research methods

Identifying key terms

When carrying out electronic searches it is important to try out different synonyms or related terms, therefore one of the first things that you need to do is to establish the key terms to use. Once you have found some journal articles relevant to your study, these often include lists of key words and you can then use some of these to develop your search. An example of how key terms can be identified is included here:

Area of focus: Constructivism in science teaching

Suggested steps to follow:

  1. Think of key terms that relate to the focus area.

Searching the literature in an organised way

It is important to develop an organised and systematic approach to searching the literature, as ultimately this makes the process of searching more efficient and effective. This section of the guide is designed to help you carry out searches effectively and efficiently. 

What is a systematic literature review?

A systematic review of the literature investigates a particular issue by analysing the key findings of existing research. This type of literature review will also be framed around a research issue and research questions or aims, but the source of the data is secondary. In a project that involves the collection of primary data, decisions need to be made regarding how to carry out the research in practice, whereas in a systematic literature review the approach that will be used in critically reviewing the literature needs to be considered.

Why carry out a literature review?

When writing your literature review it is important to be aware of the functions that your literature review could serve, as this will provide a clear focus to your writing. The literature review enables you to set your proposed research in context. For some projects it will be important to explore the historical context, for example significant events within education in a period of history; key government papers and policies; or exploration of significant research projects and how they influenced the development of thinking in your particular area of research.

Key ideas

The most basic purpose for carrying out a literature review is to enable you to develop your understanding of the key theoretical perspectives, research findings and issues within the area being reviewed. This will involve engaging with sources such as journal articles, books and other documents in a critical and reflective way. The process of engaging with the literature should be an on-going process throughout your research project. 

Sources of research reports

Further Reading

Useful books

Cohen, L., Manion, L. and Morrison, K. (2007) Research Methods in Education, 6th edn. London: Routledge.

Langdridge, D. and Hagger-Johnson, G. (2009) Introduction to Research Methods and Data Analysis in Psychology, 2nd edn. Harlow: Pearson Education Ltd.

Newby, P. (2014) Research Methods for Education, 2nd edn. Harlow: Pearson Education Ltd.


Bryman, A. (2008) Social Research Methods, 3rd edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cresswell, J.W. (2011) Planning, Conducting, and Evaluating Qualitative Research, 4th edn, London: Pearson.

Newby, P. (2014) Research Methods for Education, 2nd edn. Harlow: Pearson Education Ltd.

O'Leary, Z. (2010) The Essential Guide to Doing Your Research Project. London: Sage.

Patterson, E.W. (2011) Initial teacher development in science: the impact of constructivist-informed practice on learning, Teacher Development, 15(1), pp69-86.


This MESHGuide draws on a range of key literature in the field of social science research. Also its design has been informed by lessons learned from personal research, which has focussed on the following areas:


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