Searching for research
If you are interested in a topic then it is very likely that other people
are too. Subjects often become topical and therefore researchable; very
soon there will be other people – a few or many – also undertaking
research in the same field. When a subject initially becomes topical it
is difficult to find out who is doing what, but soon research findings
will start to be published and publicised.
This is where the literature search and review have an important part
to play; some of the reasons for doing a search of existing research are:
You might make a useful contribution to the topic by taking recommendations
about effective practice forward in your own practice or as part of your
- to find out what has already been done
- in order to make you better informed about a subject area
- literature reviews are very useful for bringing together and comparing
research on a particular topic
- to learn from the findings to inform your practice
- to find out if other people share your views about and interest
in a particular topic
If you decide you want to try out practice tools or methods it is often
a good idea to get in touch with the original researchers. Apart from
being polite, there might be copyright issues to deal with, for instance
if you wish to use a questionnaire which they have authored. The researchers
may be able to provide you with advice. For example, the Search Institute
in the USA developed a research-based ASSET model for work with children
and young people. The Institute is happy for people to use the model but
ask for certain principles to be adhered to in doing so.
Another reason for turning to the literature is to clarify and refine
your thinking about what exactly you are looking for from research. It
has already been stated that Research Mindedness implies being able to
make use of research findings but first you need to find them, which is
not always a straightforward task.
In this section you are reminded of some of basic tips in undertaking
a search for relevant research. Before you start looking for materials
there are five practical steps to take:
|Decide on the topic You might, for
example, decide that as part of a service review you want to know
how carers use their time when the person they care for goes to
day services. You want to compare your provision with patterns elsewhere.
|Clarify it. What exactly does Step 1 mean? How
are you defining carer? Caring for whom? What do you mean
by day services? You therefore need to clarify your topic and sharpen
your focus so that you know what it is you are looking for in the
literature. You would do this by saying perhaps that a 'carer'
is a person who lives at the same address as the person being cared
for and who does not receive wages for providing care. 'Care'
could be defined as providing help with the activities of daily
living. 'The person being cared for' might, in this case,
be an adult with a learning disability. 'Day services'
would be defined as a day centre and/or education/employment support.
You would probably want initially to confine your search to the
group of service users with whom you are working.
|Define your parameters Many topics are supported
by a great deal of published research; if you don't set yourself
some search parameters you could end up with a mass of information
from which it is difficult to extract what you are interested in.
You might therefore consider limiting your search to make it more
manageable. There are several possibilities for doing this:
- Set a publication date prior to which references will not
be followed up (the date will depend on the topic). This is
particularly important for service-focused research, as the
relevance of old studies may be limited. Many authors whose
research you read will refer to and summarise the work of their
predecessors. Indeed, you could be lucky and identify a review
article that brings together all the major and relevant research
on your topic up to a certain date.
- Consider whether you are only interested in material published
in English, or only in research conducted in the UK.
- Be pragmatic and decide how much time you realistically have
to conduct your search, and then pick only the most relevant
items to fit your timetable. If you are getting material from
abroad or through inter-library loans it can take quite a long
time to arrive. Remember that once you've got it, you've still
got to read it and work on it.
- Make use of any facility available for computer assisted
bibliographic searching, and Make a point of trying to access
any abstracts which will both summarise some materials for you,
and guide your choice as to what you ought to read in full.
For example some local authorities produce monthly abstract
summaries for staff through their intranets or on hard copy.
The development of various Electronic Libraries and Databases
makes this task even simpler. (See section on Electronic Libraries).
|If you have easy access, get to know your public or employer's
library. You need to know your way around your library,
whether it is the shelves, catalogues, computer terminals or help
desk. Library staff are always keen to help people get the most
from their library, so take every opportunity to seek their advice
You need to sort out the basics, like making sure that you are actually
registered as a user (registering as a computer terminal user is
often a separate process); how many books you can take out at any
one time; how long you can keep them; re-call and inter-library
loan arrangements; and whether your library is a good source of
materials on your topic and where you can find them. Being purely
practical, it's also worth checking the library's opening times.
If you are working shifts this is very important.
|Get to know the Internet and particularly the WWW Almost all libraries
nowadays have computer terminals for you to use to access the catalogue.
Many go further and have wider bibliographic materials in electronic
form, perhaps on CD, or on a network. You should find that you have
- catalogues of many of the world's finest libraries, especially
in North American universities.
- electronic copies of many books and papers, including, increasingly,
materials only available in electronic format
If you are an experienced Internet user you will already know
how to find many useful sources. If not then start by reading
the topic on Web Search skills.