What follows is an in-depth guide on how to write a dissertation, which breaks down all the various components into their individual parts. This guide has been written in plain English, avoiding a lot of the confusing jargon which often accompanies scholarly guides. The intention is to provide learners with a comprehensive but easy to understand go-to resource which can be used as a virtual working manual to complete a dissertation. By following this step-by-step guide, you will be able to work through your dissertation in easy to manage stages, progressing with clarity and confidence.
The dissertation is a long-form academic project or thesis. It is an in-depth piece of critical writing in which students are given the opportunity to independently develop an extended piece of research in a specialty of their choosing. Here, you, the learner, take responsibility for the direction of your study. In this way, the dissertation is unique from all other assessed university work because students are given an unprecedented level of intellectual and academic autonomy. The exact requirements of your dissertation will depend upon the course subject and qualification for which you are studying.
So, we now know that the dissertation is an extended piece of self-directed research, let us consider what this entails exactly. The dissertation is usually your last stage of your studies and gives you a chance to demonstrate your skills in collecting, analysing and forming conclusions about your own research. Broadly speaking, there are three key aspects to a dissertation. Firstly your dissertation is expected to be piece of independent work. You will of course have the support of your dissertation supervisor, but the work is primarily directed, managed and overseen by yourself. Secondly, the dissertation needs to be original. This can be achieved in a variety of ways. For instance, it might come from original research questions or an original argument or insight into an area of concern, or it might derive from originality in the method you choose to carry out the study.
Most importantly, a dissertation should be reflective. This means you need to look at your own work with a critical eye. Obviously, there will be critical reflection present in your findings. However, you are also expected to go beyond this and reflect on the research process itself. This means you should seek to identify the limitations of your study as well as discussing other problems you faced as a researcher. All academic research is subject to some limitation or other. You will invariably encounter difficulties in your own study. So this reflective component should be fairly easy to undertake.
An undergraduate dissertation is usually between 8,000 to 12,000 words. Traditionally speaking, a dissertation contains five distinct chapters, these are:
Results and Analysis
We shall discuss each of the above in closer detail later on in subsequent sections. But for now, we will give a brief overview of how the individual chapters work, individually and together.
The Introduction chapter serves to set the scene for the dissertation. This chapter establishes the context of your research and describes the problem or issue you studied. It provides a rationale for the study. So, you might for example discuss why the topic is important, what is to be gained from studying it, and who will benefit from the research (i.e. professional practitioners or other researchers). Also, the Introduction provides a formal statement of the research questions associated with his study.
The Literature Review provides a fairly comprehensive account of the theoretical concepts related to your topic. This may include a review of related studies which have examined topics similar to yours. You will need to discriminate between content so as to include only the literature most relevant to your project.
The Methodology discusses the research design you have chosen along with the assumptions associated with that design and a rationale for whit it has been selected. Usually, the Methodology will provide a step-by-step breakdown of the methods and techniques you use to collect and analyse your data. Where applicable, the chapter would also entail discussion of the ethical issues associated with the project.
The Results and Analysis chapter should be a narrative which presents the evidential findings of your research as clearly as possible. The point here is to transmit information in a way that other researchers understand exactly what your study discovered and why.
The Discussion is where major interpretation of the data generally occurs. Hence the Discussion is arguably the most important section of the dissertation. Here, you should aim to connect the findings to the original research questions and Literature Review. Perhaps you will introduce new ideas which shed further light on the findings, enabling better interpretation. This is also the place to offer a reflective account of your study (its limitations and difficulties). If you are undertaking applied research, the Discussion also offers recommendations you wish to make for further research.
The dissertation is a truly unique part of the university experience. It is the most personal piece of work you will do. This is because you are in control, the master and commander of your own scholarly journey. Of course, this might be a bit daunting to begin with. But as you progress, it will begin to become extremely rewarding. Think about it: writing a dissertation is your opportunity to say what you want to say, on a topic you think is important, that you care about. You get to shine a light on a perhaps wholly new area of inquiry. Moreover, this is your chance to be unrestricted, to really throw yourself into something that you have a passion for. This can be a very agreeable, even enjoyable experience. Far too much attention is paid to the potential difficulties of the dissertation. True enough, it will likely be challenging; but, anything worthwhile is. Overcoming the challenge is where the sense of achievement comes from. Nor does this have to be an ordeal. Do not feel like you have to suffer through the dissertation. This really is the wrong way to think about it. Rather, you should concentrate on the benefits it offers. You should allow yourself to enjoy the process, enjoy the research. Allow yourself to enjoy producing something you are proud of, in being able to immerse yourself in study and produce good work.
The first thing to consider, when deciding your dissertation topic, is what kind of research project genuinely arouses your interest – and can sustain it. The topic should also be manageable but also have scope for extended study. Avoid choosing a problem that researchers have spent many years trying, and failing, to solve (and on which you are unlikely to be able to make ground). Be sure you enjoy your research area. After all, you will be working on this topic for months and months, so it absolutely must be something you like. If you have no passion for your research topic, not only will this probably be evident in your work, it will also make the process into a chore. Moreover, having a sincere interest in your topic will help guarantee you do not dread working on it - or worse, never finish the thesis. At the same time, however, it is wise to avoid a topic about which you hold strong opinions and beliefs. Any such kind of emotional connection to the topic might suggest an investment in a particular outcome. This can cloud your judgement. Being too tied to a position makes it hard to be objective about it. This subjective partiality, when spending so much time wresting with an issue which is close to you, can take a toll emotionally. Avoid this pitfall by planning ahead and making sure you set off on the right foot.
With a big piece of work like a dissertation, you can save yourself a lot of time early on by asking certain questions which will guide you along. Who is my dissertation supervisor? When is the final deadline? And what is the dissertation word limit? You will benefit from tailoring your topic in line with the answers to the above questions. Do not make things difficult for yourself. Choose something which your department specialises in. Once you have the answers to these questions you can think about structuring a topic within these parameters.
Your supervisor will be a good first port of call in these initial stages. You should try and meet with them early on, even if you do not have any clear-cut ideas at that stage. Even a simple conversation is likely to be valuable in some respect. Tutors have guided hundreds of students through similar waters and will very likely be able to assist you in refining your thoughts.
When trying to identify your topic, it is useful to start with a fairly broad topic as opposed to a specific question. Narrow the topic down in line with your interests and expertise and eventually a particular research questions will suggest itself. An essential stage in narrowing focus is to review as much of the available literature as possible. Gather everything that is relevant to the topics and themes you are interested in. As you continue to search for and review the literature, your scope will slowly but surely narrow to favour the concept that you find the most engaging. It is important to think critically about the literature, considering how it fits in with or diverges from the broader debates and ideas in the particular academic field. Specifically, you want to focus on learning what has already been done what methods have been used. Look for what works and what does not, identify best practice. Perhaps the most important objective, here, however is to locate a gap in the literature: an area of inquiry which has not yet been covered or has been given scant attention. Usually, scholarly articles will telegraph such gaps themselves, so keep an eye out for the “Recommendations for future Research” which often come at the end of journal articles: this will be a trove of great potential research topics and questions.
Once you have narrowed your focus into a few principle themes and ideas, begin to formulate these as research questions. Next try and synthesise the research questions with the gaps which you have identified in the literature. You should by now begin to see an inroad into the topic. This is the time to go back to your supervisor and discuss your thoughts. He or she should be able to assist you in isolating a specific topic, based on the research you have already done.
Conducting dissertation-level research can at first be a little bit of a daunting prospect. Initially, you might find yourself in what seems like a chaotic environment, in which no clear starting point is apparent. Contrarily, perhaps there are multiple contrasting ways of thinking about your research topic and you do not know exactly where you stand among this diversity. Do not worry. Feeling somewhat at sea in the beginning is quite normal. The research environment is highly complex and does not easily lend itself to a neatly linear process. What you need to do is locate a pathway through this complexity, isolating a through-line which lets you see what you are trying to do and allows you to narrow focus. This is precisely what a research strategy is: the through-line that will guide you along the way.
In formulating a Research Strategy, it is important to have a clear idea of what it is precisely that you are trying to achieve. At base, any piece of academic research is making an argument. This argument is conceptualised around problem which is deemed to be important to the particular discipline. Of course, not all problems will be relevant for all disciplines. This means that identifying a problem which is relevant to your subject is a principle concern in your research strategy. This will ensure that you start out in good stead, by placing your research problem in the right scholarly orbit. There are a few simple steps that will help you alight on a suitable problem. First off, you will want to read scholarly literature related to your topic. You will start to notice that certain key themes and ideas come up regularly. You should note these down. These key points will soon come to exhibit connecting points, which will serve to pull your focus in a certain direction. This is important because it will give you an anchor point to begin with and save you from pursuing irrelevant material.
Coming up with a good Research Strategy is important because a thesis, as a long-form and reasonably complex piece of work, tends to have multiple (and, generally, related) problems and thus contain multiple arguments. The best way to ensure you manage all of these problems efficiently is to approach them strategically. This entails figuring out how the various pieces of your research will thread together, how you will unite the respective arguments and conclusions. You want to know at least broadly, in advance, how the literature complements the conceptual framework, how this particular methodology is superior to others, and how both the above help you to conceptualise, and consequently shed light on, your research problem. The point here is to maintain a clear grasp of how and why the conclusions of your analysis make sense and what the connections between them are. The objective of the Research Strategy is to keep track of these arguments, provide you with a degree of clarity and, more importantly, direction as you progress. This is extremely useful seeing as one generally commences a research project without knowing what the outcome will be. Approaching this uncertain territory in a methodical way accordingly helps impose an element of order upon it. So, you want to attempt to work your way through the research process in a systematic fashion, accumulating knowledge as you advance, thus piecing together associated assumptions which lead you to your final conclusions.
One important strategic move is to make the most use of available resources. Librarians and online resources point can you in the right direction. For example, there are numerous academic databases which archive articles that relate to a particular topic or subject area. These databases limit the pool in which you are searching, using specific search criteria to help you locate relevant material. Knowing what information is most relevant is thus vital when starting out. The best way of narrowing down what information will be most useful is by identifying key words and the concepts. An efficient means of narrowing focus in this way might be to compose a mind map. Start with a broad topic in the centre and work outward by adding any related topics. You will want to consider by what variables the topic may be narrowed. For example, by viewpoint, time frame, location, experience, gender, or any other factors you think are relevant. This mind-mapping exercise will help you to select what topic you should focus on as well as to brainstorm what keywords you should search (in the journal archives). Once you have selected and narrowed your topic from the mind map it is helpful to chart the keywords, to see how they might fit together and what related concepts they suggest. When you are searching the database using different keywords will give you different results every time. Hence it is useful to make a note of your searches in case you want to come back to them.
So, a Research Strategy is essentially a simplifying framework which gives you a structured and systematic method of sorting through information. It is a way of clarifying your thinking, which puts emphasis on the overall substance of the research project as opposed to the finer details (which will be filled in later).
In many ways, coming up with a good dissertation title is the most exciting part of the project. This is because, at this early stage, nothing is set in stone and there is a world of possibilities in front of you. This is your chance to be creative, to explore the various possibilities available to you. This means playing around with various ideas and seeing what engages you. The point is to find a title which speaks to you, which sparks your interest and which you feel excited about. Really, the title serves to encapsulate the overall idea of the thesis. It is consequently essential that you find the right title for you. After all, you will be spending much time and energy in its presence. However, you cannot expect a suitable title to just fall into your lap. Rather, you need to be actively engaged in looking for a good title.
Finding a good dissertation title is a lot to do with selecting a good thesis topic. The two items are of course intrinsically related. Again, the central idea is what counts. So, how do you find that one great idea? There is no single answer to this question but certainly there are a few simple steps you can take to set you in the right direction. First of all, read widely. See what piques your interest. One very useful step is to go into your university library, browse the thesis and dissertations section, looking in particular at recent dissertations. This will be useful in giving an indication of the kinds of dissertations which your particular institution produces as well as the kinds of theses’ titles which attend them. Further, more importantly, almost all dissertations will have a conclusory section which includes suggestions for future research: which is precisely what you are looking for. Recent journal articles likewise give suggestions for further research (though, bear in mind, journal recommendations may be somewhat over-complex for graduate level work).
The next essential piece of advice is to talk with as many people as possible. This includes potential supervisors, fellow students, friends and other people that have completed a thesis. Why would you want to talk to all those different people? So you can make any informed decision about what you are going to study and write about. You can profit from other people’s experience and knowledge.
The next practical step is seeking your supervisor’s assistance. In this regard there are two obvious approaches. Firstly, you can approach your supervisor with your own ideas for the topic and see what they think. Secondly, you can ask them for suggestions as to a suitable topic. Usually, the optimal solution is a combination of both. Perhaps you come with some ideas about a thesis title, and they will come back with suggestions on how to improve or refine that title. Do not be worried if initially you have no ideas. Your supervisor will almost certainly be able to suggest some – that is what they are there for.
Once you have done all of the above, you should be situated to start playing around with potential ideas. Jot down some possible research questions. Now, try to make these look like essay titles. So, for instance, here is a research question: “How is identity constructed in post-colonial literature?” Now, here is that same question rearranged into a title: “An Examination into the Construction of Identity in Post-Colonial Literature”. Experiment with a range of questions/titles until you alight upon a couple of options that you think might work. Consult with your supervisor again. Narrow down the list until you find one title that is the most interesting to you, relevant to the discipline and amenable to the supervisor.
The term “data” is the plural of “datum”. A datum is a piece of information, so data are pieces of information. As such, data is a term which encapsulates a very broad range of meanings. After all, almost anything might be considered a piece of information, depending upon the way one looks at it. This is what data collection methods are all about: they give us specific and systematic ways of looking at information. They allow us to organise and process information in a structured and consistent manner.
Numerous different kinds of data collection methods are available, but two very broad overarching categories may nonetheless be identified. These relate to primary and secondary data. Primary data concerns information gathered first-hand by, you, the student. This can include a wide array of different methods, such conducting surveys, interviews, field observations, laboratory experiments, and many more. Secondary data are pieces of information not gathered by you, but which come from other sources. Here we may list censuses, government statistics, organisational records, and other academic works. Obviously, these different kinds of data are best fitted to different purposes. Choosing the right kind of data is therefore important in deciding upon one’s data collection methods.
One of the first items to consider is whether existing (secondary) data may be used or new (primary) data must be generated. Using data that already exists saves much time and effort in a research project. Many kinds of data are readily available to the researcher. These include records, historical data and existing data sets collected for research purposes. Such secondary data sets are becoming increasingly common and are thus more likely to be used in your work. So, collecting data will be required for students who are carrying out a primary research project. Students who are carrying out a secondary research project, such as an extended Literature Review, will produce two or three literature review chapters, with the purpose of presenting what other researchers have found. Other information may come from original research found in secondary sources, such as scholarly journal articles. The authors may have collected their own data via scientific experiments, observations and surveys; they may also use data collected by other researchers, analysing them in a new way.
You need to be forward thinking in deciding upon data collection method. You should start out by making a data collection plan. This is a broad roadmap of the various major stages to be taken. This begins by identifying your data needs. This relates to research question: you need to figure out which kinds of information would best answer or help to explain your research problem. Next, you must select the type of data collection approach and measurement that will be employed. You will then need to select, adapt or develop data collection instruments. Developing such an instrument can be time consuming and highly complex. Hence this approach is probably best avoided at undergraduate level – unless one has a demonstrably workable and necessary instrument. It is advisable to use established data collection instruments. Consider how you will record any information you collect and set up a system for analysing and storing your data. Make sure to factor into this plan enough time to negotiate access to the research site. Finally, one needs to develop data collection forms and procedures, to test them (in the manner in which they are intended to be employed). To recap, the data collection in primary research can be time-consuming and needs to be well thought out to avoid collecting more data than you can use. It is essential that you ask for your supervisor’s guidance when it comes to data collection. They will be able to point you in the right direction, ensuring you do not waste valuable time. Remember, the more effort you put into the data collection stage, the better quality the data are going to be. Good planning is the essence of good research.
Methodologically speaking, academic convention identifies two main kinds of data, quantitative and qualitative. Qualitative data comes in numerical form – they are to do with quantities. Quantitative data may be subdivided into continuous/variable data and discrete data. Continuous data would relate to numerical values along a scale whose range could be any of an infinite number of decimals. Discrete data would be something in which a finite number of choices were at play. Qualitative data describe qualities; they relate to non-numerical information. On the qualitative side, then, you have open questions (for example, responses on a questionnaire); data that do not collate neatly into unambiguous units of measurement (as with numbers). In sum, qualitative data relate information that is not otherwise easily parsed.
Deciding upon whether you will need quantitative or qualitative data is a crucial consideration in determining what kinds of data collection methods you use. Obviously, the process of gathering statistical information will be quite different from that of collecting soil samples. There are as many collection methods as there are sources of data to collect. You need to determine which kind of data is most appropriate to conceptualising your research problem. This means you need to consider what type of data will best offer explanations for a certain phenomenon. For example, if you were trying to determine how second-generation immigrants feel about national identity in their adoptive country, soil samples from beneath their homes would not shed much light. Here, an interview would surely better serve. Contrarily, if you were investigating the iron-content of soil in a park, say, giving questionnaires to people sat upon the grass would probably not yield appropriate data. You need to tailor the method the objective, and the objective will be determined by the Research Question.
Good structure is the result of good planning. Most probably, you will have around six months to complete your dissertation, though you may well be writing it alongside other commitments. As a consequence, it is important to be realistic about what you can achieve in the available time. Some initial planning should help you to manage your time properly and also to remain motivated. Ensuring that the task is manageable is a top priority. So, work out how many chapters you need to write. Count the number of weeks between now and the deadline. Work out how many weeks you will spend on each chapter, conducting research and doing the write-up. Leave enough time at the end of the proofreading and writing. So, the first step in structuring your dissertation properly is in structuring your time efficiently: the one follows from the other.
The next step is to break the workload down into constituents. This will help you to get a handle on how to approach the task. It is useful to try and see the dissertation as a series of short pieces of work which link together, rather than as one giant piece of prose. So, it is like you are writing a series of distinct but interconnecting essays. Each essay becomes a different chapter. Breaking the task down into even smaller pieces will help you to organise the content at the chapter level. You should make a to-do list for each chapter. Now break these tasks down into yet further smaller component pieces. By continually dividing the work down into smaller fractions, it begins to take the form of a series of linearly arranged discrete tasks. Focusing on one small step at a time is the path to success. If you plot these various objectives and tasks onto a weekly and then a daily planner, you will have a series of small but incremental objectives to follow. Moreover, by ticking these tasks of the lists as you go, you will gain a palpable sense of progress. This will help to keep you motivated as well keeping track of where you are along the road.
There is very likely to be a set format for the structure of your dissertation. You should always consult your course handbook for exact details because each department has slightly different criteria. Broadly speaking, however, an undergraduate dissertation of between 8000 to 10,000 words will break down as follows. Start with introduction which might be between 800 and 1000 words in length. You would then move to the literature review which would typically be 1200 to 2000 words in length. Next write the methodology which might be between 1500 and 2000 words. The next chapter is your data analysis chapter which could be between 2000 and 2200 words. You might then have a chapter about your research findings which would be between 1000 words and 1200 words. Finally, you have the conclusion, which is typically between 800 words and 1000 words.
Your supervisor is likely to be a very useful source of support throughout the dissertation process. He or she is likely to be very knowledgeable about your topic. They are therefore the perfect person to help you map out your dissertation structure. Likely they will have supervised many other students, perhaps even in topics similar to yours, so they will be able to offer helpful advice. At the first meeting with the supervisor, take along your proposed research questions. These can be fairly basic and proximal at this stage. It will act as a starting point for discussion, enabling your supervisor to see where your interests lie. This will better equip them to guide you, which will in turn make you more likely to achieve good structure.
The overall objective of a research proposal is to convince your dissertation supervisor, likely a busy academic themselves, to take on this research project with you and thus to dedicate their time and resources into helping you develop it. The proposal thus needs to be persuasive; it is making an argument for the research to be undertaken. The first issue, then, is to have a clear focus. You have to test out the feasibility of the study, exhibiting an appropriate level of academic sophistication and professional relevance. Getting that balance right is crucial. It is important from the outset that you avoid being too general. You must begin to clarify and to identify the very clear issues that are of most significance and are most likely to produce useful and relevant outcomes. While you will necessarily be working within one overall generic topic, identifying a specific sub-topic is essential.
Make life easy on yourself by selecting a manageable project. A crucial component of persuading the supervisor of your capability is correctly gaging the scope and complexity of the idea. This in itself exhibits good judgement and forethought (and is an element of critical thinking). A Proposal which suggests research in an entirely new area is risky, because there are fewer (or no) precedents to refer to and build upon. It will be far harder (though perhaps not impossible) to convince the supervisor to sign-off on some order of research project that has never been done before. Even where a few precursor studies do exist, you may potentially face scepticism. Hence you will need to think of all the potential risks and have a course of action mapped out, a clear idea of how you will proceed. Your Proposal must communicate this strategic planning in such a way that convincingly argues that you can take this new piece of work and create something out of it. Always remember, you are making an argument, and this means marshalling evidence to win the reader to your point of view.
A good Research Proposal will be original in some way, either in the topics it addresses or the way it intends to approach those topics. If the research is distinctive it has more potential to make an impact and this is what will make your Proposal persuasive: because the purpose of the research is clear. A good way of highlighting impact, in this sense, is to outline how your work will add to the critical dialogue. Your proposal thus needs to talk (briefly) about the contribution your work will have, for theory and practice. Academic contributions are theoretical in nature. Fellow researchers in your area should benefit in some way from the work that you are doing. It might also have some kind of practical contribution, aiding practitioners. In either case, you should emphasise these benefits.
Your Proposal should also include some degree of conceptualisation. By conceptualisation, we really mean exploring the ideas which surround your research project. This will start with a Literature Review. A Literature Review in a Research Proposal does not have to be extensive, but it should highlight the key scholarly works in your area. So, you want to seek out seminal papers, papers that receive a lot of citations. Also, you will want to include any facts and theories which appear to be of key relevance (those which commonly recur in the scholarly literature).
The reader will expect some coverage of the theoretical underpinnings of your study. What theory are you using to refine and develop your thinking in your topic area? Theory is extremely important. It helps us explain how variables are expected to relate to each other. Without theory underpinning why we expect things to happen we do not really know if any results that we have are random.
The next section of the proposal would be the Methodology. We should think about this as “proposed methodology”, because, at this stage, we are not certain as to the exact methods we will use. Rather, we would talk about the data that we would like to collect to enable us to address our research questions. However, we do not necessarily know if this is the final type of data we will be interested in. Because we have not yet conducted the research, we do not know exactly what methodology will be best suited the results in the field. So, at this stage, the “proposed methodology” would address questions about how to collect relevant data for the research and how we plan to analyse that data. A good tip, here, is to read books on academic methods, citing where appropriate to back-up the suitability of your chosen approach. Referencing is paramount in a Proposal. Make sure that you understand the nature of Referencing. If you are making truth-claims in your proposal you should be referencing those statements with other academic works. This builds evidence into your position.
A Research Proposal should not be overly long. You should be able to describe your research area and your research question in a page or two. It is good practice to learn to communicate your ideas to people in a short amount of text. Also, do not consider your proposal to be final; it will change during the research process. Do not worry about your proposal being perfect; it just has to demonstrate enough competence to persuade your supervisor. The supervisor will be looking to see whether you have the competencies, experience and knowledge-base to see the project through.
An Abstract is a brief comprehensive summary of the content of a thesis or article, which comes at the very beginning of the work. Because the Abstract is the first part of the work anyone will see, it has an important role in setting the reader’s expectations. Thus, it is an opportunity for you to outline the parameters of the work (say what it is doing and why) and thus to establish the genre of the research. Hence an Abstract is not merely prefatory. It has the practical function of substituting the entire text in library and digital archives, allowing researchers quickly to determine the content and significance of the text. For this reason, an Abstract must clarify the results of the research. It will tell the reader what the paper’s findings were.
As a comprehensive summary, the Abstract must be composed after the rest of the work has been completed – when one has all the information required to summarise the contents of the paper. Generally speaking, most Abstracts contain four principal components: the purpose, the methods, the results and the conclusions/implications. Around half of the words count will be spent telling the results and discussing their implications. Usually, the Abstract is around 100 to 150 words long. This is not very many words at all. One needs to exercise considerable verbal economy, packing as much meaning as possible into the few words available. One needs, then, carefully to balance concise writing with density of meaning.
We may establish certain further characteristics which make a good Abstract. One should use the active rather than passive voice. It is written in the past tense, seeing as it is relaying information about a study which has been completed. An abstract conveys as opposed to evaluating information (this is to be done in the main body of the work). You are reporting the contents of the study and what its purpose was. You are not engaging in analysis. A good Abstract will identify all of the main issues under study in one sentence, including a general description of the problem. So, you want to open with a sentence which is optimally explanatory, reporting all the key points clearly and efficiently. Do not waste precious words by repeating the title. Be sure to include the most important findings, concepts or implications. The point of the Abstract is that another scholar should be able to read it and determine immediately if that paper is relevant to their own research. Hence it functions somewhat like an index card. It may be helpful to think about the structure of the Abstract as mirroring the overall structure of the Thesis, in microcosm of course.
Most pieces of academic writing composed according to standard form will have an Introduction chapter. An Introduction chapter establishes the relevance of the study and provides certain essential information which the reader will need to contextualise in order to understand the rest of the dissertation. For this reason, learning how to write a good Introduction is an important skill for the university student. In order to do this, you need to know what functions an Introduction is supposed to fulfil. Put in the simplest terms, the Introduction is an answer the reader’s question: what is this work all about and why does it matter? Your first priority, then, is to makes life easier for readers: by telling them what the general subject matter is. Secondly, unless the research topic is generally well known, you might also need to provide additional background information to help explain and set up the issue. How much background will depend on the specific subject matter and what you can assume about your intended audience. Remember, after having read the Introduction, the reader should know exactly what this dissertation is about, what its main arguments are, and the relevance of those arguments within the field. The Introduction, then, is supposed to remove ambiguity; it clarifies all the essential information required to understand the rest of the work.
As the first order of business, the Introduction must make clear the principle thesis (the core argument) of the dissertation. It is essential that when you state your main thesis the reader have a good idea of what you are saying and why. Hence an Introduction might begin something like this:
This paper looks at whether (insert research question). It does this by examining (insert research topic). In addressing this issue, this paper employs (insert methodology), arguing that (insert proposition).
As you can see, the Introduction is very expository: it gets key information across quickly and plainly. Following the above format, within the first few sentences, the reader has ascertained a great deal of information about the study. They know what the core themes are, the main research question, subject matter, methods of data collection and crux of the argument. Now that they know what the paper is all about, you might want to explain how you intend to organise and expand upon the above component parts of the thesis. Thus the Introduction maps out the rest of the dissertation, acting as a guide which lets the reader know what to expect in the remainder of the work. Accordingly, the Introduction establishes a set of expectations for the reader. This is good practice because it brings the reader to a certain interpretive stance, one which you have determined in advance. You want to do your best to fulfil those expectations, so make sure that you actually do in the essay you said you would do in Introduction. Or, put another way, make sure that on completing the dissertation that you correctly describe in the Introduction what it is you have done. Because the Introduction is intended to pull the threads of the dissertation together, it is generally written after the rest of the work is completed. This is because, on completing the core research, you will have a better idea of what the precise significance of your study was. An important aspect of identifying significance is locating a niche for your work, showing how your work fills a certain gap in the scholarly knowledge. Thus you are outlining your research territory and situating your thesis specifically within that territory, as bridging a specific knowledge gap.
While the above passage offers a template, it is not prescribed or mandatory; it is only a suggestion. There are many ways to write an Introduction; it really depends on the genre of the research project. You may wish for instance to open with an intriguing quote or a bold statement, something that catches the reader’s attention and sparks their interest. Do not forget that your readers will have to dedicate time and energy into reading your work. You need to persuade them, to win them to your side. For this reason, merely reeling off expository statements may come over as rather dry. Rather, you want to find a balance between conveying information and exhibiting some element of verbal flair. A good way to go about finding this balance is to start with the above template and then build upon it. Get all the key information down first and then work at putting some sheen on the prose. Good writing will help in creating a persuasive argument. As long as the Introductions includes a statement of the core problem, the primary research questions, an outline of conceptualisation and methodology, and perhaps something on the scope and significance of the work, you can arrange it any manner you wish.
So, the Introduction sets the stage for the rest of the work. It is not the place to begin describing in detail arguments, analysing data, or providing other kinds of information that really belong in the main body of the essay. The Introduction is for setting up the main argument, providing background and context so the reader is best prepared to understand and follow the arguments which follow in later chapters. Hence the Introduction should be reasonably brief, like an opening statement. In a dissertation of 8000 to 10,000 words, it usually will not exceed more than a couple of paragraphs.
The Literature Review chapter is one of the most difficult pieces to write. It is complex and there are multiple things that you as the author are trying to do and which the reader will expect to see. One of the reasons it so difficult is because you have to write with the authority and sophistication of an experienced scholar. It can therefore be an intellectually challenging chapter to write. You need to pull together theoretical perspectives and conceptual debates from previous research perspectives. Furthermore, you have to write in others’ voices. That is, you must use other scholarly texts in order to construct an argument of your own and, somehow, through doing that, still pulling together an argument of your own.
The purpose of the Literature Review in a dissertation is to establish the scholarly significance of the research problem by showing what previous research in this area has found. Generally speaking, then, you need to demonstrate that you have a comprehensive awareness of the subject area, that you have considered it from a wide variety of angles. You are required to be able to see the broader debates in the field, to be able to see what the big discussions and issues are. You need to be able to see what the connections are between papers and between authors. You need to identify which author has generated a range of discussions and how authors connect or disagree with each other. You are also required to show how research is connected either theoretically or by a particular perspective, or perhaps a particular way of looking at that research or using data in a particular way. The key objective, then, is to illuminate the conceptual connections in the field, to chart how different scholarly works talk to each other. In addition, you must demonstrate that you are conscious of and understand the gaps in the research: particularly the gap that your research is going to bridge.
We can identify three main components to writing a Literature Review. All three components are important. First of all, you cannot write a literature review without reading. You must read widely and systematically. Secondly, you need to understand how to write a literature review, what goes into it. The third component is citation: citations play a very important role in helping you construct not only your argument as well as your identity as a scholar.
One of the important things to think about in writing the Literature Review is that it is an iterative process, something you come back to over and again. The Literature Review is the scholarly foundation of the work and as such acts as a touchstone for proceeding chapters. Begin by reading widely and making notes of all the works you read. It is especially important that you write down any quotes that you think will be significant. Doubly important is that you take a reference for every quote noted: do this exactly as you would in an ordinary essay (with a full bibliography). This way, you will have your dissertation bibliography already underway. It will also assist you in keeping your thoughts clear and orderly. Keep these notes filed and in tidy fashion. This will save you a great deal of time in the long run when you need to find a passage or quote whose relevance has only just become apparent. This will be very important later down the line, because you might come back to that article in the later stages and need to reread it. Again, the Literature Review is an iterative endeavour. You will necessarily go through a process of initial thoughts, from reading, writing, going back to articles, getting different thoughts, maybe finding new discoveries, and writing again; so, you will be revisiting papers and readings. Keep track of what you have been reading.
Another important consideration is that writing a Literature Review is in a certain sense an incremental process. As you begin to read and to understand the field, to see what the debates are, the more confidently you will progress. Towards the end of your dissertation you will be much more confident about the area that you are researching, because you will have developed expertise as you go along.
The only way you can find out what is happening in the literature is through reading. The more you read the more familiar you are going to become with the literature. At the beginning, this might all seem overwhelming; but as you read and you begin to see the same authors appearing, the same points being made, and arguments against a particular point, you will be able to work out what is happening in the field.
Where relevant (and possible) always try and go back to the source documents. Not only is this good in terms of seeing what was written originally but you will find that your confidence will increase if you have read the original source. This way, you are not just relying on other people’s interpretations. You want to begin to master how to read critically, how to develop notes how to relate your notes to the research that you you’re conducting.
Another important consideration in the Literature Review is the genre. You need to understand how the chapter will be written and what will go into it. You need to realise that the Literature Review is made up of a number of arguments and these are all sub-claims in your overall thesis argument. An essential claim in this respect is the need for this research to fill a knowledge-gap. The scholarly need for your own research will be justified based on your assessments of the research that has been really conducted in the field. You need to demonstrate to the reader where the current scholarship is lacking. You also need to show how the literature points in a certain direction in relation to the gap which you intend to bridge.
What your reader wants to hear in this chapter is what your research approach is, why you have chosen this specific approach, and how you have developed your research design out of this approach. You need to convey how all of the above aligns with your overall research problem and purpose so that everything fits together. The methodology chapter, then, must present an argument: for why you have chosen this particular methodology and not another one. As with any other argument, you will generally present a main claim, which would be around your research approach. This would be accompanied by subsidiary claims, which might be around a particular methodology or design or data collection method. For instance, if you choose to use open-ended interviews as opposed to surveys, you are effectively making an argument for the value of open-ended interviews over surveys (in measuring the particular phenomenon in question). Before beginning the write-up, it is useful carefully to consider your main claim and your sub-claims. You should think these through thoroughly, getting your ideas straight. Perhaps use index cards to plot the evidence you will need. This will help you arrange your ideas in a coherent way, thus aiding you to construct an argument. As an example, with open-ended interviews you would look to find in the scholarly literature evidence indicating that this particular approach has been used in other research projects to access this kind of data. You might note down such parallel studies on the index cards, marking down key advantages and disadvantages therein. Thus, you would use these sources to show that the way you have set up your project is in line with the way other scholars have conducted comparable research before. Such sources constitute evidence that your approach is likely to be reliable and therefore successful.
A Methodology, like other chapters in a dissertation, begins with an introduction. In the introduction, you want to link to the previous chapter, to establish continuity. You also want to identify the purpose of this chapter, to let the reader know your intention. Complementing this, you may perhaps include a roadmap which details for reader exactly what the chapter will do and in what order. The bulk of the Methodology will be made up of a number of different sections, which commence with the broad and progress to the specific. Finally you would have a concluding paragraph where you include a summary of the key points (that is, your key arguments). Here, it may be useful to emphasise the key message of the chapter, linking this in some way to the next chapter, again providing continuity, cogency and thus coherency.
A key focus of the Methodology, around which the rest of the chapter will rotate, is the research paradigm. A paradigm is a specific kind of pattern, example or model. Hence a research paradigm is a pre-established way of conducting research. As such, it is a broad term and can relate to a good many different concepts and approaches. For example, qualitative and quantitative approaches represent different paradigms, as do structuralism and post-structuralism, rationalism and empiricism, positivism and post-positivism, realism and idealism, and so on down the list. The particular research paradigm selected will depend on your discipline and department. The research paradigm determines your theoretical framework. Hence the objective in defending your research paradigm is to prove its appropriateness for researching the problem at hand and achieving the purpose of the research. Again, recall that you are making an argument. You need to persuade your reader of your position. Accordingly, you want to cite sources which demonstrate that other studies in the field successfully employed similar approaches to your own.
Another crucial part of the Methodology is the research design. This is the architecture of the study; it shows the reader how everything fits together within your research paradigm. So, if you were conducting qualitative research, a key assumption of this paradigm is that people’s experiences are central in determining how they make meaning out of the world. As a result, you would want to use a narrative research design, because this fits within the qualitative paradigm. For, the assumption in narrative research is that people’s stories are important in how understand their environments. These narrative accounts, the paradigm holds, can tell us something useful about society because they are products of that society. Thus, in this instance, you are not looking for objective, factual data about what people know. Instead, you are looking for subjective data about how people know what they know; their experience of that knowledge. If contrarily you were looking for data on what people knew, you probably would not use a narrative paradigm. You would use a different approach; perhaps using surveys, questionnaires or whatever else best fitted your overall purpose.
So, to recap, the Methodology essentially sets out for the reader the precise approaches, procedures and instruments you intended to employ in your dissertation. This chapter may be written fairly early on, seeing as it does not depend upon the outcome of your project. Rather, it sets the parameters within which the project will be undertaken. The Methodology allows you to justify your chosen research methods. In this chapter, you should state your research question and how it relates to existing literature. You should describe how you will investigate your research questions (are you using interviews, questionnaires or diaries, for example?). You will explain why these methods are suitable in helping you to answer your research questions, why you are using these and not other methods. You want to detail the limitations of your chosen approaches. Here, you would also address any relevant ethical issues. Remember, it is expected that your Methodology chapter will include references. There are a number of scholarly texts which cover the strengths and weaknesses of different research methods. If you want to score top marks, you should refer to some of these in relation to the methods that you have chosen. This demonstrates critical reflection and shows that you are aware of the limitations in your selected approach.
Analysis is a particular way of thinking about, and therefore writing on, a given topic. There are several different ways you can approach an analysis, though certain underlying principles may be identified. Foremost, becoming good at analysis is a matter of practice. It is a skill one learns through repetition and refinement.
Another key step in improving your analytical thinking and writing is to cultivating an awareness of your own thinking processes. This means developing the skills you already have and removing any habits that get in the way. One such habit, which is all too tempting, is to form an opinion before fully considering the case. This is a very natural, human thing to do; but it does not make for good analysis. Rather, you need to learn to suspend your judgement. Analytical thinking requires you somewhat to remove yourself from the topic you are analysing, to take a step back, to slow down. Often when we approach a topic we are familiar with, as is the case with the dissertation, we already possess certain assumptions and preconceptions about that topic. With analysis, however, you need to separate yourself from these preconceptions so that you can approach your subject matter with a clear, objective mind. Hence analysis is inherently reflective; it involves self-scrutiny – being on guard against your own pre-judgement.
So, at base, when we analyse something we are breaking it down and explaining it. In the Analysis chapter, therefore, one is essentially taking the key data from the study and cutting them apart, regrouping and reorganising the findings in order to come up with some kind of result. So, you are taking the close findings and seeking to identify all the constituent components of the whole. You want to figure out how these various parts fit together, what their interrelations are and how they operate. A good way of thinking about this is to pose the following questions: How do these various parts work together? Why do they work together this way? Once you begin to understand the relationships of the parts to each other, you will begin thinking about the causes of these relationships. Having established all the above, you should start to see what the meaning behind the data is.
The Analysis chapter looks at questions of how and why. Such questions can be applied to any text which serves as the focus of study. Under the definition of “text” we may include a wide variety of objects and artefacts, including poems, music, clothing, films, sculpture, painting as well as traditional written works. Analysis looks to explain how the text does what it does. We are going beyond merely looking at what a text means, and examining the nuances of how it goes about creating that meaning. This is the key component of analysis.
A good Analysis chapter, generally speaking, will start with the obvious, putting forth the broader details of the case at hand. It will then progress to increasing degrees of sophistication, unearthing the less obvious aspects of the findings. This is what is known as an inductive or top-down approach. Think of this as an inverted pyramid, with each successive stratum of the pyramid representing narrower and narrower focus. Your overall objective, here, is to drive down to greater levels of complexity. The more legitimate complexity you can uncover, the better the analysis is going to be. It might help if you consider that the opposite of analytical writing is descriptive writing. Descriptive writing simply conveys what is there. It does not explain why it is there; hence it does not unveil layers of complexity.
One of the key things to understand about the Results chapter is that you are not presenting all of your data. Rather, what you are trying to do is to organise and present the data in a certain way for the reader. These are two distinct steps. Most dissertations will probably collect way more results than are possible to (or even relevant) to show. Hence you need to work out what the key results are. So, seeing as the actual analysis of data takes place prior to the written thesis, you need to tell the reader what you have done by reporting on the analysis process. One, very common way to do this would be to go back and work out your results according to the research questions. There are other ways of organising the data depending on the kind of research paradigm at play. If for example you conducted a survey you would present the data according to the questions that you asked. Essentially, you need to think about how to organise the data so that your reader can process them in digestible chunks. Perhaps you might arrange the data chronologically, in the order that the results emerged. If you are looking at your results thematically, however, you may decide to present the source data by theme.
In the results we want to convey our data in the most accessible way, making them easier for the reader to understand. This means that the Results can potentially be a highly visual chapter. This is an important concern. You need to think about interesting ways of presenting this data so that your reader can process it visually as well as through the mediation you give in the text. So, you might want to present data in boxes with narrative profiles of your participants, tables with themes, descriptions, diagrams, graphs, images, or whatever else might service your objectives. You want to think creatively about how best to present the data so it is clear, comprehensible and engaging. There are many different ways to present data in interesting and creative ways. Read other dissertations and published papers to find examples. Remember, your tables and figures should be understandable without reading the rest of the thesis. If you were to present the table or the graph in isolation, the