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Preparing for your Dissertation. Part 2
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

Click here for Part 1


Select the method to suit the task!

What sort of data do you want?
How much data do you need for the purpose of analysis?

What method will best generate the right type and amount of data?
Where is the relevant literature held?
How will you gather the data?
How will you store the data?
Is there enough time to use this method?
Will there be enough time to analyse the data?
What sort of questions would you ask to analyse the data?
Are interviewees likely to co-operate?
How would you validate the evidence?

Quantity or Quality ?

Quantitative -
o objective
o concerned with observable, objective, measurable facts, physical characteristics and the outside world
o hypothesis indicated at beginning of research then tested through experiment
o involves measurement and comparison of data at beginning and end of period
o large samples involved
o results presented as %s and in graphs
o researcher remote from group

Qualitative -
o subjective
o often concerned with social aspects of lives of groups and individuals
o concerned with immeasurable features - meanings and experience
o data used to generate new hypothesis or theory
o concerned with explanation and interpretation
o involves techniques such as case study, informal discussion, self discovery
o smaller samples involved
o results analysed and reported
o researcher more involved with group



• Used especially in physical sciences, medicine and social science projects.
• Starts with hypothesis (i.e. expression of relationship between two variables) based on observation/theory
• Hypothesis tested by experiment and proved or refuted
• Quantitative. Collects facts and studies relationships between different sets of facts.
• Effective where large scale calculations and measurements involved.
• Precision/accurate measurement/careful duplication, using scientific techniques.
• Rational and objective.
• Exact prediction and generality.
• Results presented as %s, graphs etc.
• May involve before and after situations - matched groups (with control group) given different treatments and results compared.
• Researcher removed from group.
• Disadvantages - in some areas may need to know more about process, not just before and after measurements. Cannot test changes in behaviour - too many variations and ambiguities.

Action Research

• Can follow on from case study or survey study.
• Practitioner = researcher.
• Reflective, self evaluation involved.
• Tackles real problems and aims for increased knowledge and understanding and improved practice.
• Where are we now? Where do we want to get to? How will we get there? How will we know when we have got there?
• Intervenes, makes changes, monitors effects
• Subjects participate and implement interventions - leading to more changes.
• Continuous process.
• May involve use of reflective diary, detailed observation methods
• Evidence gathered by e.g. photos, audio/video tape, notes, interviews, questionnaires
• Advantages: scope for inventiveness and creativity
• Disadvantages: invasion of privacy (ground rules needed)


• Study by integration with and observation of the group
• Qualitative/descriptive - seeking insight not statistical analysis
• Advantages:
- shared experience can help to understand subject's actions;
- can provide fresh perspectives on and valuable insights into what is taken -for-granted;
• Disadvantages:
- difficult to verify findings by repeating research;
- researcher’s personal involvement could make it difficult for him to step back and focus on observation;
- care needed to avoid affecting the action;
- time limitations;
- not representative or generalisable - but can be related to similar problems.

Case Study

• In depth, systematic examination of individual, group or focussed area/setting/institution
• Observes, questions, studies relationships between variables, interaction of factors and events
• Focus on describing the features of and understanding a particular case
• Case can be used to explain or illustrate wider themes
• Can stand alone or provide the starting point:
- for an experimental study, clarifying the hypothesis
- for a survey - identify key issues for further investigation
- for action research
• Qualitative - commonly uses observation and interviews but can use quantitative techniques
• Advantages:
o Can focus in depth on shifting relationships;
o Can explore complex sets of inter relationships;
o participants’ voices can be heard;
o brings research to life - gives a 3D picture
• Disadvantages:
o can intrude in lives of others;
o situation and time bound;
o requires carefully collected, high quality data; appropriate data collection takes time;
o researcher’s close involvement - risk of distortion
o generalisation not always possible - but still valid if can be related to similar situations


• Aims to obtain information from a representative selection/sample and present findings as representing population as a whole
• Describes situation/population and explores reasons
• Gives snapshot of setting/views/attitudes
• Identifies relationships, patterns
• Used e.g. for : demographic research; patient/client/use satisfaction surveys; market research; workload evaluation and human resource planning; monitoring standards
• May use questionnaires, attitude scales, archival data, interviews
• Advantages:
o Can gather large amount of data quickly and easily
• Disadvantages:
o difficult to make sample truly representative
o difficult to get questions right
o can answer "who, what, where, when, how?" but not so easily "why?"
o can identify relationships but not prove cause and effect


• Use of documents may sometimes be the only available method
• May involve use of historical documents, e.g. parish records, population statistics
• May involve use of more recent records, e.g. minutes of meetings
• May involve primary or secondary sources (i.e interpretations of primary sources)
• Disadvantages –
o documents may be missing/incomplete;
o questions of authenticity, reliability, validity and purpose;
o sampling often not possible
o difficulties of making inferences

Research Tools


No pre-conceived ideas about what to observe
No checklists
Written up immediately after

Decide what to observe in advance – content? process? interaction?
Decide appropriate recording system:
- Event sampling- Video/audio tape- Photos
Field notes and analytic memos
For further information on recording systems see:
Bales, Flanders, OU


build in time for correspondence/travel/ analysis
distribute personally (face to face/telephone)?
post with an accompanying letter – state return date
note dates sent and returned
chaser to non respondents (unless anonymous!)
consider how you will classify/analyse responses
pilot run (with similar group) and debug/revise

know your subject group
sample should be as representative as possible of study "population"
random? Every 5th name?
include representative sub-groups

make sure the respondent is sure about what is required
use simple, direct, appropriate language
make layout clear and user friendly
questions should :
be relevant and appropriate to your objectives
(Open or closed? Facts or beliefs?)
be precise to avoid confusion, ambiguity, hesitation
require consistent types of answer
not "lead" the respondent
not be hypothetical or offensives
carefully ordered – start with most straightforward

Types of response
Structured: list , category, ranking, scales, quantity, grid


• Structured:
o Questionnaire/Checklist – same questions to each in same order
o Can ensure all topics covered
o Analysis quick and easy
o Questions often "closed"

• Unstructured:
o No set questions
o Skill in paraphrasing, probing, summarising, echoing, non verbal communication
o Analysis needs time and care
o Useful preliminary to gain overview and identify areas to explore further
o Record responses by notes/tape recording – verify "quotes"

• Guided/focussed:
o Framework of selected topics
o Questions asked but interviewee also has chance to talk/give views
o Record responses under prepared headings

Be professional:
• Clear official channels
• - Make appointments and stick to them- Make your purpose clear
- Make it clear what you will do with the information
• - Make no promises that you cannot keep
• Be polite and respectful
• Be objective/unbiased (no "leading" questions)

Diaries, critical incident and problem portfolios

• Records behaviour – make clear what behaviour
• Useful where observation is difficult
• Could be preliminary to interview
• Time consuming and relies on honesty/accuracy of writer

Critical Incident
• Identify most "noteworthy" aspects of job behaviour
• Can show what particularly contributes to good performance
• Centres on specific events and effective behaviour

Problem portfolio
• Record how problem arose, methods used to solve, difficulties encountered, etc.,
• Raises questions regarding use of time, prioritising and approach to problems


• a short scenario to give a context to a question(s)
• people reflect and give answers based on their view of the scenario
• useful to inquire into sensitive areas
• must be realistic and easy to understand
• stops people relating questions to themselves directly
• less threatening
• can help to focus on a particular aspect
• questions must be relevant to research objectives
• questions must be carefully worded


• Not enough just to present findings
• Need to show how findings support your argument
o what light do they shed on the topic?
o what significance do they have for the topic?
o what weight can be given to them?
o how do they relate to other views?
• Need to interpret, analyse, criticise
• Look for similarities, groupings, patterns, items of particular significance
• Need to raise/discuss issues
• What is fact and what is opinion?
• Any weaknesses, errors, omissions? Other explanations possible?
• Do not claim more for the results than they provide – are they reliable and valid?
• Do not attempt generalisations based on insufficient data

© 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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