Investigation without publication and dissemination
isnt research. To find out about something and then not tell anyone doesnt
make much sense. To count as research, a project has to be reported to an audience in
order to be evaluated by them and make its contribution to knowledge (and perhaps practice
and/or policy) in the field.
For those embarking on a research project intended to lead to the
presentation of a thesis or dissertation the first audience is probably the examiners, the
persons responsible for assessing the report. Clearly, it is vital for all those
submitting work for assessment to be fully informed about the specific criteria to be
applied for their award.
The requirements for the dissertation for MA (Education) of the
University of Plymouth are set out in the Student Handbook for the International Masters Programme
(Education)of the University of Plymouth, which is available via the IMP pages at
here for further information regarding requirements for dissertation at University College Plymouth, St
Mark and St John.
Plymouth MPhil/PhD students click
here to find to find the guidance that you need.
The requirements and procedures for registering with University College Plymouth,
St Mark & St John for MPhil/PhD may be obtained by contacting Sue Leakey on 01752
636824 ext 2024 or firstname.lastname@example.org
However, it is also important for the student-researcher to feed
back findings to participants and to attempt to reach a wider readership through some sort
of dissemination strategy. The more widely published the findings of a student research
project are the more impressed the examiners are likely to be. Indeed, it is a requirement
of the University of Plymouths regulations for the PhD that the thesis should
be capable of publication in whole or in part. MA dissertations for the International
Masters Programme (Education) are normally expected to describe work that is intended to
have some impact on practice and/or policy this implies that the students concerned
have some strategy for disseminating the findings so that others learn from them. There is
no sense in those working in education continually reinventing the wheel. Our knowledge of
what works (and what doesnt!) ought to be cumulative so that we make
some progress. This will only happen if those who undertake investigations publish the
results and just submitting a dissertation/thesis to examiners is not in itself a
sufficient means of accomplishing this.
Lets look first, though, at how a dissertation or thesis
might be structured.
One way of presenting your report is set out below:
The requirements for these vary. Please
check the latest set of regulations for your programme. The latest edition of the Student Handbook for the International Masters Programme
(Education)of the University of Plymouth is available via the IMP pages at
We suggest the following outline, but note that this depends very much on the nature of your dissertation ...
Abstract - This must follow the title page on a
single page of typescript (single spacing). This should be a brief summary
of the dissertation which clearly indicates (a) its aims, (b) methods of
research and (c) results of the research.
Introduction - Brief description of the research
question/topic/focus and the method of its investigation (to lead into what follows).
Review - A discussion of the literature in terms of
similar studies and previous explanations that have been offered. This should not become
an end in itself - your review should be concerned with putting your own study in the
context of other work, preferably drawing out aspects which your research was intended to
explore further. Dont forget that you will need to fully reference all works cited
(used indirectly, referred to and quoted from). Make sure you note all the necessary
bibliographic details when you first read the books, especially page numbers for direct
quotations which should be given in the text (see References below). Its
a real nuisance and a waste of valuable writing time to have to hunt for these in the
library at a later stage. Also, use single rather than double quotation marks for short
quotations and indent longer extracts (which may be single-spaced) without quotation
Methods - Describe the methods you chose to collect
data/explore your topic and explain your choice. Include a copy of your ethics
protocol (perhaps as an appendix) and discuss how it worked out in practice. Discuss
the limitations of the method(s) chosen. NB You may decide to keep your analysis of the
strengths and weaknesses of your own methodology until your Conclusion.
Findings - Description of what you found out, an account
of the information/data you gathered. By all means make this a narrative (like a story),
making use of the interesting bits from your data collection, giving more detailed stuff
in one or more appendices.
Discussion - Putting the findings in the context of
previous research and/or theory, testing/generating explanations/hypotheses, ie have you
confirmed your expectations and those of other researchers in the field or have you found
something different/new/contradictory/anomalous? Can you make sense of your findings? Can
you offer some sort of explanation, however tentative? What are the
professional/practical/political implications of your findings?
Conclusion - Summarise what you have achieved in terms of
the research and its implications. Critically evaluate your research - what are its
strengths and what are its weaknesses? What would you do differently? What have you learnt
about the topic, about doing research and about Education itself?
References - List those publications to which you have referred
using the Harvard method.
The general principle applies that the reader should be able to find the original
source by using the information you supply.
Appendices - Place herein material which is too bulky to include in
the text but which you nonetheless think is important and to which you refer.
Bound-in copies of publications arising from the research project.
The above structure is not the only way to present your work. You
may wish, for example, to integrate Findings and Discussion or
Discussion and Conclusion, you dont have to use
Appendices. Please separate each section in some way and number your pages.
Check with your supervising tutor to see that your own presentation plans are appropriate
- your topic may need something different!
There is no one way to work. Everyone who undertakes a research
project is different and all research reports inevitably get written in different ways.
For 'Advice on Essay and Research Writing' from Denis
Lots of help is available in the following publications:
See the Letters Home section of Barrett et al (1999)
for advice on the Process of Writing and for Travellers
Reports, both of which make a great deal of use of examples from real-life case
studies of Masters and research degree students.
just published a FREE downloadable e-Book. Improve your Writing Skills is a guide
which takes you through writing skills from commas and paragraphs to editing and
presentation. It even tells you how to overcome writer's block if you're stuck for
It runs in Windows 95/98/2000/NT and uses Internet Explorer 4.0 or
above. Download from:
Read chapter 8 'Reporting research: telling the
story' in Clough & Nutbrown (2002).
Read relevant sections of
(2005) for guidance on getting started and keeping going, organising and
structuring reports, forms of writing, style and the process of editing. This book is
aimed a qualitative researchers, but has much helpful advice for all.
Id advise you to begin to write from the very beginning of
your project, reflecting on your reading, your decisions about methodology and your first
efforts at data collection and theory building. Some of what you write in such a research
diary will become valuable evidence to be used in a description of your
methods or of the process of analysis. You may be able to draw from it to contribute
towards important parts of your research report.
The process of data collection itself should not be devoid of
thought. You should be asking yourself all the while what it is that youve found,
how you could discover more, what sense you can make of it and what hypotheses you might
derive and seek to test further. Writing up such reflections on a regular basis is one way
of making sure they take place.
The order of sections given above in the structure of a
dissertation or thesis reads as if it is a logical sequence. However, this does not
mean that the process is necessarily linear. Very often items for the literature review
arent published until after the data collection is finished and much of the analysis
can be written before the final methodological strategies are decided.
It is important, however, to start to amass a collection of draft
chapters or sections of your dissertation or thesis as soon as you
can. Dont wait until you finished your data collection before beginning to write!
The Introduction, Review and Methods parts can be
written in first draft form, awaiting revisions and additions, very early on in the
process. Analysis can be written up whilst the data collection is taking place.
Conclusions can be sketched out on the basis of reading, ongoing data analysis and
reflection throughout the investigation.
Dont forget to involve your supervisor(s) in this process.
Send in drafts, get comments back, discuss these and then file them away and move onto the
next chapter/section. Id advise moving on rather than going back. It makes more
sense to make the corrections, amendments, improvements and additions when you have gone
through the whole dissertation/thesis at least once. Collect a virtual or actual pile of
drafts, written in whatever order but arranged in logical sequence, complete with
supervisors comments, then go back through the lot from beginning to end once
youve got a complete set. That way you have more chance of establishing a
consistency of style and argument. Youll realise what can be cut and what needs to
be added. You will have seen the Promised Land!
Dont forget to READ! Have a look at how others have written
up their work, in dissertations/theses, articles, book chapters and books. See how they
have structured the presentation of their research reports, how they have used their data
(both qualitative and quantitative), what use they make of appendices, how they employ a
referencing system, how they ensure that their argument builds towards a conclusion and
how they link the sections of their work. Learn from others, but dont be afraid to
be different if its necessary in order to do justice to your research (but check
with your supervisor to be on the safe side!).
Click here to
see chapter nine of Woods, P (2005) Successful Writing for Qualitative Researchers, 2nd
edition. Routledge, London,
which gives full details on how to get published, both in academic journals and
for a very helpful guide produced by Denis Hayes on Writing and Publishing Journal
For advice on writing skills, download Improve
your Writing Skills (an e-Book) from:
Barrett, Elizabeth; Lally, Vic; Purcell, S & Thresh, Robert
(1999) Signposts for Educational Research CD-ROM: A Multimedia Resource for the
Beginning Researcher. Sage Publications, London.
Mantex has just published a FREE downloadable e-Book. Improve
your Writing Skills is a guide which takes you through writing skills from commas and
paragraphs to editing and presentation. It even tells you how to overcome writer's
block if you're stuck for ideas. Download from: