Doing research on a building or theme
Research is all about finding, collecting and organising relevant stories, facts and figures for your argument or description.

It is on the basis of these facts and figures that well-considered arguments can be formulated.

The most important thing in researching any subject is to keep a thorough record of the resources you have consulted.

It is a great idea to keep a logbook of the project, In the logbook you can note down:

·         material found; sketches, notes, pictures, records of consultations & discussions with other people, maps etc.

·         the sources where the material comes from, (See also noting your sources), the names and addresses of people consulted and dates of meetings held.

·         time-schedules and things-to-do lists with regard to the progress of the research project.

In doing research it is always helpful to zoom into the topic from the macro-level to the micro-level.

That means:

1.      Once you have chosen a topic for your essay, monograph or dissertation, begin the research project by acquiring a general picture of your subject. Look up key issues in the most general literature: encyclopaedias, dictionaries and histories covering the subject in a broad way, ordinance survey maps, etc.

2.      Then consult the more specialised sources, such as magazine articles, web pages and books that deal with relevant subjects in greater detail.


3.      Consult the available literature around the subject. Collect relevant quotations.

In order to use the secondary literature to your purpose it might help to ask yourself the following questions:

·         Is the information contained here relevant to my topic? If so, How is it relevant?

·         Where did the author get his information?

·         Has my problem/question/issue already been addressed by others?
If so when, by whom and how? Do I agree with their view?

·         Have my examples or been used by others? If so, when, by whom and how or to what purpose?

·         Is the thesis put forward by the previous author still tenable or relevant to present needs and circumstances? If not: why not?

·         If (my) question has not been asked by someone before, why not?

This should help you find your focus and help determine your approach to the topic (see above).

Use bibliographies, search engines, the indices included in books, library catalogues etc. to make sure you have found all the relevant literature.

Write or speak to experts within the field with specific questions. Ask if they know of more material relevant to your subject. (Make sure you thank them in the acknowledgements!)


Go to the archives to do some digging for primary sources: look for maps, drawings, letters, bills, legal documents etc.


Cutting through the jungle of information.

It is a jungle out there. There is so much information being pushed into your face that it is very difficult to cut a path through it to your purpose. But that is what has to be done. Select your information on the basis for which you need it. Just as important; do not make a jungle out of your own project. Keep to the point in hand. If you are writing a history, write a history and not a feel-good speech.


Then, on the basis of what you have found and read, start formulating your own thoughts about the subject.

If your subject concerns attitudes of people or demands proper statistics find out how to set up useful questionnaires and how to conduct fieldwork.[1]

If the subject of your monograph is an existing building, then one of your first priorities should be to do a detailed site visit, prepared with maps you should make sketches of the general lay-out of the building(s), their plan, their site, their massing and any decorative and structural details.


It helps to pester your supervising lecturer or other knowledgeable person to come along to examine the remaining physical evidence of a building’s history. Let the lecturer describe what he or she sees. Listen carefully and use that information, always acknowledging your sources of course.


Try to find out what the locality was like when the building was first put up. How did that area change through time & what were the causes of change? If a building was built in the 1950’s, for instance, try to find out what the place was like during that period. What did the landscape look like then? How is that different from now? What were the great social, political, economic issues of the time? How would they have affected the building?

[1]  There are countless sources on the sociology and psychology of the built environment. One broad sourcebook which has been very useful is Robert Gitford, Environmental psychology, principles and practice, , second edition, Allyn and Bacon, Boston 1997 (1987)