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Social Sciences

The Research Process

When you are given an assignment questions make sure you fully understand what is being asked on you. Refer to the guidance in your module handbook or lecture slides for further information, or discuss it with your tutors. 

1. Identify the 'question' word(s)

You could use the 'Analysing the question' section of the Skills for Learning website to help you. 

2. Identify core concepts/keywords

What is the main focus of the question?

3. Identify synonyms or related terms


Examine with reference to the literature mental health services within the prison setting

'Examine' is the question word - it's what you have to do

On the next tab you will find tips and tricks to help you develop your search strategy and make your searching more efficient.

Topic 1: Mental health services Topic 2: Prison                   
Counselling Imprisonment
Mental health diagnosis Prisoner
In-reach services Incarceration


Once you have identifying your keywords, synonyms and related terms you can start to construct a search strategy. 

4. Use search tools: 

Phrase searching uses speech marks to help you search for phrases e.g. "pains of imprisonment" 

Truncation uses the asterisk to help you search for terms with variant endings e.g. prison* = prison, prisoner.

5. Combine terms using AND, OR and NOT 

AND - for combining different concepts

OR - for identifying research that use synonyms or related terms. You need to put the similar terms in brackets. 

NOT - use when you want to exclude a term (use with caution as it can eliminate useful results too)

(prison OR incarceration OR imprisonment) AND ("mental health" OR counselling OR "in-reach")

Some resources have an 'advanced search' feature which can help you to combine your searches. 

6. Identify appropriate resources to search.

   a. Reading lists - are there any core textbooks that your tutors recommend on your topic?

      i. Check your modules in MyBeckett

   b. Use the Library Catalogue to find additional books and e-books

      i. Available on the 'Welcome' page of this guide

   c. Use Discover to search our e-journals and other subscriptions  

      i. Available on the 'Home' page of this guide

   d. Use subject specific resources to help you focus your results 

      i. Available on the 'Specialist Resources' page of this guide

You can search most resources in exactly the same way, the search screen may just look a bit different. 

To help you refine your results and make them more manageable look for limiters such as 'Publication date' or 'Resource type' 

There are several tools to help with evaluating the quality of articles and research papers. The PROMPT mnemonic can be used to help you identify key areas to evaluate when reading a paper.

Presentation: look out for poor use of language and inappropriate or ineffectual writing style

Relevance: does the paper answer your question and fit within the geographical or time period restrictions of your search strategy?

Objectivity: look for any hidden bias or selective interpretation of data. Also authors usually list conflicts of interest and sponsorship/ funding sources at the end of the article which may influence their arguments.

Method: is it clear how the research was carried out? Use your knowledge from previous lectures/ tutorials to critique the methods for data collection. Question whether the methods are appropriate? Look at things like the size of the sample tested in the study, was a pilot study conducted prior to the main research to iron out any potential problems? Look at the design of the questions if a questionnaire was used.

Provenance; look at the qualifications of the author. Do they have a particularly controversial view on the subject? Also, check whether the researcher has been sponsored. If so, are they sponsored by a commercial, voluntary or research organisation? Is the organisation well established? Remember to check the publication method. Has the article been published in a well regarded, peer reviewed journal?

Timelines; depending upon your topic, you may decide you need up to date information.

The CRAAP mnemonic is also an easy way to remember key points to look for when critiquing papers and websites

Currency: how up to date is the research

Relevancy: does the paper answer your research question and any exclusion criteria

Accuracy: how reliable are the methods of data collection. Has the researcher chosen the best way to investigate their question

Authority: who has written the paper? Are they a reliable source

Purpose: why has the paper been written. was it to entertain, education or sell something?

For more information about referencing, including the full Leeds Beckett Harvard guide - please click on the referencing tab at the top of the page or visit our Referencing & Plagiarism pages. 

Recording your search

Conducting a literature review involves a LOT of searching and reading. It is therefore important to keep a record of what searching you have done and where. It is recommended that you keep a searching log. Keep a notebook and record;

  • which databases you have searched 
  • what terms you have used as well as any searching techniques such as truncation
  • any limits you have applied e.g. date or geography
  • how many results you retrieved
  • how many of the results were relevant

You may wish to keep a record using a document such as the Search Log here. Check with your tutor whether this would be suitable to include in your Appendix. Think of it as a paper trail of your searching or even as a set of instructions for whoever is marking your work.