop and sign in.  
  2. You will see the Desktop interface - the main window is your 'library'.  From here you can drag files from your computer or add them from the File menu, create folders and organise records into different folders, and open PDF documents directly within the library.  
  3. Add the Web importer.https://www.mendeley.com/import/  This will allow you to add documents from anywhere on the web.  All new documents will go directly into the Recently Added folder but you can also select a pre-existing folder if you have already created one. 
  4. Remember to sync documents to send your library to the cloud, so you can access all your content from other devices. 

The Mendeley video below is a 5 minute introduction to getting started with Mendeley Desktop.

Uploading articles from Discover

If you find an article you want to save in your Discover results, click on the Export option in the right hand column.  Click on the first option (Direct export in RIS format) and select Save.  You will see the export file download (and which will also appear in your downloads folder):  click on that and the reference will be imported into Mendeley Desktop.  Note that Mendeley doesn't need to be open but it does need to be installed on the machine that you are using. 

Uploading webpages or PDFs from the Internet - in progress

Creating citations and bibliographies - in progress

Find Related Research - in progress

Collaboration and Sharing Tools - in progress

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