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Guidetoundergraduatedissertationsinthesocialsciences

WhatisaDissertation?1
Introduction
Adissertationorfinalyearproject,asaformofassessmentdiffersfromothermoduleassessments.Theexpectationisthatyou,thelearner,takeresponsibilityforyourown
learningandthatyouproducealiteraturereview,youchooseamethodforundertakingastudy,writeupyourfindingsanddiscusstheoutcomesinadiscussionsection.Sothis
partofsiteprovidesyouwithabetterunderstandingofthefollowing:
Whatadissertationis
Whyyouarerequiredtodoadissertation
Whatyourdissertationmaylooklike
Howtosetaboutyourinitialreadingandwriting
WatchWhatisadissertation?video(.wmv)
Thisvideoclipcontainscommentsfromthefollowingacademics:
DrIainGarner
Psychology
DrMalcolmTodd
Sociology
ShawnaMcCoy
Criminology

Whydoesmydegreeprogrammeincludeadissertation?
Traditionally,anundergraduatedegreeinthesocialsciencesandhumanitiesusesadissertationforafinalpieceofstudy.Thedegreemightalsoofferotheralternativessuchas
theoptionofanextendedessay,oranindependentlearningproject,oraseniorpaper.Thisisbecausetheprocessofproducingthistypeofassessmentenablesyouto:
Identifyyourownareaofinterest.
Exploreanareaindepth.
Defineyourownquestion.
Experiencetheprocessofproducingknowledge.
Manageaprojectfrombeginningtoend.
Consolidateyourcommunication,informationseekingandintellectualskills.
Inmanywaysthisisaboutdoingsocialscienceratherthanwritingaboutthesocialsciencethatothershaveproduced.Someoftheseskillsareclearlyacademicandrelatedto
yourdiscipline.Othersaremuchbroaderanddevelopyoureffectivenessincollecting,manipulatingandinterrogatinginformation,itsapplicationandtheproductionofreports
allofwhichareusefulskillsinemployment.

Definitions
Formanyundergraduatedegreestudents,asignificantelementoffinalyearstudyisanindependentlearningproject.AccordingtoToddetal(2004)whiletheseprojectsmay
varygreatlyinscopeandnature(e.g.alargescalewrittenassignmentsuchasadissertationorextendedessaythedesignandproductionofsometypeofartefact)mostsharea
numberofkeycharacteristics.
First,thelearnerdeterminesthefocusanddirectionoftheirwork.
Second,thisworkiscarriedoutonanindividualbasisalthoughusuallywithsometutorsupportanddirectionprovided.
Third,thereistypicallyasubstantialresearchcomponenttotheproject,requiringthecollectionofprimarydataand/ortheanalysisofexisting/secondarydata.
Finally,learnerswillhaveamoreprolongedengagementwiththechosensubjectthanisthecasewith'standard'courseworkassignmentssuchasessaysorreports,
withtheworkconsequentlyexpectedtobemore'indepth'.
Ultimatelyyouwillbedrawingtogetherissuesoftheory,methodandmethodologyandbringingthemtobearonyourchosentopic.Thosedissertationsthatcanbestaccomplish
thisintegrationorevensynthesisareoftenthemostconceptuallyandmethodologicallyaccomplishedpiecesofwork.

Howisyourdissertationmoduleorganised?
Thewayinwhichthistypeofassessmentisorganisedwillvaryfrominstitutiontoinstitutionandcoursetocourse.Itisimportantthatyoufamiliariseyourselfwiththe
particulararrangementsforyourdegree.Lookforamodulehandbookwhichsetsouttheserequirementsandhowyouareallocatedadissertationtutororsupervisor.Your
supervisorandanyhandbooksthatareproducedareexcellentsourcesofinformationandsupportandwillhelpyouunderstandhowthedissertationprocessworks.
Thefollowingchecklistwillstartyouonthedissertationjourney,startplanningandalsoclarifywhatisexpectedofyou

Checklist
Question

Answer

Howmanycreditpointsormoduleequivalentsisthedissertationworth?

Doesthedissertationhaveanyspecialstatusinthecalculationofyourfinaldegreeclassification?

Whendoyouneedtostartplanningthedissertationformally?(Somedegreeprogrammesstartthisprocessinthesecondyear,othersinthe

finalyear.)
Whatisthesubmissiondateforthefinalpiece?

Arethereanykeyinterimdateswhen(forexample)outlines,sectionsorrequestsfortheethicalapprovalofproposedresearchhavetobe
submitted?

Howlongisthedissertation(anddoesthewordcountincludethebibliographyandappendices)?

Arethereanylectures,seminarsorworkshopsassociatedwiththemodule?

Willyouhaveadissertationsupervisor?

Howaresupervisorsallocated?

Howoftenareyouallowedtomeetwithyoursupervisor?

Isthereascheduleofmeetingsthatyouhavetoattendordoyouarrangethemwithyoursupervisor?

Downloadchecklist(PDF)

Whatisitthatisspecialaboutadissertation?
WatchtheWhatisspecialaboutadissertation?video(.wmv)

Thisvideoclipcontainscommentsfromthefollowingacademics:
KevinBonnett
Sociology
ShawnaMcCoy
Criminology
DrMalcolmTodd
Sociology
AlanMcGauley
SocialPolicy
Thedissertationoffersyoutheopportunitytofurtherdevelopyoursubjectexpertiseandyoursocialresearch,intellectualandorganisationalskills:
Youbecomeactivelyinvolvedwithresearchwhichcouldmeanempiricalresearchoralibrarybasedproject.
Itisanopportunityfororiginalityandintellectualindependence.Yourfirstcourseessayswereusually(thoughnotalways)writtentotitlesprescribedbyyourtutor.As
youprogressedthroughyourcourse,youmayhavebeengiventheopportunitytomakeupyourowntitles.Inthisway,yourindependence,asareaderandcritic,
developed.Thedissertationbuildsonthisfoundationitgrowsoutofyourownparticularinterest,bothintermsofthematerialyouchoosetowriteaboutandthetopic
thatprovidesthefocusofyourstudy.Sowhenyoureadbooksandpapersonyourchosentopic,youbecomeawarethatyouarereadingwithadifferentsenseof
purposetounderstandandrepresenttheargumentsyes,butyouthenstarttomakesenseofwhatparticularlyinterestedyouinthebooks,journalarticlesormedia
sourcesandwhatparticularcriticalquestionsyouwantedtoaskaboutthem.
Alongerwordcountofthedissertationallowsyoutosustainyouranalysisandinterpretationoveragreaterrangeofmaterialandalmostinevitablyinvolvesyouinmore
carefulandsubtleargument.
Thepreparationandwritingofthedissertationmakesyoutakeresponsibility,withthesupportofatutor,foryourownlearning,forthewholeprocessofpersonal,
independentstudy,timemanagement,andtheclearandmethodicalpresentationoftheresultsofyourresearch.
Insummary,thedissertationrequiresyouto:
Undertakeanextensiveprogrammeofreadingandresearch.
Demonstrateintellectualindependenceandoriginalitybychoosingyourownsubjectofstudyanddefiningitsnatureandscope.
Engageinsustainedanalysis,interpretationandcomparisonofasubstantialbodyofdata.
Presenttheresultsofyourresearchinaclearlywritten,academicallycogentlyargued,logicallystructuredandproperlyreferencedform.
Thisprocessimprovesyoursubjectexpertise,isagoodpreparationforfurtherstudyandresearchatpostgraduatelevel,andrequiresyoutoworkindependentlyand
methodicallyinavarietyofintellectuallydemandingcontexts.
Forallthesereasons,thedissertationcanbeseenastheculminationofyourundergraduatestudies.Hereyounotonlydemonstratetheintellectual,study,researchand
presentationskillsthatyouhavedevelopedthroughoutyourdegreecourse,butalsocreatesomethingwhichisuniquelyyourown.

STUDENTVOICE
Quotesfromfinalyearstudentsonwhatisspecialaboutthedissertation:
Thepointofthedissertationisthatitsindependentworkthatslessguided.
AtthestartIdidntseethedissertationasuseful,butthischanged.ItstheonlypieceofworkthatsmoreorlesswhatIwantedtodo.

Inothercoursesitissetoutwhattheywantyoutofindout.Thisisaboutyourindividualthoughtanddirectionyoucangooffinyourchosendirection,branch
outandmakedifferentthingsrelatetoeachother.Theresmorefreedominvolved.
(Todd,BannisterandClegg,2004,pp339340)

Whatdoesadissertationlooklike?
Alldissertationswillvaryinformat,styleanddesign.Itisimportantthatyoufamiliariseyourselfwiththeparticularrequirementsofyourinstitutionanddegreeprogramme.
Atypicalformatguidewouldrequirethedissertationtobewordprocessedwithdoubleoroneandahalfspacing,andawideleftmargintoenablebinding.Mostformatswould
include:

Dissertationformatguide
TitlePage
TableofContents
ListofTables(ifany)
ListofAbbreviations(ifany),alphabeticallyordered.
Introduction
LiteratureReview
Methodology
Findings
(eitheracertainnumberofchaptersoranextendedessaywhichhasclearlyidentifiedsections)
Discussion
Conclusions
and(ifappropriate)recommendations
Bibliography
(alistofallthebooks,journalarticles,websites,newspapersandothersourcesthatyouhaveusedinyourdissertation)
Appendices
(e.g.questionnaires,interviewtranscripts,pilotreports,detailedtablesetc.)
Howeveryoudecidetodivideupyourchaptersandsections,certainessentialingredientsneedtobepresentinsomeform.Thesewillinclude:
LiteratureReviewSimilarinformandlengthtoalongishessayentitled'howIhavesetupmyresearchtopicandhowitfitsinwithexistingworkinthearea'.
MethodologyAnotheressaysizedsectionentitled'whyIchosethemethodsIchosetoanswermyparticularquestion,thestrengthsandweaknessesofthatapproach
asatoolforgeneratingknowledge,andhowIactuallydidit'.
FindingsDescribingandpresentingyourowndata,evidenceorcasestudycouldwelltakeslightlylessormorethantheearliersections.Thiswilldependinparton
thekindoffindingsyouarepresenting.
DiscussionThisisthesectionthatbringsallofthestrandsofyourargumenttogether.Onewaytothinkofitisasathreewayconversationbetweentheliteratureyou
discussed,themethodologyyouadoptedandthefindingsyouhavepresented.
ConclusionandrecommendationsThischapterwilldrawtogethertheconclusionsaswellasnotinganyrecommendationsforpractice.Youshouldnotincludenew
ideasatthisstagetheyshouldhavebeendealtwithinthediscussionsection.Youcanincludeareflectionondoingtheresearchstudyandalsoidentifywaysinwhich
you,orothers,mighttaketheworkforwardasfurtherresearchaswellastraininganddissemination.Thischapteroftenrunsoutofsteambewarned!
seeWritingtheDissertationsectionformoredetails.

Useyourexperiencesandstrengths
Youwillalsobeabletodrawuponotherexperience,forexampleintheanalysisandpresentationoffindingsthatyoumayhavecoveredonmethodologymodules.
Youareprobablyawareofwhereyouracademicstrengthsandweaknesseslie.Ifyouhaveneverreallythoughtaboutthisitwouldbeworthdevotingsometimetodoingso.In
settingupyourprojectyouwillwanttoplaytoyourstrengths.Ifyouareconcernedaboutyourstudyorcommunicationskillsyoumayfindsupportisavailableinyourinstitution
seekitout.
CaseStudy1Drawingonworkexperience

Summary
Thedissertationisanindependentpieceofresearchwhereyoutakeagreatdealofresponsibilityforyourownlearning.
Itwilldemandtheuseofyourcommunication,informationseekingandintellectualskills.
Thesocialsciencebaseddissertationshouldnormallyincludeanumberofstandardfeatures,includinganIntroduction,aLiteratureReview,Methodology,Findings,
andConclusionandBibliographicreferences.

Youcan,andshould,valueyourownexperiencesandstrengthsaswellassecondaryresources.

KeyQuestions
Howisyourdissertationmoduleorganised?
Whowillbeavailabletosupportyourresearch?
Haveyoustartedtheplanningofyourwork?

FurtherReading
WALLIMAN,N.S.R.(2004).YourUndergraduateDissertation:TheEssentialGuideforSuccess.London,Sage
RUDESTAM,K.E.andNEWTON,R.R.(2001).SurvivingYourDissertation.AComprehensiveGuidetoContentandProcess.2nded.,London,Sage

WebResources
Ashortarticlewhichdescribesthedifferencebetweenadissertationandanessay.
1.DrMalcolmToddandJuliaWaldman

ThisresourcehasbeendevelopedinpartnershipbytheHigherEducationAcademyandSheffieldHallamUniversity