How to do dissertation research

Dissertation research is one of the most complex areas of research you will be likely to do during your career, whether academic or work related. It can seem like a mountain that is impossible to climb. It will loom up at you in the night and make you wonder whether you’re doing the right thing at all. Yet is can be conquered and it must be conquered. Your dissertation is one of the most important elements to your degree so if any part of it, whether it is the choosing of the topic, the structure of your dissertation or your research isn’t up to the highest standard then your degree will suffer and so will you. This doesn’t mean that you should worry about your dissertation all times of the day; that will only negatively impact on it and could cause you to make bad decisions. If you think about all elements of your dissertation rationally and calmly you’ll be sure to do well; you must make sure that reason is your watch word.


However, you may still feel nervous about your dissertation. You know that you need to focus on it, relax about it, make sure that you do it regularly but how on earth do you do the research for it? Dissertation research can be tricky to master if you don’t know anything about it. That’s why this article will explain to you, step by step, how to do your dissertation research to the highest possible standard and make sure that you get the highest grade possible for it and your dissertation.

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Once you have decided what topic you are going to do in your subject, it is time to develop a question. Your question will be key to how you conduct your research. If your question is too broad, then you’ll collect far too much information than you’ll ever need when writing your dissertation and will end up wasting time that could be spent on other areas. Make the question too specific and you could find it difficult to get enough information to ensure that you have a sound academic basis for your dissertation. Therefore, it is vital that you take as much time as you need to think of your question and to test it to see whether it will stand up. Let’s use some examples to see how you could come up with a question.

Say you’re a History student and you decide that you want to focus on social History. Now you have your topic, you need to focus in on what you want to do. Write down things that are interesting to you and you think you’ll be able to write about within your chosen field. For social History, a student may choose the Industrial Revolution, the Middle Ages and the early 20th Century. Now these are far too broad for a dissertation, so you need to focus in further. You have three areas and you need to pick one. Let’s say you pick the Industrial Revolution – this is still too broad to focus a question on. It can be a good idea to pin down your question by time or location – for instance, you could narrow it down to “The Industrial Revolution in Lancashire.” Again, this is far too broad, you need to narrow it down even further. Besides, your question wouldn’t sound much like a question if it was left as it is – then it’s just a statement.

Because research will be at the heart of your dissertation try using words like examination or investigation when constructing your own question to give it more grounding. If we go back to our example, something like “Examining the influence of the Industrial Revolution on Lancashire” is good but again it should be a bit more specific – if you leave it as it is then you’ve got an entire county to cover and a vast amount of history. Trying to refine your question further to make sure that it’s specific enough to give you a precise field of research but not so precise that you’re unable to find much detail on the subject. A focus on a period within the one already mentioned is needed and a closer focus on geography can also help with narrowing the field. As demonstrated, our example question has already been metamorphosed from a general area of interest to a much more specific subject matter. It can become more specific, however, and so should your question. “An investigation of the influence of the Industrial Revolution on rural Lancashire between 1770 and 1800.” This sort of question is much better because it demonstrates both the complexity of the larger issue at hand – the Industrial Revolution – and the more specific area of research, that of rural Lancashire during a thirty-year period. This grounds your research and allows you to properly work on it to the standard that you want. Try to make sure that your question is like the example shown above, that way you’ll be certain to have a specific enough area of research to ensure that your dissertation is the best that you could possibly produce.

Once you have your question and before you start planning your research, it is worth thinking about writing a research proposal. Some courses will specify that you must do this as part of the assessment for your dissertation whilst others may not ask for it. However, regardless of whether it is asked for or not it is useful to write a research proposal to make sure you have the basics set out in your head. This is somewhat like the type of research proposal written for an EPQ (Extended Project Qualification) and will essentially inform the reader of the topic which you are researching, what your question is and how significant it is and how you will go about finding the evidence for the dissertation and any possible limitation that may come up. This will be useful when you come to planning and writing your dissertation as it will set out the basics for what your aims are with your project and what you should focus on.

Moving on to the main planning for your research, it is imperative that you remember that the plan will present you with the framework for your research. Once you have this framework you will soon be able to power through your research and come up with the best dissertation that you possibly can.

  • Be realistic. When planning your research, you must keep in mind that you must be realistic about what you can achieve. Don’t try to plan a schedule of research that will mean you must spend twenty-four hours on your dissertation – aside from that providing far too much evidence than you’d need meaning you’d also end up exhausted and unable to do any other work that you may have whilst researching your dissertation. Don’t also try to plan all your research at the end of your dissertation and then try to cram it in – this will only make your work look lazy and may cause you too lose marks that you may otherwise have got. Try to remember that researching and writing a dissertation isn’t a race nor is it a mountain that is impossible to climb. Make sure that your plan is realistic enough to give you the premium amount of time to research your dissertation but also make sure to have allowances for time when you can’t do your dissertation either due to other work or time when you need to relax or just spend time away from it. If you plan your research sensibly then it won’t feel like such a pain and you’ll more than likely enjoy it.
  • Make sure that it’s fun. This may seem like an odd thing to say but make sure that when you’re planning the research for your dissertation that you make it seem fun. If you try to change how your mind registers planning your dissertation and try to train it to see it as a fun activity rather than something that “has” to be done, then you will be more likely to get it done easily and quickly.
  • Try to be logical. As well as making your plan fun and realistic, try and be logical about it. Think how much time you will have overall from choosing your topic to completing your dissertation and think about how much time it should take you to get the research done that you need to complete your dissertation. Try to consider whether you need to research every aspect of your question or whether there are some areas you could leave out and would allow you more time on other parts of your dissertation. It is important to consider the research for your dissertation as important on its own but also as part of a larger scheme of work that is vital for your degree. By thinking about your plan and the eventual research you will conduct through a precise and logical frame of mind you’ll be able to make sure that you don’t make any obvious mistakes that, had you not otherwise been thinking about it logically, you may have made. You must remember that your plan is the framework for your research and your research will give support to the theory which you present in your dissertation – without a strong plan, your dissertation could be considerably weaker.

Once you have your plan in place then you are ready to begin conducting your research. This is the most important step as it is the culmination of all the effort you have put in previously to make sure that your research goes to plan and is as effective as it possibly can be. To make sure that your research works it is vital that you spend time with your supervisor so that they can understand what your subject is, the angle you are coming at it from and how you’ll be able to thoroughly research it. It is also worth speaking to your supervisor because it will allow you to hear what they have to say on what you’re researching and whether they have any advice for how best to tackle it. This could very useful when going into the heart of your research.

Once you have spoken with your supervisor it is time to begin your research. It is worth starting with a literature survey. This is a classification of all the previous work done on your topic and more specifically, related to your question. It is worth looking at some of the work done around the topic as well as looking at the literature that specifically relates to your dissertation question as this allows you to understand the broader field in which you are writing. You shouldn’t get distracted by this however, as it can take you away from your main objective; to get the clearest survey of the literature for the question that you have for your dissertation. It is imperative that you do a survey of this sort as it will allow you to not only have a grasp of what you can add to that field of research but also help you when you are collecting the data for your dissertation.

The collection of data is the most important part of your research. It is the element that you must spend the most time thinking about and ensuring that you get right. The collection of data is vital because it will make up the main body of your research; it will be the body of information that you will constantly refer to throughout your dissertation and will be the central support for your argument. It is imperative, therefore, that you ensure that you can find as much data as possible and know exactly where it comes from. The reason it's important to make a note of where exactly each bit of data you find has come from is so that you’ll be able to easily refer to it and cross reference it with your literary survey and then include it in your dissertation and bibliography. Like with your plan, it is vital that you think logically and calmly about how you will do your main collection of data because it will be the core of your dissertation.

Once you have completed the collection of your data, it might be worth doing a pilot study. Separate from your main collection of data, a pilot survey is similar to the sort of polling that companies do of people to find out how they intend to vote and what issues matter to them. It will involve a small group of people that you may know or simply people who apply to fill out a survey relating to your dissertation question. If your dissertation involves the processing of quantitative and or qualitative data, you will be familiar with the technique, but it is useful for subjects like English and History as it is for more STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics) based subjects. This will give you more raw data that you can process and then use in your dissertation – for instance if want to find out how much people know about the Industrial Revolution and then use that as a means of demonstrating its impact in the present day as compared to rural Lancashire between 1770 and 1800 then you’ll be able to add some more interesting information to help support your theory.

Once you have processed all of your data and collected it then it is time to think about any possible faults in your research, for instance whether its’ an area which you need to research more thoroughly or whether there is an area which you have over researched to the detriment of other areas which may hold more data that could be used in your dissertation. It is important to reflect on these points before you move onto writing your dissertation and ensuring that you get the best result you can possibly get for it.

Dissertation research can be difficult, and it may seem like an impossible challenge when you start. However, I’m sure that by the end of this article you will be more than capable of conducting research that will ensure your dissertation is of the highest possible quality. If you feel that you still have problems fully understanding how to do dissertation research or need help with something else, then why not get in touch with us? We offer a wide range of services which include letter writing, CVs, personal statements, dissertation work, essay writing and more. So why not contact us and see how we can help you?

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