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Organising Your Dissertation (Source: Lesley Coles, IOE, University of London)

Abstracts, Introductions and Literature reviews

Session 2 What is a dissertation?

Task 1

Think about what your idea of a dissertation is and write notes below about what you
think a dissertation aims to do. Have you written a dissertation or report before? If so,
what was it about and what did you do?



Task 2: Your dissertation/thesis/report

You are attending this course because you are currently thinking about or working on a
dissertation, thesis or report. How much research or writing have you done so far on
your project? What particular areas do you think you need to work on over the next few

Task 3:

What are our personal challenges? What do we think we will need most support with?
How do we organise our time frame? In order to complete your research, your
dissertation should:

• Focus on a specific problem or issue

• Relate the problem or issue to the relevant literature

• Have a reasoned research design

• Provide an analytical and critical approach to the literature and topic

• Maintain scholarly standards throughout; and use sound arguments supported

by evidence

The Introduction

The introduction to your dissertation is one of the most important parts of your
research. This is because it introduces the reader to your topic and it is an opportunity
to grab the reader’s (usually your tutor’s) attention. Some writers decide to write their
introduction first, while others tend to write their introduction at the end. Often it is it
better to do both: start with writing a draft of your introduction and then edit this as you
develop your argument and conclusions. Writing your introduction is a valuable way of:

• Clarifying your thoughts

• Breaking the ice, or the fear of the white page (on paper or laptop).
• Establishing a style
• Providing a structure for your tutorials with your tutor
• It makes up seven to ten percent of your dissertation in a fairly structured way.
(Murray 2006)

In order to write a well structured introduction it is often a good idea to think about the
structure and content of the abstract. This is because it is a more distilled and focused
summary of your dissertation, and writing this will help you focus on your key aims and

Task 4: The abstract

What does the abstract contain and what are the rules when writing an abstract? The
abstract is a summary, usually of approximately 150-300 words, of what the reader can
expect to find in the dissertation. An abstract is concise and does not include
references or quotations. Your dissertation abstract is a highly condensed version of a
longer piece of writing that highlights the major points covered. It will concisely describe
the content and scope of the writing and reviews the contents in an abbreviated form.

There are two types of abstracts typically used:

1. Descriptive Abstracts

These tell the reader what information the dissertation contains, and include the
purpose, methods, and scope of the report, article, or paper. A descriptive abstract will
not provide results, conclusions, or recommendations, and is usually shorter than an
informative abstract - usually under 100 words. Its purpose is to merely introduce the
subject to reader, who must then read the dissertation to find out your results,
conclusions, or recommendations.

2. Informative Abstracts

These communicate specific information about the dissertation, including the purpose,
methods, and scope of the report, article, or paper. They provide the dissertation’s
results, conclusions, and recommendations. They are short but not as short as a
descriptive abstract - usually anything from a paragraph to a page or two, depending

upon the length of the original work being abstracted. The informative abstract allows
the reader to make an informed decision as to whether to read the dissertation or not.

A good abstract will use one or more well developed paragraphs, which are unified,
coherent, concise, and able to stand alone. It will use an introduction, body and
conclusion structure which presents the dissertation's purpose, results, conclusions,
and recommendations, in that order. It will strictly follow the chronology of the
dissertation and provide logical connections (or transitions) between the information
included. A good abstract will add no new information, but simply summarise the
dissertation. It should also be easily understood by a wide audience.

a.) An analysis of an abstract

To look at this structure more clearly look at the abstract below and put
either: Background (B), Purpose (P), Method (M), Results (R) or
Conclusion (C) next to the corresponding parts of the abstract.





With a listening typewriter, what an author says would be automatically recognised and
displayed in front of him or her. However speech recognition is not yet advanced enough to
provide people with a reliable listening typewriter. An aim of our experiments was to
determine if an imperfect listening typewriter would be useful for composing letters.
Participants dictated letters, either in isolated words or in consecutive word speech. They did
this with simulations of listening typewriters that recognised either a limited vocabulary or an
unlimited vocabulary. Results indicated that some versions, even upon first using them, were
at least as good as traditional methods of handwriting and dictating. Isolated word speech
with large vocabularies may provide the basis for a useful listening typewriter.

b.) An analysis of three abstracts

Look at the three abstracts below and write (B) Purpose (P) Method
(M) Results ( R ) and Conclusion ( C ) next to the appropriate parts:

Abstract 1

1. The teaching of reading is a central issue in education. However, not enough is known about
the complex nature of the processes which occur during the teaching and learning of reading
in the classroom.

The present study uses the metaphor of scaffolding, as formulated by Woods, Bruner and
Rods, to investigate features of teaching and learning in some secondary small-group reading
lessons, focussing on dyadic teacher-pupil interaction. Practical observations were undertaken
at 'a secondary school in North London. The participants were 2 experienced SEN teachers and
11 Year 7 pupils aged between 11 and 13, who were engaged in a short-term, intensive literacy
programme, for which they were withdrawn from mainstream lessons for 70 minutes each
day. 8 lessons were recorded using video equipment. The recordings were later transcribed
and analyzed in conjunction with interview data.

Qualitative analysis of the data revealed that contingent scaffolding was a feature of teacher-
pupil interactions in the lessons observed. Some limitations of the original scaffolding
formulation were discovered in relation to this particular learning context. It was found that
motivational and affective considerations were not addressed as separate from the cognitive
teaching goals, but as integral to them. Pupils were active participants in the structuring of the
teacher's support. The learning activity featured in the dyadic interactions was found to be
interrelated with the learning environment

Abstract 2

2. The NNS of English who would be successful at a British academic institution must undergo a
process of initiation into a variety of cultures: general, academic and disciplinary. In an attempt
to identify the nature and extent of this process of enculturation, I have followed the progress
of a small group of Japanese students (7) as they moved from a preparatory Foundation
Course to undergraduate study in a number of disciplines [History of Art and Heritage
Management (2), Law (1), Politics with History(1) and Psychology (3)]. I have concentrated on
their experience of degree-level work, with particular reference to written language
production, in the first six months of study as they approached their common Preliminary
Examinations. By using multiple data sources - the results from student and faculty
questionnaires - I have been able to build up a picture of the experiences and the (sometimes
conflicting) perceptions and expectations of faculty and students. Although my research has
largely been exploratory and descriptive in nature, it has nevertheless been possible to reach

some tentative conclusions regarding the nature of the process of enculturation in an
academic setting and consequently to reflect on good teaching and learning practices.

Abstract 3

3. This Report focuses on leadership as a key element in raising quality in Ugandan schools.
Throughout the study, raising student achievement is taken as the basic rationale for staff
development (Joyce & Showers 1988). The Report identifies a variety of leadership styles and
argues for a participatory approach to leadership and staff development in schools in Uganda.
It traces the link between those approaches and the ability of a school to be a "learning
organisation" (Garratt 1987). This is done through an examination of leadership influences on
professional development and appropriate organisational cultures. The final chapter looks at
the implications that these ideas have on various initiatives regarding head teacher and
management training and support in the Uganda context together with the related effects on
staff development. This wide-ranging study draws on a large body of recent literature,
documentation from a number of sources on African and Ugandan developments in the field,
and on the author's own experience over two years as a project co-ordinator in Uganda for
Voluntary Service Overseas. In the final chapter a number of implications are outlined
regarding the nature of headteacher and staff development in Uganda.

Task 5: Examining a report and writing an abstract

Look at the report on English language acquisition and the effects of living with an
English family. Check, and then write an abstract. Do not copy from the report directly,
but use your own words to express the author’s ideas. Limit your abstract to 100 words.



This study investigated the degree of English language acquisition of 83 students who
were living in English-speaking environments during their 14-week term of formal
language study. The purpose of the investigation was to compare the rate of English
acquisition of these students with that of their classmates who were living in dormitories
or apartment situations, usually in close proximity to other speakers of their first
language. Farnam (2007) studied different sorts of second language learning
programmes and found that ".(students) making the most marked improvement were in
settings where the use of English was encouraged and necessary for communication."
(Farnam 2007: 433). Subjects of this study were living with British families, that is, their
English was encouraged and was necessary for communication.

Additionally, "one of the most important factors (in language learning) is the attitude of
the learner to the language and its speakers: '(Jones 2009: 271). The fact that living in

the American family was elected by the student at slightly higher cost than other
housing situations would seem to suggest a positive attitude and motivation.

Hypotheses tested:

H1: Mean of IELTS scores of home stay students = Mean of IELTS scores of
non-home stay students.

H2: Mean of classroom grades of home stay students = Mean of classroom

grades of non-home stay students.

Materials and procedure: All students took Placement Tests before beginning English
instruction. For purposes of later statistical analysis each of the 83 home stay students
was paired with a non-homestay student who had an identical Placement score.

Results: At the end of the 14 weeks of intensive (22.5 hours per week) English study,
all students received classroom grades in grammar, reading, composition and spoken
English: Some took the IELTS. In all instances scores of home stay students were

Discussion: Language learners and teachers have long assumed that the best way to
learn a second language was by living in an environment in which it is used. This study
lends strong empirical support to this assumption.

What this study does not do is separate the integrative motivation factor which may
have influenced students to choose to live with British families from the exposure factor
operative during that stay with the families. Future studies need to develop instruments
which can make the distinction.

References used:

Hart, C (2006) Doing your Masters Dissertation, Sage Publications Ltd

Murray, R (2006) How to write a thesis (second ed) Open University Press

Swetnam, D & Swetnam, R (2009) Writing your dissertation, Oxford, How to Books Ltd.

English language Acquisition: the Effects of Living with a British Family

100 words