Research resource of the month: Westlaw UK

This month we are focusing on Westlaw UK, which is one of the major legal databases we subscribe to at City.  It is a great resource for researching UK and EU case law and legislation, and for reading legal journal articles and selected practitioner texts.

Here are some key benefits and highlights:

  • Westlaw Insight (available from the Insight tab at the top left of the Westlaw UK screen) is a useful place to start when researching an unfamiliar area of law. It is a legal encyclopaedia which has articles on a broad range of UK legal topics. So if you need the lowdown on such diverse subjects as fracking, internet trolling or food labelling, then Westlaw Insight is a good place to get started!
  • Westlaw UK offers a ‘Case Analysis’ feature which enables you to carry out more detailed research around a particular court case, for example to find out about related cases and to discover relevant journal articles. The ‘Legislation Analysis’ feature works in a similar way in order to provide you with extra information about Acts of Parliament.
  • Another benefit of using Westlaw UK for your legal research is that it contains the Westlaw Legal Journals Index. This means that when you search Westlaw for journal articles, you are able to search through hundreds of English language legal journals published in the UK or Europe. You might sometimes find an abstract of an article rather than the full-text article, in which case just check on CityLibrary Search whether we have full-text access to the journal in question through another database.
  • Westlaw UK doesn’t just offer UK and EU legal materials: it also contains an ‘International Materials’ section (available from the Services tab at the top of the screen) which gives access to primary legal materials, journal articles and books from many other countries. In particular, there is a wealth of US legal information available through ‘International Materials’.
  • One final highlight is the ability to set up personalised searches and alerts. When logging into Westlaw UK, you will see a pop-up box entitled ‘Log in to My Westlaw UK Profile’. Click on ‘Create Profile’, and you will be able to create a personalised account. Once your account has been set up,  you can create regular alerts (based on pre-set legal topics or on your own specific searches) and have them delivered daily, weekly, fortnightly or monthly into your City email account.

City staff and students who would like further help with using Westlaw UK can make an appointment with a law librarian, or can book a place on one of our upcoming Westlaw certification sessions or Westlaw drop-in session.

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Communicating through research

I have recently  had the opportunity to conduct some research-based practice by undertaking an MA in Academic Practice  dissertation in the Learning Enhancement and Development Department at City, University of London.

This gave me the opportunity to combine two of my interests which are teaching/ training and conducting research. I chose a topic which is related to my role of Research Librarian at City. I used this as an opportunity to engage with students individually, conduct a literature review and to combine my research data with the literature to produce a dissertation. One of the most rewarding aspects of my project was to interview students to obtain a deeper understanding of their research needs, lifecycle and challenges. I can then continue to explore to what extent my research findings can be incorporated into my professional practice.

I would say that professionally this was one of the most valuable experiences that I have had in terms of engaging with and learning from students and enhancing my own research skills at the same time .  You can read an open access version of  my article entitled Communicating through research recently published in the ALISS Quarterly.

 

Choosing a dissertation topic

I have recently completed an MA in Academic Practice degree run by the Learning Enhancement and Development Team at City, University London. The Academic Practice course is a mixture of theory, practice and reflection aimed at internal and external academic staff, professional staff, library staff and some research students who teach.

My particular highlight of the course was the Master’s level module Educational Research Project & Publication. This module provides the opportunity to conduct an original piece of educational research or a small scale research project and either produce a dissertation or conference paper based on this.

specs-on-bookChoosing an appropriate research question is really important and shapes the whole of your research. All that you do is focussed on exploring and trying to answer that question and it affects the research you conduct and the methodology you choose to employ.  I work as a Research Librarian at City, University of London. I work with doctoral students and one thing that I really like to do is to speak to the students individually or in small groups about their research. Some of these conversations have been around electronic resources and the use of digital tools and skills to support the research process. Talking to others and your supervisor is a good idea.  I found it a challenge to find a precise research question so I spoke to an academic colleague who had recently completed a PhD.  We then had a discussion and I decided to focus my research on exploring factors which may influence the digital literacy skills of research students.

It is useful to have an overview of literature searching, different approaches to research and research methods as these all help to address your research question. I found the book Doing your research project: a guide for first-time researchers (Bell, 2014) really useful so much so that I even wanted my own copy. The author is no relation but I found it helpful in terms of the literature review section, ethics, different research methods and writing up and evaluating results. Sometimes an overview of the process can be invaluable.

When choosing your research topic I would suggest choosing something that interests you and that you feel excited enough to research for a year,  a question that intrigues you and that you want to answer.  Also, do some preliminary literature searching to see if your topic is viable and if it has been researched in the same way before. This might also help with how your frame your topic.

Think of the future as well: if you would like to work in open access, consider researching open access, if you’re interested in public libraries maybe research digital inclusion or community partnerships etc. This is then something that you can talk about if you attend a job interview in a particular sector. However, sometimes you have to go with your heart or what you are genuinely passionate about researching as this will also drive your choices.

Read other peoples’ dissertations and theses on similar and different topics might also give you inspiration. Many universities have open access institutional repositories or digital archives such as City Research Online where you can read articles and publications by staff and researchers and also electronic theses. This is also a good way of refining your ideas on what you would like to research.

To summarise, I would take various factors into account and try and find something  a little challenging that interest you and that gives you sufficient motivation to answer questions and complete your research.

Bell, J (2014) Doing your research project: a guide for first-time researchers. 6th edn. Maidenhead: McGraw Hill.

Designing surveys for research

During a research project, it may be decided to conduct a survey if it is considered that it will add value to the attempt to answer the research question.  This should only really be done after completing the literature review part of the project to identify if a survey is appropriate as a research tool. The literature review should indicate some themes or areas to explore in the survey.  If the literature has not been fully analysed (this can of course take time) then it can be a challenge to develop an ideal survey.

There are also other factors involved, some of which are that:

“It requires discipline in the selection of questions, in question writing, in the design, piloting, distribution and return of the questionnaires” (Bell, 2014, p. 157).

As potential respondents are very often busy, it is useful to keep the survey as clear and concise  and brief as possible and give an indication early on how long it may take and how many questions it includes. The survey must add value in some way and must enable you to address all or part of your research question. It is a very good idea to pilot test the survey before it is launched to obtain feedback on clarity, length and any technical issues for example and make sure it is as clear as possible before considering sending it out.  It is worth giving thought to who the target audience is and the best way to reach them. If the response rate is low then it may prove difficult to draw conclusions from the data.

I have recently designed a survey for my MA research project and I used the Survey Monkey (enhanced version) for this. I found the software quite easy to use and if offered a good range of questions such as multiple choice, scale rating questions and free text boxes. A link to the survey was sent out and the software collected the results and performed some of the analysis overall, for individual questions and individual responses. I was also fortunate to be able to adapt  and repurpose another survey with kind permission from the original author. Also, it is sometimes necessary to obtain ethical approval for the study from the university and this must be done in good time before sending out any surveys.

What does take time of course is actually analysing all of the data and trying to find connections and key themes which address the research question. It is really for that reason that it needed to be well designed and fit for purpose in the first place.

Overall, I found the experience really useful in  enhancing my survey design skills and I am still currently analysing the data thematically to contribute to my project.

PicMonkey Collage pink

Researcher case study resource

Over the past few months, I have been collecting some case studies from City University London research students and staff and have been collating them on a case study resource. This showcases the work of City research students and staff and also the breadth of approaches and Library resources available.

The purpose of this resource is to give a practical insight into researching different subjects from the point of view of a research student or staff member who has either recently researched the topic(s) or is a new or experienced researcher. I hope it will also be useful for other students researching these topics of those who use a multi-disciplinary approach.

It concentrates on areas such as:  Library resources such as databases and journals, useful textbooks, literature searching experiences and keywords and any publications, articles blog posts etc.

It is useful to show the breadth of approaches to research and also the inter-disciplinary research that is taking place and there are both similarities and differences in the tools that researchers use.

Some examples of case studies are:  Ludi Price (Library & Information Studies) and  Dr Ernesto Priego (Library & Information Studies) and Rebecca Wells (Food Policy and Journalism).

If any City research students or staff would like to contribute a case study about your research and use of research tools and Library resources, you can easily do so by completing the contact form. I will then create a draft case study for you to approve and if we can agree some content, the case study will appear on the citylibresearchcasestudies resource.