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Chapter

Before starting a dissertation, it is common practice to have to write a research proposal. Not only does a research proposal help make sense of the student’s own project and what it will look like, it also allows he or she to connect research idea to a wider audience so that other people can give advice about whether, and how, it makes ‘research sense’. Often submitted alongside an ethics application, the research proposal is sometimes a requirement of the dissertation process, needing ‘approval’ before undertaking the research project. This chapter details what research proposals look like and why they are important, before outlining the requirements of a typical research proposal.

Chapter

This introductory chapter begins with a discussion of the definition of a dissertation. It then sets out the ways in which the present volume can help students with their dissertation, i.e. how to move from a focus on the theory of research methods to the process of actually undertaking research. Throughout, the book provides a number of features that help students to deal with the challenges of writing a dissertation, and suggests how they might overcome them. These features draw directly on the experiences of students who have undertaken a dissertation, and the expertise of dissertation supervisors from different disciplines. The chapter then goes on to explain how this book is organized followed by an overview of the subsequent chapters.

Chapter

Although much of the data used in social science dissertation projects is produced by interviews, surveys, and participant observation, there are other forms of data that can be used for the purposes of social science. This chapter explores some of this ‘documentary’ data and how to use it for the purposes of research. Documentary forms of data have some significant advantages that make them particularly useful for student research projects. This does not mean that they are without problems, but the chapter provides a practical guide for those who are prepared to look beyond familiar horizons. It makes the case for using documents; explores what can be included under the broad heading of documents; and introduces both quantitative and qualitative content analysis as a means to analyse documents.

Chapter

Today, the world of research is quite literally available through the touch of a few buttons via online resaerch. But this increase in access and availability is not without its challenges. With ‘hits’ that can run into millions, unless the student knows how to search effectively and efficiently, the information that he or she finds can quickly become overwhelming. This chapter guides students through the process of literature searching for their dissertation. It outlines how to develop a successful search strategy and what to do with the literature once it is discovered. Topics covered include what counts as literature; different ‘types’ of literature searching; how to develop a literature search strategy; and common problems associated with literature searching.

Chapter

Once students have developed an idea, outlined a rationale for their research, and found the relevant literature, they then need to start mapping out what their project will look like. To do this, they will need to make some decisions about how they will answer their research questions. Research can be approached and conducted in many different ways. Broadly speaking, there are four interrelated stages of building a social science dissertation: research strategy: the type of data under investigation (qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods); research design: the framework through which that data will be collected; research methods: the methods associated with collecting the type of data selected; and type of analysis: the techniques through which the data will be analysed. This chapter focuses on the decisions that students can make in relation to the first two stages: research strategy and research design.

Chapter

Whether the research project adopts a quantitative, qualitative, or mixed strategy, there is little point in asking a few non-random people a few non-random questions as the student has no idea what those answers might indicate, or whether they might apply in other situations. Therefore, the student needs to think carefully about his or her sampling strategy and justify this in the dissertation. This chapter explains the key principles of probability and non-probability sampling and explores why ‘who’ is asked is just as important as ‘what’ is asked. It discusses the two key stages of sampling: defining the appropriate population for study and developing strategies for recruiting the sample.

Chapter

This chapter discusses two approaches to analyse quantitative data: descriptive statistics and inferential statistics. Descriptive statistics allows the student to summarize and describe data, whereas inferential statistics enables him or her to infer answers from the data using hypotheses. Both approaches can be extremely useful. The chapter details some of the techniques associated with these approaches, and helps the student to choose which techniques are appropriate for the data collected. In showing how to present data appropriately, it also explores ways to discuss findings in an evidence-informed manner. By introducing some of the basic ideas involved in quantitative analysis, the chapter provides students with skills that can be employed in a quantitative dissertation.

Chapter

This chapter examines the more practical foundations on which all research projects are built and guides students through the realities of planning and managing their dissertation. It examines how to negotiate the workload of the research process, how to cope with unexpected problems, and how to best use the supervisor for support throughout this process. If students start their dissertation with a clear plan, and have an agreement about their working relationship with their supervisor, this will limit the problems they might encounter further down the line and give them the best chance to fulfil their potential. Steps to be taken when planning a dissertation including identifying the topic area and a potential title; making sure that the research aims are achievable; thinking about the kind of theoretical approach and methods to employ; and becoming familiar with dissertation guidelines and requirements, including the format that the dissertation should take.

Chapter

This chapter deals with qualitative data. While everyone is familiar with the idea of interviewing and observing, actually collecting qualitative data is not as easy as it might first appear to be. In fact, when doing qualitative work, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of information collected. However, with some purposeful planning, piloting, and practice, the student can avoid some of the pitfalls associated with qualitative data collection. Focusing on qualitative interviews and participant observation, the chapter introduces some of the common issues that arise when gathering qualitative data and offers useful advice concerning the planning and practice of collecting data ‘in the field’.

Chapter

Social research is concerned with developing defensible knowledge about people and all of the things that they do. This means that the landscape for social research is both wide and varied. In some cases, the research gaze will be directed by disciplinary interests, in others it will be much more open. This chapter discusses techniques that can help students identify their research interests, develop project ideas, and build a rationale for research. It also considers how research is evaluated and explores the idea of quality in research. It begins by dealing with a question that many students ask — what makes a good dissertation project? To answer this question, the idea of research quality is discussed.

Chapter

This chapter outlines some of the basic features of social research. It introduces students to the notion that social research is a process, helps to clarify the reasons for reearch, and explores the relationship between theory and research. Using the analogy of a voyage, it demonstrates that specific tasks associated with for carrying out social research tend to be ordered, but not always orderly. There are dynamic points of issue that need to be negotiated to move a dissertation project toward completion, or otherwise there is a risk of being blown off course. By understanding what is meant by the research process, and how theory can be used in social research, readers can begin to explore, describe, and explain the human world with greater confidence.

Chapter

Critical reflection is a key part of evaluating the research project, and a dissertation that demonstrates this is likely to achieve higher marks. However, one of the first things to recognize is that the process of evaluation does not necessarily begin at the end of the project. Instead, issues of research quality are implicitly embedded in all parts of the research process and all sections of the dissertation. This chapter introduces some key criteria that will help students evaluate their project and think critically about the research process. It discusses the importance of originality, rigour, and significance in research, and provides key questions students can ask about their project. Collectively, these questions will help students to assess and evaluate their research.

Chapter

The literature review is a key component of a dissertation. It serves to contextualize the aims and objectives of the project, and in terms of the research process it helps to sensitize issues of interest that the student might want to direct their attention towards when they begin collecting and analysing data. This chapter provides an introduction to the literature review and examines its purpose in relation to the research process. Beginning with a short exploration of the nature of a literature review and its relationship with theory, the chapter goes on to examine the different types of review before detailing the key content. By the end of the chapter, students should have a good understanding of the role of the literature review in research and how it informs every aspect of the research process.

Chapter

This chapter discusses the basics of collecting quantitative material. It outlines the nature of quantitative data in the context of the research process, before exploring the differences between primary and secondary data. In doing so, it highlights some of the benefits of using secondary data sets for the purposes of dissertation-based research. The chapter then examines the relationship between research questions, concepts, and variables, before exploring how quantitative data can be measured at different levels. Finally, it offers some useful tips and advice concerning one technique that is particularly common in student projects — the questionnaire — and demonstrates the different ways in which questionnaires can be developed and administered.

Book

Tom Clark, Liam Foster, and Alan Bryman

How to do your Social Research Project or Dissertation looks to help readers to navigate research for a project or dissertation. It starts with an introduction to the research process and how to get started. It examines the process of developing an idea. It reviews the available literature. It then considers how to build upon the project idea, the ethical issues, and how to write a proposal. Next it considers sampling, and collecting and analyzing quantitative and qualitative data. Finally, it describes how to evaluate the project and the process of writing up.