The term ‘desk study’ simply refers to a study that is carried out purely through research, rather than physical investigations, that is, it can be done sitting at a desk.
On building design and construction projects, the term ‘desk study’ is often used in relation to preliminary site investigations, referring to the process of gathering background information about site-specific characteristics that will need to be considered during planning, design and construction, or issues that may merit more detailed physical investigations, such as site surveys.
Approved Document C defines desk studies as, ‘A review of the historical, geological and environmental information about the site’ and describes it as being ‘essential’. Desk studies might also be carried out as the starting point for assessing site lines, local context (such as architectural character, landscape and so on), archaeology (such as the risk of uncovering archaeological remains, unexploded bombs and so on), rights of way and other easements, the likely presence of solid and liquid contaminants, site ecology and so on.
A thorough desk study:
- Provides an initial understanding of the characteristics of an area or site.
- Provides early identification of site characteristics and potential risks so they can be more effectively managed.
- Informs the detail, scope and methodology of subsequent investigations.
- May help avoid undertaking unnecessary, expensive or intrusive investigations.
 Sources of information
The most common sources of information that are researched as part of a desk study include:
OS maps, including historical maps can offer information about:
- Changes in potential landslide areas.
- Changes in topography, stream and river courses.
- Coastal erosion.
- Concealed mine shafts.
- Disused quarries and in-filled ponds.
- Former uses of the site.
- Old clay, gravel and sand pits.
Aerial photographic records and Google maps provide useful information that can help identify or confirm historical site usage, hidden foundations, changes of topography and river course, and so on.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Archaeology and construction.
- Building archaeology.
- Building survey.
- Contaminated land.
- Development appraisal.
- Feasibility studies.
- Ground conditions.
- Insitu testing of soils.
- Laser scanning.
- Pre construction information.
- Site appraisal.
- Site investigation.
- Site surveys.
- Soil survey.
- Solid and liquid contaminants site risk assessments.
- Types of soil.
Featured articles and news
Identifying sustainable shoreline protection solutions in the face of rising sea levels and storms in the US.
Budget documents state modern methods of construction will be favoured for public infrastructure schemes from 2019.
A walk-through exhibition of an emergency humanitarian shelter is officially opened at BRE's Innovation Park.
How to work safely on a construction site during winter.
Housing is the big winner in Chancellor Philip Hammond's Autumn Budget.
The winner of our BSRIA competition, Tomorrow's challenges in today's buildings, is.... Bob Hendrikx. A big thank you to everyone that took part.
Committee of MPs accuses government of dealing billpayers a 'bad hand' over the guaranteed power price.
In 1992, the Joint Fire Code was first published. What influence does it still have on construction sites today?
"Companies will have to adapt or go out of business" - how are virtual reality and big data disrupting digital construction?
International Well Building Institute and BRE collaborate on multiple levels to advance human health through better buildings.
"The industry has tried moving away from prescriptivism to focus on performance, but maybe that’s no longer working".
Energy from waste and its key role in a low carbon economy.
Sir Ranulph Fiennes was guest speaker at the BSRIA Briefing - Tomorrow’s challenges in today’s buildings.