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A Suggested Format for your Dissertation


You are almost certainly going to change your title during your research, but pay close attention to the working title. It will signpost your interest and help you focus down. Many titles are two stage, the first giving the general direction and the second the specific focus eg:

  • New approaches to teaching MFL: an analysis of the role of communicative approaches to language learning within school text books.
  • Obstacles to collaborative working: a comparison of Y9 pupil attitudes to cooperative team work in schools in England and New Zealand.
  • Learning styles and the curriculum: an exploration of the difficulty in addressing preferred learning styles amongst a set of underachieving Y6 pupils .

Introduction / background

Be willing to explain your personal interest in the study, perhaps the topic is one that has affected your education or you have been moved by work you have seen. These are small sections taken from previous proposals:

  • I am interested in the area of learning styles as I could see from my own experience that I had a preferred way of learning which was not being addressed in school. I found school challenging and frustrating and this led me to find out more about other learners who had felt that schools were not catering for them.
  • I am interested in gender and pupils talk as my experience has been that discussions are dominated by men. I wanted to know whether this was really the case and if so why it was happening and what the consequences were for learning.

Of course you need to go beyond the personal and discuss what others have said about the topic. At this stage you are not going to put together a comprehensive literature review but do cite the key issues and the key authors and organise what you know in a coherent way. Again a small section from previous proposal:

My dissertation is exploring the integration of ICT in teaching and learning. There is considerable support in the literature for the idea that ICT can impact on learning but understandable disappointment in the take up of ICT in schools. Much of the DfES documentation or DfES commissioned research (e.g., DFES 2002a, 2002b, 2001a, 2001b) discussed ideas of ‘integrating’ and ‘embedding’ ICT, and talks about ‘effective’ or ‘successful’ ICT. However, definitions for such terms are rarely given. In many of these reports it is implied that the use of ICT might lead to the raising of standards. I am aware that many writers have drawn attention to the constraints in the introduction of ICT, for instance access (Cox et al, 1999) and curriculum (Cuban, 1993). Much of the literature attempts to establish factors which were present when schools adopted ICT, or presented ‘staged’ models to show levels of ‘integration’ (e.g. Hoffman, 1999, Lawson & Comber, 1996). However there is little said about the position of individual teachers who become frequent users of ICT.

Aims and objectives

Aims and objectives are terms which are often used inconsistently. Here we are thinking of ‘aims’ more as more general intentions and ‘Objective’ as more specific perhaps more measurable goals. Again an example of an aim:

The general aim of the dissertation is to explore how young children develop reading skills and to investigate the influence of parental support. I intend to examine how and why such support has an impact on reading and comment on strategies for involving parents in reading with their children’

And objectives:

through this study I will:

  • have observed a minimum of five lessons with a class of reception pupils
  • have carried out interviews with sample of children
  • have carried out semi structured interviews with a sample of parents
  • examined school data on a set of pupils reading skills
  • describe the key issues into he literature
  • drawn together conclusions on parental support for teaching

Research approach and methodology

Again there is not always an agreed use of the terms ‘approach’ and ‘methodology. Begin by giving us the big picture the approach, for example it is one of case study, activity theory, participant observation, grounded theory, experimental research, literature review, action research, development of a position statement or whatever. Many dissertations are case studies, if so explain what type of case study you are proposing.

Methodology is the recipe by which the research will be carried out, ask yourself if someone else was following your recipe would they know what to do?

Here you will probably need to discuss:

Literature review: eg which journals were consulted and what were the criteria for inclusion of articles

Your data collection. Often these involve interviews, consider issues such as sample size, reliability and validity and ethical considerations

Observation: often this will involve a schedule of some kind and it will involve ethical issues

Data analysis: how are you intending to interpret your data eg have you considered coding of interview responses are you considering statistical techniques?

In discussing data collection mention any special resources or skills you may need, for example if you are using SPSS or Envivo software make sure you have access to the software and know how to use it.

It is easy to overestimate how much ‘data collection’ you can realistically carry out. It is an obvious point but in depth analysis of small sets of data are likely to be more manageable and more appropriate for your study. If you are carrying out a case study your work is more likely to be illuminative rather than representative and doubling the sample may not make a lot of difference. Whatever decisions you make talk about the limitations and expected difficulties in your research, this will strengthen rather than weaken your proposal.


Simply state the dates by which you will have completed different phases of the dissertation eg:

April 2004 Access to school agreed, interview schedules designed and piloted
May 2004 Literature review extended
June 2004 Field work carried out in school Observation of lessons
June 2004 Questionnaires and interviews with teachers and pupils carried out
July 2004 Interview and observation codes finalised
July 2004 Data analysis carried out
August 2004 Final report written

Your two biggest constraints are working to the course deadlines and organising data collection at a suitable time, ie one when schools are open and people are willing to see you. The timetable is only a guide, you will want to explore coding before you have finished interviewing and more importantly you will want to be writing up throughout. For example start with some chapter headings and keep adding to the chapters as you investigation proceeds.