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Preparing for your Dissertation. Part 1
Author: ADMIN (ukstudent at gmail dot com)
Published: Wed, 27-Jul-2005
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Preparing for your Dissertation. Article by APU Student Services.

This short guide is based on the materials used in the "Preparing for your Dissertation" workshop which forms part of the study skills workshop programme. The material included has been gathered and adapted from the following publications:

Doing your Research Project – Judith Bell

How to Research – Lorraine Blaxter, Christina Hughes and Malcolm Tight

(For UG and PG research students in social sciences and related subjects. Includes guidance on topic selection)

Managing Information for Research – Elizabeth Orna and Graham Stevens

Successful Study for Degrees – Rob Barnes

(Chapters 8 and 9)

The Hard Pressed Researcher – A Research handbook for the Caring Professions – Ann Edwards and Robin Talbot

The Research Student’s Guide to Success – Pat Cryer

Writing your Dissertation – Derek Swetnam

The guidelines provide a general introduction to planning and writing a dissertation. They should be read alongside any specific guidelines provided by your School. There may be variations between Schools as to requirement for the dissertation structure and submission of a preliminary proposal.

Part 1 covers the requirements of a good dissertation, advice on topic choice and structure. Part 2 gives advice on research methods and tools. More detailed information on these can be found in the text books mentioned above and also in a flexible, self learning pack held in the Learning Support reference section in the Student Centre.



• Be original
• Demonstrate:

• extensive, relevant reading
• an understanding of underpinning themes
• the ability to collect data and evidence systematically
• the ability to interpret, analyse and evaluate data and evidence
• an ability to present data and evidence accurately and appropriately
• critical thinking – raise and discuss issues, not just present findings
• an ability to report effectively
• Follow academic conventions – be objective, tentative, structured, consistent, clearly and concisely expressed, and correctly referenced.


• Submission date
• Word limit (8,000)
• Intermediate dates (e.g. for submission of literature review)
• Presentation format
• Available tutorial support
• House style


1. Decide on a possible focus/title and discuss with supervisor
2. Decide research methods 3. Draw up a schedule: include
3. completion dates for different stages
4. Organise practicalitie : equipment and access
5. Set up project and collect data
6. Sort/study data
7. Analyse/interpret data
8. Prepare outline structure for writing up
9. Write draft
10. Edit/check with supervisor and/or critical friend
11. Redraft
12. Submit final report


3 months: Reading, making notes, planning, setting up systems, writing introduction

2 months: Writing literature review

1 month: Refining/writing up research methods

1 month: Collecting/recording data

1 month: Analysing data

1 month: Writing conclusions and compiling bibliography and appendices

1 month Proofreading, correcting, binding


General guidance
• Choose something that interests you but without any pre-conceived ideas of what you are likely to find out. Avoid subjects already widely researched – look for unanswered questions.
• Consider feasibility:
Access to sites
Tutorial support available
Equipment needed
"Life" of topic
Likely result/usefulness
Literature available
Ethical/moral considerations
Anticipated problems
• Seek supervisor’s guidance:
Take a few possible titles for discussion.
Supervisor can help to refine and clarify, but not invent a title.


Jot down possible areas of interest.

Draw up a shortlist of topics.

Check in library how much has been written about a topic.

Ask about dissertations/articles written on similar topics.

Read papers and articles to raise issues.

Compare/contrast a couple of articles on a topic.

Discuss with other students.


Process of refining and clarifying:
1. Identify broad area of study
2. Refine to aspect of particular interest
3. Decide purpose (to develop theory, monitor practice, evaluate, increase understanding, practical outcomes?)
4. Ask basic initial questions to narrow down to specific area (who, what, where, when, why, how?)
5. Refine questions to define precise focus.
6. Draft title - use positive terms in title to reflect purpose (e.g. evaluate, examine, measure, survey, assess)


(from Rob Barnes)

Broad area of study: Unemployment
Particular interest:
Youth unemployment
Initial questions:
Who do I mean by youth?
Which young people in particular am I interested in?
What is the context?
What aspects of unemployment am I concerned about and why?
Specific area:
Unemployment among 16 to 25 year olds in Nowheresville.
To find out how many young people are unemployed and how this affects them and their community. To suggest ways of improving things.
Precise focus:
The effects of unemployment on16-25 year olds in Nowheresville and on the local community.
Draft title:
An examination of the extent of unemployment in 16-25 year olds in Nowheresville and its effect on the young unemployed people themselves and on the local community, with a brief examination of possible solutions.


• Title page
• Acknowledgements
• Contents page: chapters, appendices, tables, figures, illustrations
• Abstract
Summary and outline of main findings
• Introduction
Outline scope of study and what background material will be discussed.
Define abstract concepts in the context
Explain complex or technical words
Describe how study conducted – data collection methods used.
Outline and explain order of material.
State major findings.
Summarise conclusion.
• Literature Survey
Put your own work into context.
Move from general background/standard theoretical works to more precise, recent work relevant to your topic.
Cover range of positions – not just those you agree with.
Show how existing theories/research findings illuminate your work.
• Methodology
Explain approach taken and why particular methods and techniques were used.
Describe procedures, size of samples, methods of selection, choice of variables and controls, any tests of measurement, etc.
Mention deficiencies in methods.
• Results
Present findings clearly.
Use tables, charts, diagrams etc., if appropriate.
Highlight significant aspects of findings in text.
Avoid interpretation/conclusions
• Discussion
Interpret findings.
Construct a logical, consistent argument based on findings.
• Conclusion
Summarise main points and state any conclusions which can be drawn.
Indicate how firm the conclusion is
Make any recommendations
• References
• Bibliography - background reading but not cited
• Appendices - e.g. blank questionnaire, transcript of interview, extended case studies, letter of invitation.

© Copyright for this article belongs to APU Student Services

This document was re-printed with the kind permission of Susan Butler. Original Source of the article is located here: http://web.apu.ac.uk/stu_services/essex/learningsupport/OL-Dissertations.htm

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