Dissertation Research Strategy

Dissertation Research Strategy

Academic Research Methods

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 perfectly normal and development will take some time. The research environment is highly complex and does not easily lend itself to a neatly linear process. What you need to do is locate an academic 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.

What Is A Research Strategy?

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.

When it comes to research strategy types, coming up with a quality 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 key 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 include. 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 research 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 to the project. 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 vision, which puts emphasis on the overall substance of the research project as opposed to the finer details (which will be filled in later).


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