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About this book

This is a comprehensive guide to planning and producing high-quality dissertations, written assignments and project reports at undergraduate level. It supports students of all disciplines through each stage of the research process, from drafting questions and reviewing the literature through to collecting data and presenting their work. It provides practical guidance on common problems, including writer’s block and managing deadlines, and contextualises this with examples of real students’ experience of research.

This text will be invaluable to undergraduate students undertaking academic research in all subject areas.

Table of Contents

Getting Started

Frontmatter

1. The Enquiring Mind in Action

Abstract
Research is so much more than getting hold of and repeating what others have discovered or said. Knowledge is so much more than just information. Your role as an undergraduate researcher is creative, empowered and also very professional. As an undergraduate researcher you are learning how to ask questions, build, design, action, complete and present projects; explore a whole range of sources; construct something new, your own response, built from your enquiry and your professional management of the process of discovery and creation. Essentially, you are an active explorer and learner, and so what you find and create, as well as the processes and practices you learn to master to do this research, will remain with you as your own skills. In undertaking undergraduate research you are a truly engaged learner constructing and co-constructing knowledge with others, including peers, fellow students, your supervisor and even future employers. You are not only learning about yourself as a researcher and enquiring learner, how to go about research and writing effectively for your current projects: you are learning approaches, skills and habits for life. The grade for the work is not the end point. Knowing if, why and how you achieve better grades in current essays, projects and dissertations should lead you to own and build on these skills and approaches for future work, self-awareness, satisfaction and success. This understanding and management of your own research learning is fundamental in student engagement and lifelong learning.
Gina Wisker

2. Starting Research

Abstract
In higher education, having an enquiring mind, identifying problems and questions, critically exploring and evaluating information and ideas that you read about or hear about, and constructing your own responses and your own knowledge to add to the debates are all learning activities which are expected of you. Many students have come straight from school into higher education, or have been in employment and are used to practical work activities. You might have been used to more teacher-led activities and a great deal of direction over what to read, what to think and what to write. You might have been studying in an international context, and so you are now seen as an international student. Chapter 4 has a specific focus on international students, but the whole book is useful for all categories of student.
Gina Wisker

3. Good Research: The Essentials

Abstract
This chapter looks at a range of basic ideas and approaches for good practice in research. It considers a variety of underpinning principles, approaches and values in action which you should find useful in your research, whatever discipline or interdisciplinary area you are working in. It builds on a variety of fundamentally good ideas from a range of other books on carrying out research, including my own The Postgraduate Research Handbook (2008), interprets these good ideas in a broader range of subject areas, and adds to them. Instead of ‘Activities’, it uses prompt ‘Questions’ at the end of each section for you to reflect on your own developing research. It should be useful to you throughout your research at university and beyond.
Gina Wisker

4. International Students and Those New to Research Learning in Higher Education

Abstract
Students come from a wide range of learning background with different experiences and skills. Some are the first in their family to go to university and some have learned in systems which expect transmission and repetition of information. Many are increasingly mobile so a number of students reading this book could well be defined as international, i.e. (in a very broad definition for this book) studying in a country from which their family does not originate. Because the issues here are for everyone new to higher education research in the UK/US/Australasian contest we deal with generic issues first and then focus specifically on issues more likely to affect international students.
Gina Wisker

5. Carrying Out Research for a Project or Dissertation

Abstract
You are expected to carry out research for a variety of assignments and also to inform your study more generally. Starting towards the end of your second year or in your third year you will normally be expected to carry out a longer, more complex project or dissertation which requires you to develop and use more complex and thorough research skills over time. This research could involve developing and engaging with a project brief, finding out the answer to or addressing (rather than answering – there might be no definitive answer) an exploratory question, collecting evidence and analysing it, and then making recommendations. Or it could be for a dissertation and involve in-depth research using primary and secondary sources, fieldwork, perhaps your own professional practice, perhaps the production of a creative piece. Some dissertations and projects combine across subject areas, where reading your way into parts of a discipline new to you will be necessary. Some dissertations or project reports involve engagement in a placement. In these cases, the report writes up process, experience and the research undertaken.
Gina Wisker

6. Putting Ethics into Practice

Abstract
There are two main ethical concerns in research. One is the engagement with and treatment of participants and samples from these participants, whether humans or animals, and the other is your behaviour regarding your processes and claims: your honesty, including issues of plagiarism. You might think ethics in research cannot possibly relate to your project, but it is a good idea to consider issues and practice discussed in this chapter nonetheless. Perhaps you will discover that they do relate to your project, and if not this project then to a future project, or someone else’s project into which you are invited. Knowing about the conduct of ethical research is crucial to developing as an ethical researcher: being trustworthy, rigorous and reliable. Most research-oriented organisations have an ethical code of practice for research which you can look at online and most universities will also have an ethical code of practice on their website. It is important to consult the university code for your university project, abide by the code, and submit research proposals to ethics committees or similar should the proposals need consultation and approval.
Gina Wisker

7. Research Paradigms, Theorising and Conceptual Frameworks

Abstract
Your research grows out of how you see the world, believe knowledge is revealed or constructed, and how you can structure your approach to making sense of that knowledge. As you develop your research, this involves research paradigms, theory, and constructing a conceptual framework, in order to focus and frame your research and what you find, construct, produce. In this chapter we are looking at research paradigms based on how you see the world and what knowledge is believed to be, how it is discovered or created. We are also looking at how you organise your understanding of that knowledge, the role of the theory you use to select, offer a lens or perspective on your research, and how you structure and make sense of your research.
Gina Wisker

8. Writing a Research Proposal

Abstract
If you are carrying out a small piece of research to inform an essay or other assignment, you will not need to draw up a full-scale research proposal. However, you will need to identify your research question or hypothesis, the theories you think you will need to use, and key literature. You will need to consider what appropriate methodology and methods you will use, i.e. how you intend to go about your research and whether this is appropriate for what you want to find out or create, and doable in the time you have available. You will also find it useful to develop a time and action plan to work out what parts of the research you need to carry out when and to make sure you get started with your writing as soon as possible. This is a small-scale version of the longer research proposal explored in this chapter, so reading about such a longer proposal for a longer, more complex piece of research will give you some idea of the research planning process, ready for when you undertake your own project or dissertation, normally in the third or final year of a degree course.
Gina Wisker

9. Carrying Out a Literature Review: Engaging with the Literature

Abstract
There is an early chapter in a dissertation, or section in an essay or project, which is engaged with literature in the field and does three things. It offers a way through both the historical and current discussions in the field, on the topic, in the area; it introduces the theoretical perspectives being used, the theories and theorists and the way their views enable a perspective on the work rather than just describing or trying to deal with everything from every angle; and it indicates the lines of thought the work is going to take, the arguments based on the literature and the theories. This chapter or section uses the literature to establish context and argument, the perspectives of major theorists whose work informs yours – putting all of this into a dialogue with your work. It is important to remember that a literature review is a dynamic piece of work, not just a dead list of the books you have read, but an engagement with their ideas and arguments in relation to your research questions, problems or hypotheses.
Gina Wisker

10. Research Methodology and Methods

Abstract
Your research methodology is based on the way you see the world, your beliefs about existence and being in the world and your relationship to that (ontology), and the way you believe knowledge is produced and constructed or discovered and fixed (epistemology). Methodology is the ideas-based system which can enable you to address your research question/problem/hypothesis. It underpins the research design, i.e. the plan for the research, defining, among other things, the methods and the actual research tools or vehicles used to collect the data. ‘Research methodologies, therefore, comprise the theoretical frameworks and concepts in which approaches and methods are situated; they provide the rationale and justification (intellectual, epistemological and ethical) for the methods that are selected and the ways in which they are used’ (Stierer and Antoniou, 2004; quoted in Burgess et al., 2006, p. 88).sss
Gina Wisker

11. Finding and Using Sources

Abstract
Your sources, both primary (originally produced at the time and place that you are studying – historical facts, participants, responses, artefacts) and secondary (usually critical responses and comments on sources or events, contextual information from documents where these are not the focus of your study) are where you get your information, data and the basis of your evidence for your arguments. Of course, you are also using your own imagination and cognitive processes and probably those of others around you.
Gina Wisker

12. Using the Internet for Research, and Some Introductory Digital Technology

Abstract
The internet is a very useful source of much of the secondary and some of the primary information that you might well need in your research. However, you need to become skilled in using it so that you get to the range of appropriate sources rather than just relying on Google (a search engine which can lead you to some of the sources you need, but not all) or Wikipedia (an online encyclopaedia which is written by anyone and everyone and so is sometimes brilliant and sometimes untrustworthy as a source), and you do need to learn how to use the internet wisely, in a properly selective, properly referenced fashion just like any other information source.
Gina Wisker

13. Quantitative Methods in Action: Questionnaires or Surveys, Observation

Abstract
As we have discussed in Chapter 10, on methodology and methods, quantitative methods are usually chosen for positivist research that is based in the belief that there are facts which can be gathered about the world, and that large numbers and repetition guarantee the reliability of such facts. It seeks to prove certain things about a world believed knowable, in which knowledge is to be discovered rather than constructed. Such research would use a deductive research design which proves and tests theory rather than building it, and would be likely to use quantitative research methods and research vehicles such as surveys of large numbers, and observation of a number of activities mapped against a schedule. Another important issue basic to quantitative research is that it gathers or produces numerical data. Everything it gathers or produces is understood as or translated into something that can be counted and measured, even if it is a subjective thing, for instance the number of times participants express a subjective opinion. Quantitative methods collect numerical data so that the data can be analysed, frequencies noted and generalisations developed. If a questionnaire or a survey is used, you count the number of responses for each question. With open-ended answers, also, you record the frequency with which similar answers are provided. You might just count or measure responses but you are more likely to be doing so in relation to something that changes such as context or time or the weather or age. What is being counted or measured (dependent variable) is done in relation to other factors, which affect the thing being measured, known as the ‘independent variable’. You consider how much the thing being measured, the dependent variable, changes in relation to the other factors and how much the independent variable changes. An easy example would be to survey a number of people’s responses to a question about watching a TV show and then also ask them to indicate their age range. What you measure is the variation in response to watching that TV show, as that variation relates to variation in age. This is a simple example but if you ask about a number of TV shows you would need a separate answer for each. You would probably need a computer programme to help you calculate and cross-tabulate if this exercise became much more complicated.
Gina Wisker

14. Qualitative Methods in Action

Abstract
Qualitative research takes place in real-life settings, with participants, and it acknowledges multiple contested realities as well as the influence of the researcher, also a human being in a setting involving other human beings. Because it is an experience among people, and constructs and interprets knowledge, it is both rich and deep, and also less fixed and calculable than quantitative research. Qualitative research methods are usually chosen when conducting research which is related to the social sciences, arts and humanities, and if you believe that:
Gina Wisker

15. Varieties of Research: Practitioner-Based and Action Research, Phenomenology, Phenomenography and Ethnography, and other Real-World Research

Abstract
Practitioner-based research, action research, phenomenology, phenomenography and ethnography are all forms of research that work with human subjects without being experimental or based in any kind of clinical practice. They consider that knowledge and understanding are constructed and interpreted, and look at how people behave in context, in time, and often in the workplace or the place where they live. Many universities now also offer the opportunity to practise these forms of real-world research in business or community contexts. Some offer opportunities to become engaged in community, commercial or other real-world projects which involve research processes. Many of these could provide both sound grounding and an entrance into employment after graduation.
Gina Wisker

Managing People and Processes

Frontmatter

16. Collecting, Selecting, Organising, Analysing and Interpreting Data

Abstract
Once you have gathered your data you will need to manage it, carefully sort and label it, analyse it, look for patterns and themes then interpret it in a dialogue with the theories underpinning your work, and develop findings. You select from your data and present it as evidence to back up your research claims. Do look at the full range of more complex books on data analysis (see the Further Reading at the end of this chapter for some suggestions), producing statistics and interpreting quantitative data. This book intends to give you a very brief introduction and suggest some straightforward activities.
Gina Wisker

17. Managing Your Supervisor/Adviser

Abstract
Your relationship with your lecturer or supervisor/adviser is the primary one on your research journey when you’re undertaking a dissertation or a project. It’s important to be able to get on with your lecturer or supervisor/adviser in a friendly and professional manner and also to clarify right from the beginning what your expectations of each other are with regards to how you can communicate, responsibilities and regularity of meetings, production of work, time management and management of the project.
Gina Wisker

18. Managing Your Time, Life, Paid Work and Research

Abstract
Establishing and maintaining the balance between work, research and life is important if you want to learn good habits to manage your time, now and for the future. This all makes good sense, of course, and people have their differing ways of managing their time. This chapter helps you to think of ways of timing the stages of your research, and balancing its demands with the other demands of life, at different stages in the research and in your life. It considers a range of time-management practices to help you to do this, and to help you develop good habits for the future. It also helps you to consider work rhythms.
Gina Wisker

Writing and Moving On

Frontmatter

19. Researching and Writing in Different Disciplines: Arts and Humanities

Abstract
All the literature on research-based and dissertation writing indicates that you need to be encouraged to research in both rigorous and sensitive ways which are generic and recognise, observe or cross disciplinary boundaries. The generic elements include making sure you develop a research question and an appropriate research design, and work at a conceptual level. You also need to take note of discipline-related research processes, questions, and even the format of the written product. Start writing early and learn the conventions of your disciplines in terms of how you write, what you write, the language you use and the shape of the dissertation or other assignment (see Dunleavy, 2003; Wisker, 2015; Murray, 2017).
Gina Wisker

20. Developing Good Writing Habits

Abstract
Writing and communicating are really important for you in your research. Whatever your subject area, you need to communicate what you have done, found and constructed and what you are arguing. This is true even if you have undertaken something experimental, you have developed equations in maths, or you have constructed a performance or an artefact, because these products of research cannot speak for themselves. They need to be accompanied by written communication so that other people can also understand your reasoning, your findings and your arguments. Many of us also believe that through writing we can actually develop our thinking as well as express it. Enquiring minds are constantly asking questions. This kind of enquiring leads to research, which leads to new findings and interpretations. What you have found, interpreted, and can discuss and argue with others needs to be expressed in an accessible form.
Gina Wisker

21. Writing Well, in the Right Shapes and Forms: The Authority of Your Research and Your Writing

Abstract
Your research is interesting, it has taken you a lot of work, it could be really fascinating and even groundbreaking, so it is important that it is communicated well to others. Your writing needs to show critical and conceptual engagement and be coherently organised and clearly expressed. Much of this chapter is concerned with your writing in the shape of a standard dissertation, although it also suggests some alternative ways of expressing your research which involve writing in less standard formats. It is actually such a long slog doing a dissertation or project that the accumulation of information, quoting, and detailing of what has been found can take all your energies. However, your research needs to be communicated to and shared with others. To this end, what you have set out to explore or discover, how you carried out your research, what you have found and the importance of what you have found all need expressing as accessibly and as clearly as possible for your readers. They are yourself, your lecturer or supervisor/adviser, your peers, your examiner and, beyond that, a wider readership, should your work be part of a community project or a project for your employer, or be published. It is important to get it all clearly expressed and underpinned by the kind of authority that good research offers us when we make arguments, suggest change in practice, comment, and add to and develop knowledge.
Gina Wisker

22. Maintaining Momentum and Overcoming Difficulties with Time, Writing, and Theorising the Project and the Research Processes

Abstract
Typically, in the middle of a research project or as you approach the end, there could be a number of concerns about ways in which you can overcome various difficulties with what you are discovering in the research, how to interpret it, what you can say about your findings, what it all means, and whether you can write it all sufficiently elegantly in the time available. There are also difficulties of maintaining momentum, just keeping going through all the hard work to produce a rewarding, well-finished piece of research, which is well written and making a contribution to knowledge.
Gina Wisker

23. What Do Examiners Look For? What Do Employers Look For? How to Ensure Your Work Matches Their Expectations

Abstract
Completing a piece of research is a large task and quite an achievement in itself, but it is also an indicator of your skills as a constructor of knowledge. You show you have ideas, can ask questions in many different ways in relation to those ideas and work very hard undertaking the research rigorously and competently, and then that you are a completer finisher because you write it up and submit it for assessment. You do not just repeat knowledge generated by other people; you work with that knowledge, the information, the questions, the sources, to ask your own questions, and then through the research process to generate, to construct, your own knowledge. This is a high-level set of skills. You might also have worked in partnership with a team to produce this research and/or in partnership with a project leader, probably your supervisor/adviser, and perhaps on real-world problems which they are exploring and in the exploration of which you have generated your own research project, data, conclusions. While you might never talk about the findings about, for example, who eats Indian food, where and why (a question from Chapter 13), the practices and processes you have learned to undertake and the skills, including management of time and people, and writing convincingly and coherently, will stay with you and be useful forever.
Gina Wisker
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