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Digital Commons. The qualities that distinguish an outstanding dissertation from an average one include clarity of purpose, clarity of thought and sophistication of the argument. A first-class submission will be highly organised and focused, clearly demonstrating critical insight, as opposed to a simple, unquestioned description. A topic that may seem obvious at the outset can prove to be too vague or too complex.
For example, you might have an interest in educating patients and want to explore this case in more depth. The context might be your recent experience of a patient being unclear about information on treatment options. Given the importance of patients understanding treatment options so they can make informed decisions, the scenario might appear more complex than it first seemed. You might want to consider the impact on you as a practitioner, who else was involved, what was particularly important and why the variables.
Your reflections will eventually crystallise into a clearer topic and will help you justify your choice. This part of a dissertation is often seen as the most challenging. Without a clear focus, the rest of the process is likely to stall, so spending time with your supervisor at this stage is invaluable.
Go it alone if you will, but it is far better to nurture the supervisory relationship Kimani, Not all dissertations need a question or questions; some can be purely observational — for example if they use grounded theory.
When questions are involved, however, these must be relevant and have a reasonable chance of producing answers. This offers something to explore and play with to produce a discussion. While refining your topic and research question, you also need to identify and justify the resources you may need, such as help from a statistician, support with transcribing data or advice from experts. Consider whether these resources will be available within the time frame and budget.
It would be unwise to seek answers to questions that require disproportionate resources. Students tend to avoid discursive writing, preferring to report rather than to argue, but Kamler and Thomson emphasise the importance of producing lively and informed discussions.
There are opportunities for discussion in various sections of a dissertation, including in the literature review, and it can be used throughout your work, starting with the justification of your choice of topic and methods. It has long been debated whether to use the personal pronoun in academic work; the upshot is that, where justified, there is no reason to avoid writing in the first person.
Conversely, trying to shoehorn the personal pronoun or third person into your writing when it is unnecessary detracts from the intrinsic quality of the dissertation. Discuss your preference with your supervisor and be ready to argue your case; the reason for your choice must be clear from the outset. Whatever choice you make — first or third person — must be adhered to throughout, so never alternate between pronouns.
Once you have a general feel for what your dissertation is going to look like, you can get started. The requirements for format and what elements the dissertation should include vary according to institutions and supervisors, so be guided by them.
More information on the practicalities of pre-paring a research-based dissertation can be found in Bowen Generally, all the elements described below are needed in one form or another. At each step, remember to justify your choices as opposed to alternatives, rather than simply stating them and moving on. In terms of style, avoid colloquialisms and discipline your thinking to search for relevant illustrative expressions.
Although the introduction to the dissertation comes first it should be written last, after everything else is complete. Only then will you know exactly what is in your dissertation and how to introduce it. The background section tells the story of what led you to undertake this work — for example, a recent placement, clinical experience or a presentation in an academic forum. It brings the reader to the table, so to speak.
Aims and objectives must be determined at the outset. Have at least one main aim and four contributory objectives: fewer than four objectives might appear superficial, especially considering that the aim has been deemed interesting enough to merit a study.
Objectives must be relevant to the aim s , and aims and objectives must be clearly stated and explained. The aim is the overall destination and the objectives are what you need to do to get there; for example, if your aim was to help women to decide what method of contraception to choose, your objectives would include establishing what methods are available, examining the risks and benefits of each, and evaluating different forms of patient information.
The literature review — sometimes called literature search or literature enquiry — is crucial. What you have read must be current and relevant, and you need to show that you have examined it critically. The fact that authors have had their work published does not mean they are necessarily right. Synthesise what you have read, bring the information together and demonstrate how it has contributed to your thinking.
From your reading you will develop ideas on how to investigate your topic — including what design best fits your purpose. Journal articles are generally more focused and detailed than books. Ensure the journals you cite are peer-reviewed: this means its articles have been scrutinised by people with the relevant spe-cialist expertise before being accepted for publication.
How many articles or books you include depends on the nature of your work. You are likely to need at least 20 current articles or books to make sense of your topic. Fewer sources may betray an unwillingness to delve into the subject, whereas featuring a huge amount of literature may indicate you have skimmed through it.
Be selective and be prepared to justify your choice of included work. The design — also referred to as approach or method — is the way in which you explore your topic. This section can adopt various presentations but should be clear and succinct, and you should avoid becoming mired in uncertainties. It may feature:. Research is awash with ethical challenges; you need to identify them early and show what steps you have taken to address them. Do refer to the theories on ethics that you have used to guide your thinking.
As a general rule, undergraduates should not be encouraged to involve patients in their research projects, but they will still need to secure ethical approval if they intend to involve peers, staff or any other informants who could potentially be harmed. Obtaining ethical approval is a long and sometimes complex process that should not be taken lightly.
This section states what sources you derive information from; for example, this could be literature only, different types of literature, individual informants or observations. Describe what you have done, what worked and what did not. Do not avoid exploring errors in your work, but when doing so, demonstrate how they have contributed to your understanding.
This is the section where you describe what has emerged from your study and what you think needs to be examined further and why. Do not merely end with a series of superficial comments about what else could be done, but explain what brought you to these views. The discussion is your chance to shine. It is likely to be longer than most other sections — if not there may be a problem.
Start by stating what resulted from your enquiry, and every time you make a statement, ask yourself: so what? It may seem odd, but this self-enquiry will result in deeper insights, which will impress examiners. If you want to excel, incorporate the findings from the literature review into your discussion and explore whether the findings from your work concur with or differ from the literature.
You can further enhance the discussion by integrating fieldwork, findings and ethical challenges. The more fully you engage with the dissertation at this stage, the more sophisticated the end product will be. The conclusions or recommendations need to be brief, draw everything together and suggest what needs to happen next and why. Your work must include a carefully compiled list of literature cited in your dissertation.
Bear in mind that examiners do check references — especially if they are themselves among the authors cited. They may find incomplete reference lists — or, even worse, their published work misquoted or wrongly interpreted — extremely irritating.
A dissertation is a means for students to demonstrate they can work methodically and think critically.
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