You need a working title to focus on throughout your research. It may be that you will improve on the wording later but make sure the title you begin with means something.
Remember: Future employers may ask about the topic of your dissertation. It might be worth thinking to the future in order to come up with something that will gain their interest.
Which of the following would gain your interest if you were the manager of a web-based sales company?
- "Intranets and their use in advertising"
- "Using Intranets to build a knowledge management system"
- "How recent developments in Intranet technology can be used improve sales performance."
Set out your reasons for undertaking this particular study in your Introduction.
Set your ideas into a theoretical/academic context.
Your statement should:
- Outline the problem – what is the key issue?
- Explain why you think this is worth investigating
- Describe the nature and purpose of your research
- Indicate what you hope to achieve.
If you are unable to complete your statement then you are not yet ready to begin.
Remember: Some lecturers prefer students to weave their literature review into the introduction; others prefer it to be kept separate.
Aims and objectives
The primary focus of your research project is usually expressed in terms of aims and objectives.
What is the difference between an aim and an objective in an academic context?
- An intention or aspiration; what you hope to achieve.
- Aims are statements of intent, written in broad terms.
- Aims set out what you hope to achieve at the end of the project.
- A goal or a step on the way to meeting the aim; how you will achieve it.
- Objectives use specific statements which define measurable outcomes. For example: what steps will you take to achieve the desired outcome?
- Objectives should be S.M.A.R.T.:
Specific – be precise about what you are going to do
Measureable –you will know when you have reached your goal
Achievable – Don’t attempt too much. A less ambitious but completed objective is better than an over-ambitious one that you cannot possible achieve.
Realistic – do you have the necessary resources to achieve the objective? For example: time, money, skills, etc?
Time constrained – determine when each stage needs to be completed. Is there time in your schedule to allow for unexpected delays?
Remember: Use strong positive statements which use strong verbs. Avoid weaker verbs.
Strong verbs: collect, construct, classify, develop, devise, measure, produce, revise, select, synthesise
Weak verbs: appreciate, consider, enquire, learn, know, understand, be aware of, appreciate, listen, perceive
How many aims or objectives should there be?
There are no fixed number of aims or objectives.
Some tutors are happy with one clear strong aim, whilst others like to see a main aim supported by at least two subsidiary aims.
You will be required to produce sufficient objectives to be able to measure progress towards meeting the aim/s.
Remember: Aims describe what you want to achieve. Objectives describe how you are going to achieve those aims.
Aim: To investigate the relationship between tectonic-plate movement and the gravitational effect of the alignment of the major planets.
- Data sets will be extracted from the known historical record of tectonic-plate movement
- Data sets will be extracted from astronomical tables detailing the various alignments of the major planets covering the same period as data from the geological record.
- The data from both sets will be synthesised to establish if correlation points exist between major geological events and planetary alignments.
Literature survey or literature review
- describes the existing and established theory and research in your report area by providing a context for your work.
- can show where you are filling a perceived gap in the existing theory or knowledge
- can propose something that goes against or is controversial to existing ideas.
- accurately references all sources mentioned in the survey and gives a full citation in the Reference List.
Remember: Not every dissertation proposal contains a Literature survey.
Sometimes the literature survey can be a discrete piece of writing that is set and marked separately.
You can embed your literature survey in the main body of your dissertation but this depends on the preferences of your department or tutor.
Remember to do the following when writing your Methodology:
- Explain what methods you intend to use when researching and developing your report.
- Use a descriptive writing approach. It is important to explain what research methods you used to collect your info.
- Do not include your questionnaires, interview transcripts, etc. -these go in the dissertation’s appendices.
- Discuss with your project supervisor the extent and level of detail required; original research will obviously require a more detailed description than a project based solely on secondary research.
Example methodology statements
The following sample statements are intended to give a flavour of the approach one could take but they are not to be assumed to represent a complete methodology.
Secondary data will be reviewed initially through the university library using a range of information sources such as the OPAC system, academic and commercial abstracts, bibliographic databases, and Internet search engines.
To aid the search, a table of key terms will be constructed and the sources located will be correlated with this. A secondary cross-reference table will be developed so that data can be viewed from different perspectives.
Data collection and sampling
To test current practice against the historical record an on-line survey will be conducted to gather primary source data from companies currently engaged in the export of goods related to heavy engineering projects.
The survey will collect quantitative data on the range of goods requiring an end-user licence. A systematic yet random sample of companies will be drawn from members of the British Business Register.
As the number of companies, engaged in the defined activity, has yet to be established the data analysis method has not yet been decided. However, it is anticipated that a commercial spreadsheet package such as MS Excel would be suitable, although more sophisticated analysis software such as SPSS is available within the university’s IT centre should this be required.
Remember: If someone else chooses to carry out the same or a very similar type of study, they should be able to understand and copy your methods from your descriptions.
Scope and constraints
Set the boundaries clearly in this section.
- you may have too much material to cover so you will need to put some limits in place on the project
- you may not be able to conduct some research due to constraints imposed by time, cost or availability of materials.
Examples of boundary setting:
- The literature survey will be as thorough as possible and will be complete by the time the dissertation is written up in full. However, one key area will require a number of visits to the British Library as some materials are not available on inter-library loan. This section will be researched over the summer break as time permits.
- Whilst it is hoped to conduct some primary research in the USA during the summer of 2010, current restrictions on visa applications is causing some concern. Should the USA research prove impossible to achieve, secondary research will be extended in order to provide an alternative means of analysis.
- Whilst every endeavour will be made to present a global perspective, many original documents are written in languages other than English. Obtaining technical translation of these documents may prove difficult due to financial constraints. Electronic translation software is not sufficiently advanced as to guarantee reliable results with this type of material and will not be employed.
List resources that you will need to complete your study in the Resources section.
The university’s library and IT facilities should prove adequate for the majority of the research and analysis required by this study.
However, graphical representation of some of the data may require the use of specialist software such as Pro-graph, which is not currently available in university’s IT suite.
This will not affect publication of the results, however, as this service is provided locally by a commercial printing facility.
Below is a proposed timetable for your dissertation. Your schedule should be designed to fit in with the university timetable/academic year and should take account of any deadlines set by your department. It should also be sufficiently detailed for your supervisor to identify any areas of weakness in order to provide you with appropriate guidance:
Academic calendar week no. Activity
10 Receive clearance from supervisor to proceed.
11-12 Literature searching.
Christmas break Review literature and start work on first draft. Aim to complete chapter one.
13 Design questionnaire (if appropriate).
14 Submit draft of questionnaire and chapter 1 to supervisor.
15-16-17 Work on first draft of remaining chapters (excuding conclusion).
18 Submit first draft to supervisor. Receive feedback on previous work.
19 Update questionnaire (if required) and send out.
20-21 Chase questionnaires and begin tabulating results.
22 Receive feedback on first draft main chapters.
23 Analyse results of questionnaire.
Easter Write up final draft of dissertation - begin drafting out conclusion.
24 Complete final version - main chapters.
25 Receive feedback on conclusion and write up.
26 Final revisions after proofreading.
27 Print - bind - submit.
Outline of sections/chapters
Give an outline of the structure of your dissertation in this section. This is usually restricted to the main body as the overall structure is often prescribed.
The main discussion will require a more detailed breakdown than other sections. You should give suggested chapters headings and one or two paragraphs about the proposed content.
Example outline for the main body:
• Literature survey
• Results (if appropriate)
e.g.Is art really a good investment? (1-2 paragraphs describing the proposed content)
How UK auction houses manipulate market values (1-2 paragraphs describing the proposed content)
Provenance: truth or fiction? (1-2 paragraphs describing the proposed content)
An international perspective (1-2 paragraphs describing the proposed content)
• Recommendations (if appropriate)
The reference list at the end of your work demonstrates the depth of your research.
It acknowledges your sources of information, protecting you against the serious charge of plagiarism (passing off others’ ideas as your own).
This is where you list all of your research reading if you have included a literature survey.
Remember: If you presented your literature survey separately, you would have referred to some aspects of that reading in your introduction (your statement of the problem).
You must cite and reference those aspects in this section.