Saturday, 21 April 2012

Possible dissertation shell document framework

What I have often found helpful is to take all the different advice (& paying particular attention to formal guidance given in the dissertation handbook) to create a shell document.  This lays out what each of the sections should be and a short form of text (often put into italics & small) and left until the final edit - to ensure each of the elements has been fully covered, and nothing overlooked.  The below is merely offered as guidance and should not be used blindly. 

Remember the format should be typed.  One side of the page. Double-spaced. A4 paper. Left margin >4 cm, right 2 cm to allow for binding.  All pages are to be numbered. Font size 12.  RHUL allows some flexibility in the report structure, according to subject matter and approach to the topic.

TITLE PAGE: This must follow the standard layout. Candidate's full name, title of the dissertation, a statement that the dissertation is submitted as part of the requirement for the award of the Master’s degree (MA/MSc/MBA), month and year of submission, name of the supervisor. (see example in dissertation handbook appendix) 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Included at the front. Cover main points and conclusions in not more than 200 words.   

CONTENTS PAGE: Give page numbers for headings and sub-headings.  Consider TOC (table of contents) function in Word to create this, if headings and sub-heading  style formatting is used consistently.  Remember to update the page numbers before final print.  Useful navigation aid for reader.

INTRODUCTION or The Problem/Opportunity to Be Addressed: What is the problem or opportunity that has been investigated ?  Why was it chosen ? Why is it important ? What were the terms of reference (project scope) you set for yourself ? Effective introductions often use engaging hooks (including quotations) to introduce the paper, using a more functional navigation of how the dissertation is laid out. May also include discussion of the papers originality and any gap in the literature.  

LITERATURE REVIEW or The Theoretical Framework: Present an original narrative of relevant academic theory.  Using frequent (every new idea) Harvard in text referencing you will show deep and wide reading, reflecting a variety of (differing) opinions.  An objective and critical tone will consider and weigh different arguments.  The use of a 'cone' structure that sees perhaps up to six different areas (sub-headings), starting at a high level and becoming more specific towards the end/point of the cone.  All material used during the analysis section should be introduced here. 

RESEARCH METHOD or methodology:  Requires two key elements: justification of the approach taken and detailed explanation on how it was undertaken. 
Justification of research approach, use research methods texts in the library to justify why the approach chosen was the optimal, consider strengths and weaknesses of different approaches.  Use research methods references to justify (using expert opinion) your rationale. 
Sampling, use appropriate terminology to describe the approach you have used (note snowballing is one).  No research approach is perfect, highlight any mitigation (ways to over come short comings) that you have put in place. 
Think of science experiments or cooking recipes, you should detail how the research was undertaken with sufficient detail so that another researcher could take your notes and exactly duplicate your approach.

RESULTS: Quantitative approaches often use graphical approaches to present findings (consistent colouring, take care to label each chart/diagram clearly and effectively) often supported with a very short description in text, highlighting key data facts.

ANALYSIS and interpretation: Knits together findings from primary and secondary research.  Does the primary research strongly or weakly support the literature ?  Where was there agreement ?  Where were there big differences ? Small differences ? Key themes may be used to present the data (rather than following the follow of a questionnaire).  Possible explanations for differences (timescales, sample, method) may be put forward, using the conditional tense (e.g. might be, could indicate, may suggest...)  Combines referenced ideas from the literature review with primary results findings.  Crucial here to demonstrate both analysis and the ability to be critical (academically).  

CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS: The majority of the word count in this section should concentrate on summarising the key findings.  Care should be taken not to over generalise (making conclusions that go beyond what has been proven or the scope of the research question).  No new material or ideas should be presented here.  In shorter sections the following should also be covered:
Practical and Managerial implications; how managers (which ones ?) might be able to use the research findings.
Limitations - take care to present modest primary research "reasonable time and financial resource use in the scope of a masters degree dissertation" but identify learning (what could be done differently next time) for improvements. 
Recommendations for further research might highlight other topics/questions that follow on researchers might usefully consider to undertake.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: alphabetical list of sources used.  Ensure Harvard referencing is fully complied with, do not use first names and take care with full stops and commas.  Four pages or more.  Show extensive use of academic journals and relevant text books.  Limit use of web sources. 

APPENDICES: questionnaires, write ups of focus groups and in-depth interviews or detailed statistics, should also be placed at the end.

Remember:  RHUL academics will be marking your work.
Each section/chapter should start with a new page (insert page break).