Inside Track to Writing Dissertations and Theses


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For you, a well-received upgrade report on your research, along with a good interview, can be very reassuring by confirming the direction in which you are heading and the quality of the research so far. The possibility that you will not be permitted to continue with your research is an essential and valuable part of the process — if an unwelcome one — in that it can save you and the department time and money by cutting losses at a fairly early stage in your research, and spare you from even greater disappointment later on.

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There are three possible outcomes of the upgrading process as shown in the box. Three possible outcomes of the upgrading process 1 The project is given a clean bill of health, along with suggestions for improvements, alerts to possible weaknesses and ideas for addressing those weaknesses.

Upon the recommendation of the examiner, the university registry will then enrol you as a PhD student. However, this does not necessarily mean you go away emptyhanded, having achieved nothing. In these circumstances, rather than terminate your enrolment altogether, the committee may well give you the opportunity to recast your work as an M.

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Phil submission. It will then be examined according to the criteria for M. Phil degrees. The project has the potential to produce a good PhD thesis, but it is felt that the researcher lacks the ability to take it forward and develop it to the extent required and expected of a PhD. Hopefully, you will successfully upgrade and your research will be the better for having been subjected to close scrutiny. Having gone through the process, most students experience an increased confidence and enthusiasm that helps carry them through the following stages of their project.

Proper planning is the key to avoiding unnecessary problems later on, enjoying the writing process and producing a high-quality final product. The two primary aspects of proper planning concern educating yourself about the university regulations that you must follow and then carefully selecting a topic and a strategy for investigating that topic. Careful and detailed planning is an integral part of any professional research endeavour, because to do otherwise is to rely on either good fortune or the skills of another person, and neither of those options will allow you to maximise your learning.

Inside Track: Writing Dissertations and Theses

Get a copy of the rules and regulations, read them and ask about any areas that are unclear. The University of London regulations for a BA degree in Philosophy state that: The dissertation to be normally of 5, words in length, with a maximum of 7, words. Two copies should be submitted by the first Monday in the April preceding the final examinations. An important point to note here is that the dissertation topic must be approved by the supervisor.

If you have adopted a topic proposed by your supervisor, this step will be fast and smooth. Giving yourself plenty of time to identify a good topic is also important because you have a greater chance of enjoying the dissertationwriting process and producing a high-quality final product if you identify a topic that truly captures your interest. Then, summarise your answers to the following questions on a separate piece of paper. If so, when? For instance, minors will probably need parental consent to participate in your study. If you use a written consent form, consider placing a copy in an appendix to your dissertation so that readers can see exactly what the participants agreed to.

This information is usually placed in the Participants section of your dissertation or thesis. TIP You should find out whether your university has a human subjects committee and what ethical guidelines you need to follow early in the research process. In many institutions, you cannot conduct your study until the human subjects committee has given you a green light to proceed. In general, the safest approach is to produce a consent form and have your participants read and sign that form before beginning to gather data. In this way, there will be no question whether the participants understood their rights and the nature of your study from the outset.

This can protect you, your supervisor and your university from future problems. This will usually be the university human subjects committee or your advisor. Remember that the consent form is not supposed to be an impressive-sounding academic document. Its purpose is to inform your participants of the nature of your research in a simple and comprehensible way. When dealing with adults, you should aim to write at a level that a GCSE or similar level student would understand.

Remember that the readability statistics will provide you with the reading grade level of your document. This will permit all of the participants to comprehend quickly and easily the information on the form and will therefore minimise misunderstandings and possible problems as the study unfolds. On a separate piece of paper, summarise the key policies as they apply to you in the left-hand column of a copy of the table below. Add your comments in the right-hand column. When I conduct my study I need to.

While reading the literature in your field of study — and you should read widely — you should be searching for areas in need of further study. Because the value of any study lies in its contribution to our knowledge of a particular area, you should strive to show clearly how the previous research is conflicting or lacking in some way. The gap should flow naturally and clearly from your understanding of the literature and the current state of knowledge about the topic.

As you identify gaps in the literature, ask yourself how important they are, why they are important and worthy of investigation, and the benefits of studying that area further. The following are five types of gaps that you can look for: 1 Knowledge-based. This is the most common type of gap. This type of gap occurs when we know about certain issues or variables reasonably well, but we are unsure of their relationships to one another.

In this type of gap, a theory or an aspect of a theory has not been investigated thoroughly, or the theory has not been tested in a particular context or with a particular group of individuals. In this case, you would need to make clear the advantages of the design or methodology. In this case, you would need to explain the advantages of the analytical approach.


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While a new analytical approach is often some sort of advanced statistical technique, it can also mean the opposite. For instance, in an area where previous researchers have predominantly used quantitative approaches, conducting a qualitative study will provide new forms of data and new ways to analyse that data. TIP Although identifying a gap is desirable, basing your study entirely on a perceived gap in the literature cannot be the only criterion you use, as there is always the danger that you design a study that addresses a relatively trivial gap.

Activity 2. Try to list at least five topics using the categories below to help you. For instance, one major intellectual controversy concerns disagreements between scientists and philosophers who subscribe to a theory sometimes called traditional or classical objectivism, and those who are sometimes labelled deconstructionists or postmodernists. The first group takes the traditional position that truth, reason and knowledge exist in philosophy, science and history, while the second group frequently denies the existence of truth, reason and knowledge. While this is a major intellectual controversy in academia today, you may choose to focus on a more limited controversy in your field of study.

Regardless of the breadth of the controversy, you might find jumping into the middle of a contentious issue exhilarating.

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If this idea suits your personality, you may wish to discuss the possibility with your advisor. On what issue do the different parties disagree? What are the basic positions of each side? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each side? Make notes on these three controversies on a separate sheet of paper.

Possible topics can be found in a number of places. Secondly, your supervisor or other academics in the department may have suggestions. Thirdly, other students in the same programme, and particularly those who are already writing dissertations, may be able to tell you about ideas that they considered and rejected. Indeed, you may spot an interesting angle to the topic that they missed! Projects of this size take more time and energy than you predict simply because the number of unanticipated challenges and details that have to be considered and then handled is so large.

Add up the total scores to see how they compare with one another. Then extend the table by adding two or three more criteria that are important to you, rate the topics once again, and see if the order has changed. Candidate topic 1 Candidate topic 2 How can I make the project more satisfying?


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How can I make the project more important? How can I minimise weaknesses?

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The key idea to take away from these activities is that really good studies are generally not formulated quickly and easily; they are the product of reading, discussing, drafting, thinking and rethinking. Allow yourself time to go through this process because time spent carefully planning and designing the study will pay off down the road. As a first step, you might answer general questions such as those listed in Activity 2. Note that although some of these questions are very similar to one another, the changes in wording can make you think about the issue from a somewhat different angle, and that is what you want at this stage of the research process.

Question Answer What would I like to know about this topic? What aspects of the current literature are unconvincing to me?

Practical Tips For Overcoming Writer's Block - PhD THESIS, DISSERTATION, ESSAY WRITING

What aspects of the current literature are most interesting to me? What do theoreticians want to know about this topic? What do practitioners want to know about this topic? How can I extend my knowledge of this topic? What do I not yet know about this topic? What are some controversial issues related to this topic? Yet another way to generate research questions involves using classical categories such as definition, description, classification, compare and contrast, and cause and effect.

Inside Track to Writing Dissertations and Theses Inside Track to Writing Dissertations and Theses
Inside Track to Writing Dissertations and Theses Inside Track to Writing Dissertations and Theses
Inside Track to Writing Dissertations and Theses Inside Track to Writing Dissertations and Theses
Inside Track to Writing Dissertations and Theses Inside Track to Writing Dissertations and Theses
Inside Track to Writing Dissertations and Theses Inside Track to Writing Dissertations and Theses

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