Skip to main content
main-content
Top

About this book

Writing a dissertation is like running a marathon: a successful one takes months of careful planning and preparation. This practical guide takes undergraduate students step-by-step through the process of completing a dissertation, from the initial stages of generating original ideas and planning the project through to writing their first draft and critically reviewing their own work.

It shows students how to choose the most appropriate methods for collecting and analysing their data and how to then integrate this research into their dissertation. Students will learn how to develop consistent and persuasive arguments and write up their research in a clear and concise style.

This book is an essential resource for undergraduates of all disciplines who are required to write a dissertation as part of their degree.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Introduction

Abstract
The moment any of us are presented with a project as large as a dissertation we’re inclined to think this is too much for us to handle. But our confidence grows as soon as we have broken it down into smaller stages, planned them carefully and taken the advice to deal with one thing at a time. After that, if we can avoid frightening ourselves by looking at the whole project, we can get on with the manageable challenges that each new stage presents.
Bryan Greetham

Examiners and Supervisors

Frontmatter

Chapter 1. Examiners: What are they Looking for?

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • the key differences between an essay and a dissertation;
  • exactly what examiners are looking for;
  • what is meant by originality and how to achieve it;
  • the range of abilities examiners are assessing.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 2. Working with your Supervisor

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • the importance of being clear about the formal requirements from the start, rather than storing up problems for later;
  • how to get the most out of each supervision;
  • the importance of outlining for your supervisor how you work best;
  • four principles for managing your relationship effectively.
Bryan Greetham

Generating and Developing Original Ideas

Frontmatter

Chapter 3. What Activities Suit you Best?

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • how to create your own research design, your methodology, using different research methods;
  • the importance of playing to your strengths and choosing a subject that most interests you;
  • that to do well you must design your research so that it involves activities you enjoy and are good at;
  • the importance of the research question in driving your research and bringing into play the methods that involve these activities.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 4. Types of Research

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • what each research method involves;
  • about the importance of making sure your research design involves those activities you’re good at and enjoy;
  • how to assess your abilities so that you play to your strengths in your project.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 5. What Interests you Most?

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • what makes the best topic for a dissertation;
  • how to find one that will interest and motivate you over the long term;
  • how to explore systematically your own unique experience and interests to find ideas.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 6. Generating your Own Ideas 1: Using Trigger Questions

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • a system you can use routinely to generate your own ideas;
  • how to assemble your ideas using routine trigger questions;
  • that the most creative minds solve problems in exactly this way by asking themselves questions nobody else asks;
  • how using a set of routine questions you can find that one in a million original idea.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 7. Generating your Own Ideas 2: Perspectives and Levels

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • a method that gets us to ask questions we might otherwise dismiss I as irrelevant and unthinkable;
  • the importance of thinking about your topic from the perspective of all those involved and on different levels;
  • how to do an exploratory literature search to see what other researchers have done on similar topics.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 8. Developing your Ideas 1: Causal Relations

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • about the importance of revealing the structure into which your ideas are organised;
  • that the two most effective ways of doing this are through causal and conceptual analysis;
  • the various ways of reproducing this in your notes;
  • how to use these to reveal the hypothesis or research question that will drive your work.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 9. Developing your Ideas 2: Conceptual Relations

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • the importance of analysing concepts to original research;
  • a simple three-step technique for analysing concepts;
  • that by analysing them we reveal the sub-problems and questions which lie at the heart of our research;
  • how these drive our research by spelling out clearly what these abstract terms mean and how we will recognise them in our research.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 10. Original Questions and Hypotheses 1: Using Analogies

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • how to become a better thinker;
  • how to conduct mental experiments by empathising with others;
  • how to pose ‘What if’ questions by detaching yourself from your routine patterns of thought;
  • how to search for analogies and test them for their reliability.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 11. Original Questions and Hypotheses 2: Working with your Structures

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • four simple strategies to help you think more creatively about the sort of question or hypothesis you could research;
  • that by manipulating the structures we use to understand the topic, we can see things differently and come up with interesting ways of researching it;
  • how we can use the convergences and divergences in the literature on our topic to find a different way of approaching it.
Bryan Greetham

Deciding on your Project

Frontmatter

Chapter 12. Searching the Literature 1: Knowing What to Look for

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • how to frame your research question to give focus and direction to your reading;
  • how to map out the territory so you have a full measure of the context in which your research is set;
  • how to avoid getting bogged down and diverted into irrelevant areas;
  • the importance of being clear about your objectives before you start your search.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 13. Searching the Literature 2: How to Search

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • how to search efficiently;
  • the steps you need to take to do a comprehensive search;
  • how to search the Internet systematically;
  • how to ensure that the material from the Internet is reliable.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 14. Choosing the Topic

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • how to assess the different factors that will determine the feasibility of each project on your shortlist;
  • about the ethical issues you must take into consideration and how to organise your project to take account of them;
  • three ethical principles that will help you identify and avoid any possible problem;
  • how to evaluate and make a realistic comparison between the different projects and make your final choice.
Bryan Greetham

Organising your Work

Frontmatter

Chapter 15. Planning your Research

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • about the benefits of planning your research in detail before you start;
  • how to assess whether it’s practicable, whether it will produce answers relevant to your questions and whether it will meet the official requirements of a dissertation assignment;
  • how to assess your project for its reliability and validity.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 16. Managing your Time

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • how to cope with such a large and complex project;
  • how to find more time and use it most effectively;
  • how to design your weekly timetable to get the most out of your time;
  • how to assess how long each task will take and plot it on your research schedule;
  • how to use deadlines and stocktaking to make sure you keep on track and respond promptly to shifts in your thinking.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 17. Your Retrieval System

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • how to encourage and catch our own original ideas;
  • how to set up a simple retrieval system using a notebook, journal, card-index system and a project box;
  • how to devise forms we can use routinely in supervisions and as we read, to record ideas and things we have to do.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 18. Reading

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • how to narrow down the sources we have to read by checking their reliability and relevance;
  • how to avoid spending more time than we can spare on our sources;
  • how to read purposefully, skimming, scanning and reading word-for-word;
  • the difference between deep-level and surface-level processing;
  • how to achieve deep-level processing of the ideas and arguments we read.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 19. Note-taking

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • the importance of being flexible in using different strategies of note-taking to record the different levels of processing;
  • that for the different levels of processing there are the appropriate note-taking strategies;
  • how best to use linear and pattern notes, time lines, and matrixes to capture and clarify our ideas for ourselves.
Bryan Greetham

Doing your Research

Frontmatter

Chapter 20. Qualitative and Quantitative Research

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • the difference between qualitative and quantitative research and the problems that both present;
  • how to choose the most appropriate methods for gathering and analysing quantitative data for your project;
  • how to triangulate your sources to ensure your conclusions are reliable;
  • three rules for coping with the unique problems of qualitative research;
  • how to pin down exactly what you need and how to find it.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 21. Secondary Sources

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • how to distinguish between primary and secondary sources;
  • how you can do your dissertation, relying entirely on secondary sources, using either quantitative or qualitative methods;
  • how this will affect the structure of your dissertation;
  • the advantages and disadvantages of relying on secondary sources.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 22. Primary Sources 1: Quantitative Research

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • how to assemble the best sample of respondents for your study;
  • the different ways of taking random and non-random samples;
  • how to earn high marks by discussing your choices in your dissertation;
  • the advantages and disadvantages of getting information from your sample through tests and questionnaires.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 23. Primary Sources 2: Designing and Distributing your Questionnaire

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • the four guiding principles to follow as you design your questionnaire;
  • how to write questions to ensure that you get reliable, usable responses;
  • the four simple guidelines for writing questions;
  • the different types of questions you can use and how to avoid the most common mistakes;
  • how to process the results.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 24. Primary Sources 3: Qualitative Research — Interviews and Focus Groups

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • how to plan and carry out a successful interview;
  • how to choose from the three different types of interview the one that will suit you best;
  • how to sequence your questions;
  • how to use questions and prompts to get the most out of your interviewees;
  • how to assess the results in your dissertation;
  • the problems of running focus groups, and how to overcome them.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 25. Primary Sources 4: Qualitative Research — Case Studies and Observations

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • the secrets of a successful case study;
  • the variety of ways you can use a case study in your research;
  • how to structure a case study dissertation;
  • the different subjects for which you can use observations;
  • the key principles for a successful observation strategy;
  • the five questions you must ask yourself before you begin your research.
Bryan Greetham

Planning your Dissertation

Chapter 26. The Main Components and Introduction

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • the importance of planning not only for producing a coherent piece of work, but for giving you the confidence that you can manage this large project;
  • how to plan the structure of the dissertation and then of individual chapters;
  • the main components of a dissertation and their relative sizes;
  • the importance of an introduction and how to structure it;
  • how to synchronise it with your conclusion.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 27. The Literature Review

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • the reasons for writing a literature review;
  • how to avoid reviews that are too large, time-consuming and irrelevant;
  • how to use the review to lay a platform for your research;
  • a simple method for establishing the relevance of articles;
  • a simple method for critically evaluating journal articles;
  • how to synchronise the literature review with your conclusions.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 28. Research Methods, Findings, Conclusion and Appendices

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • how to integrate each chapter into one coherent piece of work; I
  • how to make the best use of your qualitative and quantitative evidence and present it clearly;
  • how to use graphs, pie charts, bar charts and tables effectively; I
  • how to plan and write the discussion of your findings;
  • how to write a conclusion that not only establishes the significance of your work, but points towards future research.
Bryan Greetham

Organising your Thinking

Frontmatter

Chapter 29. Developing Consistent Arguments 1: The Components

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • that the clarity of our writing depends upon how clearly and consistently we think;
  • that we must check the three elements: our arguments, evidence and language;
  • the differences between inductive and deductive thinking, and validity and truth;
  • how to check the components of our arguments and whether there are any missing;
  • a simple method for routinely reminding ourselves what to look for.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 30. Developing Consistent Arguments 2: The Connections

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • how to check that we’ve made valid connections between our ideas and created consistent arguments;
  • how to avoid the six most common mistakes when we make these connections;
  • a simple routine method of checklists to remind you what to look for;
  • how to use Venn diagrams to detect your mistakes.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 31. Using Evidence 1: Describing it

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • how to lay firm foundations for our arguments by describing our evidence accurately;
  • how to avoid exaggerating or underestimating evidence, or generalising on the basis of untypical examples, or on insufficient or weighted evidence;
  • the problems that can result from using adjectives like ‘typical’, ‘normal’ and ‘average’;
  • how to avoid the most common problems in using statistics.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 32. Using Evidence 2: Drawing Inferences

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • how we can safely use analogies to draw reliable inferences from our evidence;
  • a three-point checklist to assess analogies;
  • how to avoid the problems raised by subjectivity and value judgements in our arguments;
  • how to avoid drawing irrelevant inferences;
  • how we can assess the authorities we use to support our arguments.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 33. Using Evidence 3: Creating Causal Connections

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • how to avoid oversimplifying and drawing invalid causal connections in your arguments;
  • the four most common forms of oversimplification and what you can do to avoid them;
  • the five most common ways in which we create invalid causal connections from our evidence;
  • the questions we need to ask ourselves routinely to avoid these problems.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 34. Using Language 1: Clarity — Jargon

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • the importance of good writing as an employability skill;
  • how to express and develop the most complex ideas clearly and simply;
  • the effects of jargon and abstractions on our writing;
  • how to reduce our reliance on jargon;
  • how to use abstractions without confusing the reader.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 35. Using Language 2: Clarity — Manipulative Words

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • how some words manipulate our thinking without us being aware of it;
  • how to identify loaded language;
  • five strategies for countering the influence of loaded language;
  • what is meant by begging the question;
  • how to avoid the circular arguments that result from it.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 36. Using Language 3: Consistency

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • that if we allow the meaning of the words we use to change in the course of an argument we will render the argument ineffective;
  • that the clearest example of this is equivocation, and the simple things we can do to avoid it;
  • what is meant by the fallacies of division and composition, and how to avoid them.
Bryan Greetham

Writing your Dissertation

Frontmatter

Chapter 37. The First Draft

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • the importance of starting early, while the ideas are still fresh and vivid;
  • that each chapter must be planned in detail as you rehearse your arguments in note form;
  • how this gives you control over your ideas and creates a clear structure for your readers to follow;
  • about the importance of writing freely, closer to the rhythms of normal speech;
  • the importance of using transitions at the beginning of paragraphs to indicate which way you’re taking your readers and to create a cohesive piece of work.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 38. Style 1: Finding your Own Voice

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • how to find your own voice, even though you’re having to use technical language;
  • how to ensure your writing is concise, direct and free of ambiguity;
  • of the importance of writing in the active form;
  • how to write lightly and produce a memorable, effective piece of prose.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 39. Style 2: Simplicity and Economy

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • how to write clear sentences that readers can follow and understand;
  • how to use punctuation and logical indicators to get your ideas across without confusion;
  • how to use strong nouns and verbs to make your sentences sharper and clearer;
  • that knowing what to leave out is as important as knowing what to include;
  • how to declutter your sentences so the important words and your ideas stand out clearly.
Bryan Greetham

Plagiarism, Referencing and Bibliographies

Frontmatter

Chapter 40. Plagiarism

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • what exactly plagiarism is and why we should avoid it;
  • the reasons it occurs, often accidentally;
  • a simple 6-point code you can use to identify what you should cite;
  • the practical measures you can take to avoid accidental plagiarism.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 41. Referencing and Bibliographies

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • the three cardinal objectives of all referencing systems;
  • the three elements and how you can organise them;
  • how to use the footnote and Harvard systems;
  • the advantages of each one;
  • about the importance of compiling a comprehensive bibliography;
  • how to compile a bibliography using one of the two most commonly used formats.
Bryan Greetham

Editing

Frontmatter

Chapter 42. Revision 1: The Structure

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • about the importance of revising in bringing to the surface the quality of your work and the extent of your achievements;
  • how to revise in a way that improves your work with each revision and doesn’t endanger your best ideas;
  • how to revise with a purpose: first for structure and then for content;
  • how to revise the structure of the dissertation between each chapter and then within each one;
  • the importance of tying paragraphs in with introductions and conclusions;
  • how to ensure you’ve created and signalled a logical sequence of your ideas between and within paragraphs.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 43. Revision 2: The Content

Abstract
In this chapter you will learn …
  • how to revise our sentences and words to ensure we express our ideas clearly and develop our arguments consistently;
  • how to improve the flow and rhythm of our writing;
  • the different ways of reducing our word count;
  • how to ensure our final presentation displays our work to the best effect.
Bryan Greetham

Conclusion

Conclusion

Abstract
We began this book by explaining the importance of setting dissertations as a mode of assessment: that they give you the opportunity to do some genuine thinking and not just recycle the received opinions of those you regard as authorities. In the process they allow examiners to see not just what you think, but, more importantly, how you think.
Bryan Greetham
Additional information