Our consultants assist students to focus on a specific gap in the knowledge and meet
the requirements in this chapter needed to defend the choice of that gap.
Chapter 1, with a highly focused review of the literature, and is normally the “prospectus” that a committee approves before the “proposal” to start research is approved. After the prospectus is approved, some of the review of literature may be moved into Chapter 2, which then becomes part of the proposal to do research.
Chapter 1 is the engine that drives the rest of the document, and it must be a complete empirical argument as is found in courts of law. It should be filled with proofs throughout. It is not a creative writing project in a creative writing class; hence, once a word or phrase is established in Chapter 1, use the same word or phrase throughout the dissertation. The content is normally stylized into five chapters, repetitive in some sections from dissertation to dissertation. A lengthy dissertation may have more than five chapters, but regardless, most universities limit the total number of pages to 350 due to microfilming and binding considerations in libraries in those institutions requiring hard copies.
Use plenty of transitional words and sentences from one section to another, as well as subheadings, which allow the reader to follow the writer’s train of thought. Following is an outline of the content of the empirical argument of Chapter 1. Universities often arrange the content in a different order, but the subject matter is the same in all dissertations because it is an empirical “opening statement” as might be found in a court of law. (Note that a dissertation could also be five pages of text and 50 pages of pictures of dragonfly wings and qualify for a Doctor’s degree in entomology.)
State the general field of interest in one or two paragraphs, and end with a sentence that states what study will accomplish. Do not keep the reader waiting to find out the precise subject of the dissertation.
Background of the Problem
This section is critically important as it must contain some mention of all the subject matter in the following Chapter 2 Review of the Literature 2 and the methodology in Chapter 3. Key words should abound that will subsequently be used again in Chapter 2. The section is a brief two to four page summary of the major findings in the field of interest that cites the most current finding in the subject area. A minimum of two to three citations to the literature per paragraph is advisable. The paragraphs must be a summary of unresolved issues, conflicting findings, social concerns, or educational, national, or international issues, and lead to the next section, the statement of the problem. The problem is the gap in the knowledge. The focus of the Background of the Problem is where a gap in the knowledge is found in the current body of empirical (research) literature.
Statement of the Problem
Arising from the background statement is this statement of the exact gap in the knowledge discussed in previous paragraphs that reviewed the most current literature found. A gap in the knowledge is the entire reason for the study, so state it specifically and exactly.
Use the words “gap in the knowledge.” The problem statement will contain a definition of the general need for the study, and the specific problem that will be addressed.
Purpose of the Study
The Purpose of the Study is a statement contained within one or two paragraphs that identifies the research design, such as qualitative, quantitative, mixed methods, ethnographic, or another design. The research variables, if a quantitative study, are identified, for instance, independent, dependent, comparisons, relationships, or other variables. The population that will be used is identified, whether it will be randomly or purposively chosen, and the location of the study is summarized. Most of these factors will be discussed in detail in Chapter 3.
Significance of the Study
The significance is a statement of why it is important to determine the answer to the gap in the knowledge, and is related to improving the human condition. The contribution to the body of knowledge is described, and summarizes who will be able to use the knowledge to make better decisions, improve policy, advance science, or other uses of the new information. The “new” data is the information used to fill the gap in the knowledge.
Primary Research Questions
The primary research question is the basis for data collection and arises from the Purpose of the Study. There may be one, or there may be several. When the research is finished, the contribution to the knowledge will be the answer to these questions. Do not confuse the primary research questions with interview questions in a qualitative study, or survey questions in a quantitative study. The research questions in a qualitative study are followed by both a null and an alternate hypothesis.
A hypothesis is a testable prediction for an observed phenomenon, namely, the gap in the knowledge. Each research question will have both a null and an alternative hypothesis in a quantitative study. Qualitative studies do not have hypotheses. The two hypotheses should follow the research question upon which they are based. Hypotheses are testable predictions to the gap in the knowledge. In a qualitative study the hypotheses are replaced with the primary research questions.
In Chapter 1 this is a summary of the methodology and contains a brief outline of three things: (a) the participants in a qualitative study or thesubjects of a quantitative study (human participants are referred tyo as participants, non-human subjects are referred to as subjects), (b) the instrumentation used to collect data, and (c) the procedure that will be followed. All of these elements will be reported in detail in Chapter 3. In a quantitative study, the instrumentation will be validated in Chapter 3 in detail. In a qualitative study, if it is a researcher-created questionnaire, validating the correctness of the interview protocol is usually accomplished with a pilot study. For either a quantitative or a qualitative study, using an already validated survey instrument is easier to defend and does not require a pilot study; however, Chapter 3 must contain a careful review of the instrument and how it was validated by the creator.
In a qualitative study, which usually involves interviews, the instrumentation is an interview protocol – a pre-determined set of questions that every participant is asked that are based on the primary research questions. A qualitative interview should contain no less than 10 open-ended questions and take no less than 1 hour to administer to qualify as “robust” research.
In the humanities, a demographic survey should be circulated with most quantitative and qualitative studies to establish the parameters of the participant pool. Demographic surveys are nearly identical in most dissertations. In the sciences, a demographic survey is rarely needed.
The theoretical framework is the foundational theory that is used to provide a perspective upon which the study is based. There are hundreds of theories in the literature. For instance, if a study in the social sciences is about stress that may be causing teachers to quit, Apple’s Intensification Theory could be cited as the theory was that stress is cumulative and the result of continuing overlapping, progressively stringent responsibilities for teachers that eventually leads to the desire to quit. In the sciences, research about new species that may have evolved from older, extinct species would be based on the theory of evolution pioneered by Darwin.
Some departments put the theoretical framework explanation in Chapter 1; some put it in Chapter 2.
Assumptions, Limitations, and Scope (Delimitations)
Assumptions are self-evident truths. In a qualitative study, it may be assumed that participants be highly qualified in the study is about administrators. It can be assumed that participants will answer truthfully and accurately to the interview questions based on their personal experience, and that participants will respond honestly and to the best of their individual abilities.
Limitations of a study are those things over which the research has no control. Evident limitations are potential weaknesses of a study. Researcher biases and perceptual misrepresentations are potential limitations in a qualitative study; in a quantitative study, a limitation may be the capability of an instrument to accurately record data.
Scope is the extent of the study and contains measurements. In a qualitative study this would include the number of participants, the geographical location, and other pertinent numerical data. In a quantitative study the size of the elements of the experiment are cited. The generalizability of the study may be cited. The word generalizability, which is not in the Word 2007 dictionary, means the extent to which the data are applicable in places other than where the study took place, or under what conditions the study took place.
Delimitations are limitations on the research design imposed deliberately by the researcher. Delimitations in a social sciences study would be such things as the specific school district where a study took place, or in a scientific study, the number of repetitions.
Definition of Terms
The definition of terms is written for knowledgeable peers, not people from other disciplines As such, it is not the place to fill pages with definitions that knowledgeable peers would know at a glance. Instead, define terms that may have more than one meaning among knowledgeable peers.
Summarize the content of Chapter 1 and preview of content of Chapter 2.
Source: Barbara von Diether, EdD
Faculty of Languages and Cultures
These guidelines provide you with specific information on the use of sources, referencing and citation for MA dissertations in the Faculty of Languages and Cultures, which are likely to include a certain amount of foreign language data and material.
You are encouraged to make use of the support for essay and dissertation writing available from the Learning and Teaching Unit (soas.ac.uk/ltu). The LTU offers on-line help, workshops and one-to-one tutorials which cover many aspects of academic writing relevant for MA dissertations.
Please also note that some departments or programmes have more specific MA guidelines. In case of doubt, always follow the more specific guidelines.
The MA dissertation is about showing how well you can independently do research on a particular topic, including a theoretical background. Unlike a UG dissertation, an MA dissertation should be of publishable quality and therefore fulfil the requirements of a good piece of research. Therefore, you will have to isolate a viable topic for research as soon as possible and your capability to critically analyse this topic will be assessed.
Select an appropriate amount of references for your dissertation, so that the research is well founded, more is better than less. Although no clear numbers as to how many sources should be used can be given, it is vital that the paper is not based upon a few works only. When in doubt, please contact your supervisors with your list of references as early as possible.
All works cited in the text should appear on the list of references. Works that are not cited should not be listed in the references. It is important that quotations in the text, and information in the bibliography are formatted to the appropriate academic standard. Please see the referencing guidelines issued by the Learning and Teaching Unit.
The MA dissertation is less about showing how well you can deal with foreign language material, however, if you do have the capability of reading research in the language of your area, you are strongly recommended to do so. No clear quota can be given, but the materials from both languages should be referenced in the text and relevant to the argument. When in doubt, please contact your supervisor.
In general, published sources such as books and academic articles are the more reliable source of information and to be preferred over internet sources.
Use ONLY reliable internet sources, such as governmental or institutional websites (e.g. the UN, EU, Amnesty International, University websites, papers written and posted by academics).
Wikipedia, other similar reference sites as well as blogs or chat rooms ARE NOT to be used in a dissertation. This is because Wikis and blogs are sometimes deliberately inaccurate. If you find relevant information on an unreliable website, check this information in a reliable source, and use this as a reference.
HOWEVER: It is acceptable to make use of Wikipedia or any ‘;popular site’ IF these are the OBJECT of analysis and NOT a source of information (e.g. a dissertation on the usage of language in relation to emoticons in blogs or chat forum would naturally need to refer to the webpages in question). Nevertheless, even such a dissertation does need to make use of books in order to introduce the topic and give it a theoretical backing. It should not consist of the analysis of the webpages only.
If you do need to quote from the internet, make sure that the day you last accessed that particular site appears in the list of references, since the internet is not a reliable medium when it comes to permanent access to information, even governments and NGOs update their homepages and delete documents.
It is better to print out anything you might want to use immediately because it could be deleted as you progress with your dissertation. In addition, having a hard copy also means that you can show it to your supervisor upon request.
To avoid plagiarism issues, all direct and indirect quotes should be made clear in the text, either by inserting the reference in brackets in the texts or in a footnote.
PLEASE NOTE: Even referring to somebody’s ideas, or information taken out of a book needs to be properly referenced. Dissertations will receive a lower mark when they are poorly referenced even if the research was original.
Please avoid ‘;ibid.’ when you refer to a text you have quoted before. Although it is still widely used in academic texts, it is very confusing for your audience. Instead, please repeat the name of the author, the name and the page number (e.g. Smith 1999: 12). Please also refer to the guidelines by the Learning and Teaching Unit.
Indirect references can be treated like English sources. Direct quotes should be translated into English. If no official translation exists, your own translations can be used, but you should highlight them as such by inserting ‘;my translation’ or ‘;translation by the author’ in brackets behind the quote (e.g. Yamada 2006: 12, my translation).
However, conventions may vary according to subject. Please check with your supervisors and make sure you use one coherent system.
MA dissertations need to be double-spaced and there should be a generous margin on both sides.
Please make sure that your pages are numbered.
The word count should be given on the title page.
Also, upon submitting your dissertation, please make sure you include the signed plagiarism declaration form. This can either be signed, scanned and included with your online submission, however by submitting online you effectively agree to the declaration as the statement is included on the Moodle Turnitin link.
- The main body of a dissertation (excluding footnotes and list of references) should be double-spaced, using clear fonts such as Calibri.
- You may use non-Roman script, but a transcription also needs to be given. Any non-English word that is not self-explanatory or firmly located in the English language needs to be written in italics and be glossed or explained.
- ONE copy of your dissertation should be submitted via the the relevant Moodle Turnitin link by 11.59pm on the due date. Please ensure that you have your submission receipt which is evidence that your online submission was successful. Should you experience any technical issues with Turnitin, please email ONE copy of your dissertation to email@example.com.
An MA dissertation should have:
- A cover sheet containing title of the dissertation, your name, student ID, degree, the date of submission and the word count.
- This cover sheet MUST be followed by the SIGNED declaration of plagiarism (Section 4.4.ii in the Guidelines for the Preparation of Masters Dissertations):
- Declaration by candidate
- I have read and understood regulation 17.9 (Regulations for Students of SOAS) concerning plagiarism. I undertake that all material presented for examination is my own work and has not been written for me, in whole or in part, by any other person(s). I also undertake that any quotation or paraphrase from the published or unpublished work of another person has been duly acknowledged in the work which I present for examination.
I give permission for a copy of my dissertation to be held at the School’s discretion, following final examination, to be made available for reference.
- Signed&…&…&…&…&…&…&…&…&…&…&… (student)
- A table of contents (if applicable):
Please do try to structure your dissertation along numbered sections; it makes it a lot easier for you to write, because it helps you structure your thoughts and it also makes it easier for your examiners to read it and follow your train of thought. Please make sure that your dissertation has page numbers. Your table of contents should have the page number for each section correctly. The table of contents should also include the bibliography and any appendices of your dissertation.
- An abstract that should provide a brief statement (no longer than 200 words) about the findings and main themes.
- Word count: is defined as the number of words contained in the submitted work including quotations, footnotes, titles, abstracts, summaries and tables of contents. Appendices and bibliographies are not included in the word count. Appendices will not normally be marked and they must not include material essential to the argument developed in the main body of the work.
- Bibliography: should contain all works cited in your dissertation and none that you have not used. It needs to be sorted alphabetically, online sources without a clear author need to be listed separately. Please make sure that your reference and citation style is consistent, and follows an accepted style format (such as the Harvard reference style). Reference to works in non-Roman script should include Romanisation. Please note that poor referencing will result in a reduction of the mark, so please make sure you reference properly.
- Appendices: Anything that is unavailable to your examiners, or texts that you wish to analyse more profoundly, plot synopses of films, dramas, the full body of your own empirical findings (such as interview transcripts) &… anything that is vital to the understanding of your dissertation can be put in an appendix IF you are referring to it in your actual text.
If you are unsure about how to reference, please refer to the documents provided by the Learning and Teaching Unit on their self-studies webpage soas.ac.uk/ltu/studysupport/helpyourself/ .
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