Whether you’re conducting fieldwork, compiling notes or you’ve already started writing, working out your dissertation structure can be harder than expected. That’s why our university level tutors have put together this handy post for your dissertation structure. It’s particularly useful for Social Science qualitative dissertations, so read and share with friends!
These include everything up to the main body or introduction, and consist of the following: title page, abstract or summary, acknowledgement, author’s declaration, contents, and possibly definitions or lists of figures, tables or other accompanying material like software on a CD. Make sure to always double check submission guidelines with your department to ensure you’ve included everything you need to.
A crucial part of your dissertation structure is, of course, your introduction. Remember that examiners often read the introduction and conclusion first, so don’t waste these opportunities. They are your chance to show a clear understanding of your research topic and question, and why it’s important and interesting. Your introduction should capture the reader’s attention and introduce (surprise!) everything you explain later. Furthermore, it provides a broad overview of the general research area and why it’s important, explains where your research is situated and its contribution, and includes your research questions and objectives — usually grouped under a separate subheading. Your introduction will also guide to following chapters but remember: Don’t just reiterate the contents page but explain the chapters’ purpose and your reasoning.
Top tip: We usually recommend writing your introduction first even if it’s only a rough draft. This is because it logically gets the ball moving, reduces anxiety and shows you that you are headed towards a structure. You’ll see that you’re less muddled in your thoughts than you think!
After stating your research objectives, you have to satisfy them and ‘review’ existing scholarly literature on your research area. In essence, you’re writing what these scholars have said on your topic. This is not just a summary of the sources you have read but a critical and analytical integration of them. One question, for example, that can guide this writing stage is how a particular source relates to your objectives and how they inform your theories. Additionally, ask yourself how that source relates to what you already know and how it compares to other authors.
Remember: Combine, compare and contrast ideas from different authors and theories. Make connections between them and engage the reader in connections they may have not thought of. Also, importantly, highlight the gaps these theories leave behind in answering your research question! Tell the reader how your research will hopefully amend this gap in a small way.
Your methodology could be part of your introduction or separately based in the literature review section. In essence, it explains why you conducted your research in the way you did. Furthermore, it answers why a particular research paradigm or method was used, and how you gathered and analysed data. It is the most basic and important section for the reader to learn the logistics of your paper. For interviews or questionnaires, this is the time to justify individual questions and your choice of respondents.
Results and discussions
In the following chapters, you write the overall results and patterns of findings in your interviews and then critically analyse and discuss your results. Throughout, don’t forget to remind the reader of the research purpose and objectives. Remember also to showcase your intellectual and critical analysis skills, and connect all the dots between literature review and any interviews, surveys or case studies. Really importantly, be critical of how reliable and valid your findings are: What could have been different to show better truth?
Keep in mind, you are writing a ‘masters’ level paper, and a master of a particular knowledge always ask yourself: How could this knowledge I’m sharing have been more accurate? What can other researchers do in the future to best analyse this topic and research question? Additionally, you can write about your own reflections on what you have learned and what you would do differently if you could repeat your study.
As mentioned previously, this chapter is über important because the examiner will often read this first together with your introduction. So, refer to your objectives and explain how (or not) they were achieved. Remember to also repeat key words and phrases to show consistency, and strike a balance between summarising without too much repetition. You could, for example, use bullet points to make this more effective. Additionally, discuss your research’s implications and answer the “so what?” question as to the effect your findings might have. It’s also okay to identify weaknesses and limitations in your research and suggest what the future may hold. Then round it all off with a few convincing concluding sentences. Remember: Don’t introduce new opinions in this section as these should have all been introduced beforehand.
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