In October 2012 I was asked to give a half hour lecture at university. I prepared a ‘prezi’ (link below) and discussed information and advice relating to methods based research.
Dissertation Guidance for Undergraduate Students
Here is an excerpt from my talk…
“I have come in today to give some information and advice regarding a research based dissertation. The aim of the presentation is to look at things such as organisation and planning, time management, dissertation structure, methodology section, ethics, the research process itself and finally bringing it all together in the end.
With regards to organisation and planning, I would advise you to write a list of absolutely everything you need to do and from there you can build up a detailed plan of the things you need to do. Try to dedicate time to different sections of your dissertation and using a filofax or a personal organiser, write yourself to do lists and set your own goals. A good piece of advice is to purchase a dictaphone and use it to record any relevant lectures or meetings with your supervisor. This can be really useful if your supervisor is the kind to throw a million ideas at you in one go, this way you can re-listen to what they said and follow things up when you are ready.
Moving on to time management, what I would advise is to think carefully about the word count and structure of the dissertation. Big word counts 10,000+ can be really daunting at first but as soon as you begin to break the word count down and divide it into different chapters, the task can seem a lot less stressful. Time management also involves over estimating how long things will take so that you leave yourself with enough time if things go wrong. Reading and notetaking takes up a huge amount of time but if you are prepared for this then you will be fine. I would advise you to read at any opportunity you can, for example, if you read the paper on your break in work, read a journal article instead.
Now I am going to discuss some of the differences between a literature based and methods based dissertation. So first of all, one of the main things is deciding what methods are best suited to your research question, whether it should be quantitative or qualitative and also thinking about whether your choice is realistic. For example, if you hope to have 50 questionnaires answered, is that realistic? Will you be able to recruit 50 participants? Methods based research also involves thinking about sampling and ethics and the results and analysis is a massively important part of any methods based research.
Now lets look at the dissertation structure itself. At a very early stage divide your wordcount into different sections/chapters and then if possible, narrow it down again and again into small sections which immediatly seem much more manageable. My supervisor always advised me to put the majority of your wordcount into the results and analysis section as this is the aim of the dissertation assessment, to see how well you have understood and analysed the results. Do try to do this but don’t worry if your findings are statistical as it can be really difficult to elaborate and bulk up the wordcount in this case.
Starting with the literature review, divide the wordcount into chapters or use subtitles. The things you need to cover are main debates, related theory or theories you are trying to bring together and previous research into the topic. Place this all into a logical order and section by section, work through the literature review.
The same practice of dividing the wordcount can be applied to the methodology section. Subtitles could include: Research design, methods, sampling, ethics and research process. Research design refers to whether the study will be inductive or deductive, positivist or interpretivist etc. It is important to include a few paragraphs discussing these aspects of your research as it allows you to show what position you are taking and how you plan to tackle the empirical part of the dissertation. You should also discuss whether your chosen method is quantitative or qualitative, so whether the research hopes to explore opinions and attitudes or whether it seeks to measure or test something. When writing about your methods you need to discuss strengths and weaknesses, comparing your chosen method to a different but similar method. For example, if you are using focus group interviews, why? and why not one-to-one interviews? Really justify your choice with a strong argument.
The research process itself should be written in past tense and involves talking about what you did and how it went. Did it all go well or did some things go wrong? Discuss this and write about how you would change things if given another chance.
The final part to consider when thinking about your dissertation structure is the Results and Analysis chapter. Within this chapter you should again, briefly discuss the research process. Then lead into your findings and analysis discussing any main themes. A tip to bear in mind is to always allow yourself time for further reading because you might find that what you have written in your literature review doesn’t entirely gel with what your research has found. You may need to go back and re-read things from a different angle or start a whole new reading list because the research has thrown up something you didn’t expect.
Final tips for success include building a good relationship with your supervisor, starting early and reading whenever possible.”