Now we’ve agreed that your proposal is in principle viable it’s time to get started on the research. Although it will be some time before you actually start writing your dissertation, it is a good idea to have an idea of what you will need to do, so you can focus and organise your work with this end goal in mind. So here are some guidelines to help you structure your dissertation. I have tried to give some suggestions about the length of each section, but the wordage is not set in concrete and can vary, particularly the literature review and methodology sections, so as long as you keep to your 12000 words overall it should be fine). Chapter/Section 1. INTRODUCTION (roughly 10% of the whole dissertation) 1.1 Background to the research and Rationale – the reason and justification for doing it. When someone looks at your work they will not automatically assume that your research and analysis is a good idea; they will want to be persuaded that it is relevant and that it was worth doing. So this section pre-empts the “so what?” question: explain up-front why the research is worth doing & why it is important/interesting/useful. 1.2 Aim(s) and Objectives (specific research questions) – remember, the aim is what you want to achieve, the objectives are specific research questions that you need to answer in order to achieve your aim. 1.3 Outline methodology – BRIEFLY how you are going to approach answering your questions. Don’t waste too many words on this – the detail comes later as in section 3 below.. 1.4 Overview of each chapter content – this is optional, not strictly necessary, but it is sometimes helpful to signpost your direction and train of thought to the reader. Ch 2. LITERATURE REVIEW (4000 to 5000 words) Review of contemporary ACADEMIC literature specifically related to the research question It is important that your literature review is more than just a list of references with a short description of each one. Merriam (1988:6) describes the literature review as: ‘an interpretation and synthesis of published work’. You need to be actively involved in interpreting the literature that you are reviewing, and in explaining that interpretation to the reader, rather than just listing and restating what you have read. Your interpretation of each piece of evidence is just that: an interpretation. It should be MORE than just a repetition or précis of what you have read. You will have had your thoughts about it and your conclusions may be self-evident to you, but maybe not to your readers. You need show you have thought about the significance of what you have read FOR THE AIMS AND OBJECTIVES OF THE DISSERTATION and to present your rationale, so that your reader can follow your thinking The term ‘synthesis’ refers to the bringing together of material from different sources, and the creation of an integrated whole. In this case the ‘whole’ will be your structured review of relevant work, and ITS RELEVANCE TO THE STUDY THAT YOU ARE DOING. Ch 3. METHODOLOGY (2000 to 3000 words) This is where you explain and justify how you have gone about answering your research questions 3.1 Strategy. The what & why of your approach to the research, with justification There are 3 stages: 1) You specify and make explicit what information you need to answer the research questions you have specified in the introduction 2) You identify possible sources of information and the different way(s) in which you might collect it. 3) You discuss the positive and negative aspects of each source and means of collection and decide, with justification, which you are going to use. 3.2 Design of the research approach (including design of survey/questionnaire, etc.) 3.3 Administration of HOW you seek an answer to your specific research questions. How questionnaires are administered. How data is collected & analysed, etc. 3.4 Research Ethics. What are the ethical implications of this piece of research?
Ch 4. FINDINGS (2000 to 3000 words)
What you find when you apply your methodology to your research question. Including charts & tables, etc. as appropriate plus discussion of what these findings mean.
DON’T forget that this section must explore the answers to the SAME research questions you identified in section 1
Ch 5. CONCLUSIONS (about 10% of the whole dissertation)
5.1 Analysis What is all means. This should be an analysis of the findings supported by relevant references to academic materials you have introduced earlier in the thesis – again, these MUST be related to the aims of the dissertation and the research questions you identified in section 1
5.2. Overall Conclusions (short section – in effect, how well have I answered my research questions and to what extent have I achieved my aim)
5.3. Limitations Of The Study (short section –summarise those limitations noted in the methodology discussion specifically in relation to how well you have answered the research questions)
5.4 Opportunities For Further Research And Practice (short section – self-explanatory I think)
This is just a guide and does not have to be followed to the letter – there are other ways of constructing a dissertation
For example, it is sometimes more appropriate to discuss your findings alongside or within your literature review. Particularly where the methodology is largely based on secondary sources to separate these out can result in far too much repetition.
Similarly, research based on secondary sources is likely to emphasise the literature review over the methodology, while where there is much collection of primary data, the methodology section may need to be predominant.
Sometimes, and again to avoid repetition, it is appropriate to integrate some of the conclusions into the discussion in the “findings” section, confining the conclusions to the subjects labelled 5.2, 5.3 and 5.4 above
You may have even more radical ideas… and I have seen very different structures work very successfully –
but if in doubt TALK TO ME BEFORE you go ahead.
May I suggest that you write and send me for review (put into the repository not by email), one part of your dissertation at a time. I will review it and send you feedback within a reasonable time frame. We can then move on to each subsequent part. It is my experience that this works better than submitting large sections at a time. It’s important to get feedback regularly as the dissertation progresses, rather than it being left too
near the submission date. While I will do my very best to advise on how well the dissertation flows and hangs together I will NOT make detailed comments on a final draft of a dissertation: if I were to do so, and do so thoroughly, then the final version you submit could be as much my work as yours… and that is not the point! I must stress that the responsibility for contact with me and for submission of drafts for comment is yours
– I will not chase you for work.
Please don’t forget to also read your dissertation handbook the answers to many of your questions are to be found within!
Looking forward to working with you – with very best wishes
Merriam S. (1988) Case study research in education: a qualitative approach. San Francisco, CA:Jossey-Bass.