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Writing Up Research

 


Prepared by Professor Andrew Hannan, now led by Dr. Nick Pratt

A Hannan, Faculty of Education, University of Plymouth, 2008


CONTENTS

A.     Introduction

B.    The structure of a dissertation or thesis

C.     How to write up

D.     Writing for publication

E.     Further reading


A.     Introduction

  1. Investigation without publication and dissemination isn’t research. To find out about something and then not tell anyone doesn’t 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 www.plymouth.ac.uk/imp .
  4. Click here for further information regarding requirements for dissertation at University College Plymouth, St Mark and St John.
  5. University of Plymouth MPhil/PhD students click here to find to find the guidance that you need.
  6. 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 s.leakey@marjon.ac.uk
  7. 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 Plymouth’s 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 doesn’t!) 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.
  8. Let’s look first, though, at how a dissertation or thesis might be structured.

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B.    The structure of a dissertation or thesis

One way of presenting your report is set out below:

OPENING SECTIONS

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 http://www.plymouth.ac.uk/imp . 

TEXT

We suggest the following outline, but note that this depends very much on the nature of your dissertation ... 

FINAL SECTIONS

 

NB

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 don’t 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!

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C.     How to write up

  1. 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.
  2. For 'Advice on Essay and Research Writing' from Denis Hayes click here.
  3. Lots of help is available in the following publications:

     

    • CD-ROM

    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.

    • ELECTRONIC BOOK 

      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.

      It runs in Windows 95/98/2000/NT and uses Internet Explorer 4.0 or above.  Download from:

      http://www.mantex.co.uk/samples/ebooks.htm

       

    • WEBSITES

    Visit: http://www.socialresearchmethods.net/kb/index.htm from The Research Methods Knowledge Base for further advice on ‘write-up’.

    Also, for research degree students (MPhil/PhD) in particular, the following website hosted by the University of Queensland in Australia is well worth a visit:

    http://www.sss.uq.edu.au/linkto/phdwriting/

    The FAQ page is especially useful.

     

    • BOOKS

    Read chapter 8 'Reporting research: telling the story' in Clough & Nutbrown (2002).

    Read relevant sections of Woods (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.

  4. I’d 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.
  5. The process of data collection itself should not be devoid of thought. You should be asking yourself all the while what it is that you’ve 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.
  6. 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 aren’t published until after the data collection is finished and much of the analysis can be written before the final methodological strategies are decided.
  7. 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. Don’t 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.
  8. Don’t 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. I’d 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 you’ve got a complete set. That way you have more chance of establishing a consistency of style and argument. You’ll realise what can be cut and what needs to be added. You will have seen the Promised Land!
  9. Don’t 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 don’t be afraid to be different if it’s necessary in order to do justice to your research (but check with your supervisor to be on the safe side!).
  10. The best of luck!

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D. Writing for publication

 

http://www.mantex.co.uk/samples/ebooks.htm


E.     Further reading

CD-ROM

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.

 

ELECTRONIC BOOK 

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:

http://www.mantex.co.uk/samples/ebooks.htm

 

WEBSITE

Trochim, William M. The Research Methods Knowledge Base, 2nd Edition. Internet WWW page, at URL: http://www.socialresearchmethods.net/kb/index.htm

 

BOOKS

Clough, P & Nutbrown, C (2002) A Student's Guide to Methodology, London, SAGE

Woods, Peter (2005) Successful Writing for Qualitative Researchers, 2nd edition. Routledge, London.

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A Hannan, Faculty of Education, University of Plymouth, 2006

 

Beginning Research | Action Research | Case Study | Interviews | Observation Techniques | Education Research in the Postmodern

Evaluation Research in Education | NarrativePresentations | Qualitative Research | Quantitative Methods | Questionnaires | Writing up Research

 

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