Your dissertation provides you with the opportunity to write a substantial piece of academic work on a topic of interest to you. It is your chance to produce a work of scholarship, using the academic skills you have developed. Regardless of topic, your dissertation will demonstrate the following skills:
- defining and outlining a research topic
- establishing a clear research question
- identifying the salient issues
- finding or generating the relevant information
- evaluating its reliability and validity
- weighing up the evidence on all sides of a debate
- arriving at a well-argued conclusion
- organising and presenting the results of your work critically, cogently, and coherently.
There are two major forms of dissertation:
- A piece ofempirical research . conducted on a topic or issue.
- Aliterature-based long essay providing an analysis of a specific research question.
An Empirical Dissertation
This type of dissertation involves carrying out a piece of original research on a small scale. It entails planning a research study, collecting and analysing primary data, and presenting the results in a systematic way.
The Key Stages in Producing an Empirical Study
1. Identify a research topic within the scope of the project
2. Refine the project title and formulate your own research question. This will be by:
- reading on the topic to see what aspects have been researched;
- your observation of details of the topic in any work experience;
- reflections on this experience;
- and discussions with tutors and fellow students.
3. Determine the best research format so as to better understand the area/issue in question. This will be formed by:
- research methodologies and research methods that others have tried. This will be discovered by reading in the substantive area and focusing on how others have researched the topic;
- the nature of your topic area and what research methods are possible.
4. Formulate a research proposal within the scope of the project
5. Identify and select the location(s) where you will conduct the research, and your target group(s).
6. Consider carefully alternative groups/places you could approach in case permission is denied. Start at this stage to avoid panicking and making inappropriate choices.
7. Seek permission to access the places and groups.
8. Develop research tools and test these.
9. Further reading.
10. Refine your research tools.
11. Collect and analyse your data.
12. Review earlier reading and evaluate other research and conceptualisations in light of the data you have gathered.
13. Throughout the process, record the research progress and critical points in a research diary. This can be quite brief, but will be valuable when you write up your work.
14. As the writing process gets underway, you will need to:
- draft outlines, synopses and chapters of the dissertation discuss these with your supervisor and others;
- discuss your findings and developing concepts with your supervisor and others;
- work with the supervisor‟s and others‟ feedback to develop and refine the draft.
A-Library Based Dissertation
A library-based dissertation is probably best distinguished from an empirical study by regarding it as a piece of scholarship in which the work of others is placed under close scrutiny, rather than the gathering of new, primary data directly from observation or measurement.
The data of a library-based study is the work of others. However, it is potentially highly valuable and important work, especially if you wish to conduct an in-depth study of an area and review the implications for your own professional concerns.
It is not the simply the describing of work that has been carried out in an area, although this will be part of the task. Library-based studies must contain research questions that are as carefully developed as any other type of study. The work can then be placed in a defined context and a critical judgment of the work can be made regarding its value, quality and contribution to theory and practical application. You also must consider the research methods used by the original researchers and evaluate these. You may also make judgments about the validity of the results in the context of your own professional practice.
The Key Stages in a Library-Based Study
1. Identify a research topic within the scope of the project.
2. Refine the project title and formulate your own research question. As with all dissertations you must have a clear question for which you wish to find answers. This will form the basis of the contract with your supervisor.
3. Clearly identify, discuss and clarify the key concepts being investigated. To do this you must read on your topic, advised initially by your supervisor.
4. Formulate a research proposal within the scope of the project. This may take several days.
5. Review the evidence available. This will include:
- constructing sets of criteria against which to judge the materials reviewed. (at this point you should discuss your criteria with your supervisor);
- a detailed literature review of the relevant books and journal articles. Note that this can also include other relevant materials, e.g. company or government reports, market research, newspaper articles, etc.
6. Sum up. This may be an overall analysis of statistical studies or some other analysis of the total evidence available.
7. Discuss how the literature survey answers the questions that you are exploring. Weigh up the pros and cons.
8. Make recommendations for further research studies, or draw out implications for practice.
It is important that a study sort adds additional material to the data that is being discussed, such as providing a summary of the weight of evidence for and against a particular position or theory, identifying key gaps in knowledge, or providing a new perspective from which to view an issue. A library based study can provide an excellent opportunity to consider how research done in a range of contexts relates to your own eventual work context.
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