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About this book

Bestselling author Stella Cottrell taps into her tried and tested formula for learning and brings students the essential guide to producing top-quality dissertations and project reports. The book breaks down this process into manageable chunks and covers everything from preparation and planning through to conducting research and writing up the finished article. Packed with dozens of hands-on activities and quotes from real students, this book demystifies dissertations and project reports and helps ensure that the process is an enjoyable and rewarding experience.

This is an invaluable resource for students of all levels embarking on a dissertation, project report or other piece of extended writing. Its interdisciplinary approach means it is the ideal companion for students of all disciplines.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Introduction

Abstract
Almost all degree, Masters and doctoral level courses require you to complete a larger-scale, research-based, assignment. This might be a final year project, an in-depth case study, long essay or dissertation. Although, at the start, students may have mixed feelings about the prospect, by the end, they are usually glad to have had the chance to research a topic in depth. They tend to be very proud of their achievement — to have completed such a major task and created a piece of original work with their name on it.
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Preparation and planning

Frontmatter

Chapter 1. ‘Where do I start?’

Abstract
If you do, then it can be tempting to launch straight in to collecting the evidence. However, before doing so, it is worth pausing to consider:
  • a range of topic options, just to be sure you have made the right choice
  • the distinct skills and demands of larger-scale projects and how to manage these.
Stella Cottrell

Chapter 2. What makes a good dissertation or research project?

Abstract
If you have been looking forward to working on your own research project, it can be tempting to immerse yourself in a favourite topic and rush to gather books to read on that subject or to start gathering source material and data.
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Chapter 3. Project manage your dissertation

Abstract
With larger scale research assignments, you are, in effect, managing a project. It makes sense to take a project planning approach. In practice, this requires you to draw a distinction between:
  • meeting the assignment brief (outputs)
  • managing the project (process).
Stella Cottrell

Chapter 4. Managing yourself for the task

Abstract
Larger-scale assignments require more of the mentality of the marathon runner than the sprinter. It is quite likely that there will be times when your levels of enthusiasm and interest dip, and it may feel hard to keep going. This calls for skills in self-management which are often overlooked.
Stella Cottrell

Chapter 5. Using time effectively

Abstract
For most students, the time provided for completing a long assignment will seem far greater than for any previous project. People experience that additional time in different ways. For some, it can feel as if there is far too much unscheduled time weighing on their hands, at least at the beginning. For others, the scale of the assignment leaves them worrying that they will not have sufficient time.
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Chapter 6. Working with your supervisor

Abstract
Typically, when you are conducting a research project, very little is provided as formal teaching. You may receive some training in specialist research methods prior to starting your project or, occasionally, alongside it. Otherwise, you are largely on your own, except for your supervisor.
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Developing your proposal

Frontmatter

Chapter 7. Understanding the assignment brief

Abstract
The ‘brief’ was introduced on page 31. It provides the formal set of requirements that you must meet to pass your assignment:
  • what you will need to submit
  • arrangements for submitting your work
  • standards and marking criteria
  • general guidance about the assignment.
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Chapter 8. Choosing your topic and title

Abstract
Making the right choice of topic is, arguably, the most important aspect of the project. It merits attention and considerable thought. It also requires a hard head: you need to think through not just what you would like to study but what is practicable, achievable and likely to meet your longer-term needs.
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Chapter 9. Literature search and review

Abstract
As part of any research project report, you would include a section or chapter that engages critically with the most significant material written on the topic. This is generally referred to as the ‘literature review’.
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Chapter 10. Principles of good research

Abstract
Each academic discipline approaches research in a different way. Those differences are core to what defines the discipline as a distinct, specialist area of study. Your course of study will draw upon one or more such disciplines.
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Chapter 11. Methodological approaches

Abstract
The methodology is the overarching approach to the research. Dawson (2012) describes methodology as ‘the philosophy or the general principle which will guide your research’. When deciding on your methodology, you are considering the bigger ‘how’ and ‘why’ issues from which should flow, logically, your other decisions about how to conduct your research.
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Chapter 12. Ethical considerations

Abstract
Ethics in research is about following good moral principles. As an academic researcher, it is expected that you will be strongly principled, with an aim to:
  • bring integrity, fairness and honesty to your work
  • and to do right by all potential stakeholders, treating them with dignity, and with respect for their welfare, rights and safety.
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Chapter 13. Writing the research proposal

Abstract
The rationale for writing a detailed research proposal is that it helps you to:
  • work through, and clarify, your thinking about your concept
  • synthesise your early ideas and reading
  • prepare the groundwork well
  • identify potential problems at an early stage, while there is still plenty of time to manage the implications of these
  • demonstrate the feasibility of the research from all angles
  • make a case for gaining formal approval.
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Conducting your research

Frontmatter

Chapter 14. The evidence base

Abstract
When you come to write up your research, you will be making assertions and drawing conclusions. The assumption is that these are based on a close critical analysis of a solid evidence base. You are responsible for gathering that evidence base. It falls to you, with guidance from your supervisor, to decide what would constitute an adequate evidence base to:
  • answer the research questions and/or support the research hypotheses
  • ensure a reasonable level of confidence that your findings, and any judgements you make based on these, are reliable.
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Chapter 15. Working with participants

Abstract
Participant-based research is typical of a wide range of subjects, from social sciences, education, medicine and health to business and business-related subjects, linguistics, media and performance, product design, tourism, social geography, politics and many others.
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Chapter 16. Experiments

Abstract
Experiments are the main method of research in many sciences. They are common within the social sciences and can be used in any subject discipline if the topic lends itself to the method.
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Chapter 17. Observations

Abstract
Observational methods are common to both science and social science subjects.
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Chapter 18. Surveys and questionnaires

Abstract
Questionnaires and surveys are popular methods for gathering evidence for projects, especially for student assignments.
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Chapter 19. Interviews

Abstract
Interviews are used in a range of disciplines, from healthcare and social sciences to business, media, arts and communications, and in the humanities for research such as oral history. They may be used as the sole method of gathering data or alongside others.
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Chapter 20. Case studies

Abstract
A case study is an in-depth study of an entity or phenomenon. It could focus on almost anything, such as an organisation, event, person, business, programme, utterance, text or locality. A case study can draw on any one method or combine many.
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Chapter 21. Interpreting your findings

Abstract
The interpretation of your data is a combination of three approaches:
1
highly specialised methods that will have formed the larger part of your course, such as statistical methods or discourse analysis
 
2
application of generic critical thinking skills, such as those covered at earlier levels of study. For more detail, see Cottrell (2011)
 
3
generic high-level approaches to analysis, such as are covered in this chapter.
 
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Writing it up

Frontmatter

Chapter 22. Your writing strategy

Abstract
People are very individual in the way they approach writing tasks. There isn’t an absolute ‘best time’ or ‘best way’ to write up your research — what works for you in getting each section or chapter written well and on time is the ‘best’ way.
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Chapter 23. Getting the structure right

Abstract
Whilst most long assignments require you to address similar considerations and in the same order, the exact requirements on structure vary by discipline and context. The longer the assignment, the more likely it is that you will be expected to produce it as chapters rather than as continuous text (as for essays) or sections (as for research reports).
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Chapter 24. Fine-tuning your writing

Abstract
It is likely that you will have written some or all of most sections as you went along. Some parts may be complete. Nonetheless, typically, there will be many small glitches to iron out through further redrafting.
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Chapter 25. Viva exams

Abstract
A viva or viva voce exam is the term used for an oral examination based upon your research.
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Final considerations

Final considerations

Abstract
It is likely that your project has taken up a considerable amount of your time, thoughts and emotional energy for some time. Especially in the final stages, you have been very focused on completing and fine-tuning your report or dissertation to make it as good as it could possibly be. You may even have found yourself dreaming about it.
Stella Cottrell
Additional information