The dissertation should be an exposition of your own work and ideas. Since the subject areas of dissertations can be very diverse it is impossible to define a standard approach to content. However, the dissertation should include an introduction and definition of objectives, a review of relevant literature, an assessment of the problem followed by a description of your approach to solving it, your results or findings, analysis of your results, an intellectual discussion of your findings, the conclusions you have drawn from the discussion and finally recommendations for future work.
There is further information and additional resources on writing a dissertation on Moodle (FT students please go to the Study Skills Moodle pages.
Further information on presenting, structuring and compiling the dissertation is provided on following pages (see links above).
A bibliography is provided below, to help you in organising and writing the project dissertation.
Markel, M. "Writing in the technical fields : a step-by-step guide for engineers, scientists, and technicians". IEEE Press, c1994 (electronic).
Perry, C., “A Structured Approach for Presenting Theses”, http://www.aral.com.au/resources/cperry.pdf, 2002; Accessed May 2016
Rudestam, K. E. and Newton, R. R. “Surviving your dissertation : a comprehensive guide to content and process”, University.Sage Publication, 2015
Van Emden, J. & Easteal, J., “Technical Writing & Speaking; An Introduction”, McGraw Hill, 1996
Wallwork, A. "Meetings, negotiations, and socializing : a guide to professional English". Springer, 2014.
Style of Writing
The writing style of your dissertation must include correct English grammar and spelling. In general the third person should be used (though take care to differentiate between what you have done and what has been done by others). The first person singular (I) should not be used.
Dissertations should be typewritten on A4 (297 x 210 mm) paper with : -
Either Single or double sided and using 1.5 line spacing.
A margin of at least 35mm on the left hand side, 15mm on right hand side. We recommend 25mm top and bottom and that these latter should contain the header and footers.
Page numbering - WMG, and many text books, recommend Arabic (1,2,3) numbering beginning with the first page of the Introduction and that any preliminary pages are numbered using small Roman numerals (i, ii, iii). However, BS 4821:1990 states that all the pages should be numbered in a single sequence beginning with the title page, which should be counted but not numbered. BS 4821:1990 recommends the top outer corner of each page for the location of the page number.
The header should contain the chapter heading.
Character size should be not less than 2.0 mm for capitals and 1.5mm for lower-case. (e.g. 12 point font, ranging from 12 point Times to 12 point Helvetica)
Each chapter should begin on a new page
Every figure will have a figure number and title
Every table will have a table number and title
Copies must be of good legible quality (although laser printing is NOT mandatory) and margins should allow for photocopying and binding. Please allow sufficient time to format your dissertation appropriately. If you use colour printing you must either ensure that both copies of your dissertation are in colour or that when photocopied in black and white the dissertation is still clear, logical and legible.
Length of Dissertation
There is no strict regulation length for an MSc dissertation.
However, for a 90 CAT project this will normally be expected NOT to be less than 15,000 words and not grossly exceed 20,000 words for the main body. Dissertations of 15,000 words or less would not be failed because of their length but they may be deemed unsatisfactory for failing to introduce issues in the Introduction, failing to cover sufficient breadth and depth in the literature review, insufficient detail to fully describe the methodology, lack of critical analysis, insufficient discussion etc. or any combination of these, or all of these. Dissertations are judged on their quality and not on their length. Additionally, it should also be noted that dissertations that grossly exceed 20,000 words may be penalised for irrelevant content.
In general the Supervisor will advise on the format and content of the dissertation, although if required the Projects Manager or Academic Director of Graduate Studies can also be consulted.
For a 60 CAT project this will normally be expected NOT to be less than 10,000 words, and not grossly exceed 13,000 words for the main body.
You can exclude tables, appendices and references from the word count.
Binding the Dissertation (No longer required for FTMSc students)
Two properly bound copies of the dissertation must be submitted; thermal binding is acceptable, ring binding is not. There are no specific requirements regarding the colour of the cover and binding. Soft binding is the cheapest option and is perfectly adequate for our purposes (although you may wish to get one copy of your dissertation hardbound for yourself). Please hand write (with a marker pen) your surname, first name and student number on the spine of each copy of your softbound dissertation. If you choose to submit hardbound copies to the department, please ask the print company to print your name and ID number on the spine (NB Warwick Print do not offer this service).
Based on BS 4821: 1990 the recommended sequence is as follows. The items in italics may not be relevant for your project and the following sections will try to explain the items most likely to be needed in your dissertation.
Preliminary pages, consisting of:
Abstract or summary (one separate page)
List of Figures
List of Tables
List of accompanying material (e.g. software on a disc or CD)
Body of the dissertation divided into chapters, sections, etc. There is no optimum number of chapters or a maximum or minimum requirement, but the dissertation will usually comprise:
Bibliography (if required)
Appendices (if required)
Glossary (if required)
Preliminary pages include everything up to the main body of the text or introduction.
The title should be as short as possible and reflect the focus of the research. Hussey and Hussey (1997 p.286) advise against phrases such as “An Approach to … “ or “A Study of…”
The title page shall give the following information in the order listed:
- The full title of the project and the subtitle, if any;
- The full name of the author, followed, if desirable, by any qualifications and distinctions;
- The qualification for which the dissertation is submitted (i.e. “in partial fulfilment for the Degree of...in.....”);
- The name of the institution to which the dissertation is submitted (i.e. University of Warwick);
- The department and/or organisation in which the project was conducted (i.e. WMG);
- The month and year of submission.
(A sample Title page can be downloaded here- replace the red text - in black! - with your own information)
The Abstract should not extend beyond a single A4 side, and to facilitate this, single spaced typing is permitted for the summary only. The purpose of the summary according to Hussey and Hussey (1997 p. 286) is:
- “to introduce the topic
- to describe how you did the research
- to discuss the results of what was done
- to explain the implications of the results.”
The ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS should be short and thank those who have helped you with your project. It is particularly important to thank any companies that have provided assistance.
You should indicate in a DECLARATION any material contained in the dissertation that you have used before. If the dissertation is based on joint research the nature and extent of your individual contribution must be indicated. The declaration should also include confirmation of the manner in which your project relates to the definition of projects for your degree, which will be signed off by your assessors at the oral examination. A sample Declaration Page is attached, which should be included in your dissertation.
The CONTENTS should list in sequence, with page numbers, all relevant subdivisions of the dissertation, including the title of chapters, sections and subsections, as appropriate; any appendices; the glossary; the list of references; the bibliography (if any); the index (if provided) and other functional parts of the whole dissertation (not the Preliminary Pages).
Finally BS 4821:1990 distinguishes between DEFINITIONS, that define any specific terms relevant only in this dissertation, and the GLOSSARY that provides explanations of terms or abbreviations used in the dissertation. The glossary should follow the appendices.
You should also bind in the submission pro-forma before your title page (for administrative purposes).
The INTRODUCTION should capture the reader’s attention and introduce everything you use in the dissertation and later explain. It should not start to discuss the actual research findings so even when you are adding things to it at the end of your project, pretend that you have not yet conducted the study.
An examiner will often read the INTRODUCTION (specifically the Objectives) and CONCLUSIONS first and it is worth remembering this when you are writing these chapters. When doing a project you almost always end up re-visiting some chapters to append extra work and/or modify the existing work and this is especially true for the introduction. The Introduction Chapter should contain the following:
1) Broad view of the general research area – you are trying to demonstrate how important this general area of research is to the world.
2) Explanation of how your research fits into this broad area – now you are trying to demonstrate how your research is going to contribute to this general area.
3) The research questions or hypotheses and the specific objectives of your research – usually under a separate sub-heading so that they stand out to the reader (and examiner).
4) Guide to the subsequent chapters – 3 or 4 paragraphs explaining the content and reasons for including each chapter. These paragraphs must explain why your dissertation includes certain chapters, not what chapters are included. Some students have shown these on a flow chart or diagram. Do not, however, just re-iterate the contents page, if the reader wants to know the content of the dissertation he/she can read the CONTENTS. Alternatively, if it is not clear from the CONTENTS what is in the dissertation, then the CONTENTS requires more work.
This section of your dissertation (which could be part of your INTRODUCTION chapter or possibly a separate chapter based in the review of literature section) seeks to explain to the reader the rational for the way in which the research was conducted. In particular, to provide the answers to the following questions:
- What was the underlying research paradigm or philosophy?
- What research methods were used?
- How was the data gathered?
- How was the data analysed?
The method chosen should be stated in your dissertation and the reasons for your choices justified.
For a questionnaires and interviews;
- show the justification for individual questions - why do you need the data and how will it be used (analysed)?
- show the justification for choosing the respondents - how will they provide reliable, repeatable data?
Literature Review Section
Having stated your project objectives, it is now necessary to gather all the information required to satisfy them. This is achieved by reviewing existing literature, focused on your research area. If your project involves gathering some primary data, you may find that this data when analysed changes the focus of your project and you need to return to the literature to find other research that supports or disagrees with your findings (triangulation). This suggests that you might wait until the end of the project to write up the literature review. This is not advisable for a number of reasons:
1) Making notes on the literature as you read is one of the only ways you can ensure that you properly understand and absorb what you are reading.
2) In your MSc project you are marked on progress and writing chapters based on your literature survey may be the only hard evidence your supervisor has of your progress. This is particularly important if you wish your supervisor to give a recommendation for upgrade from PgD to MSc registration.
Your review of the literature should not be just a summary of the articles that you have read; your work should be critical and analytical. Ask yourself (and attempt to answer) questions such as:
- How does this article relate to my project objectives and can I use it to develop my theories/hypotheses? You should then explain in the dissertation, how you intend to use this information.
- How does this article relate to what I already know about the subject and how does it compare with that written on the same topic by other authors? Again, you should explain in the dissertation how this information agrees (or disagrees) with other published work.
Try to combine/compare/contrast the ideas and views from different authors - don't just repeat what one author says, then follow it with a summary of the work of another author.
Further guidance of undertaking (and hence writing) your literature review will be provided in your Study Skills/ ReMe modules.
In a positivistic study that collected a lot of quantitative data this will be a straightforward presentation of the results. You will start with a description of your unit of analysis and sample and the presentation of the data will involve a lot of tables and charts.
In a phenomenological study it many not be possible to separate the results from the analysis and the aim will be to make sense of the data used, so diagrams and illustrations may help.
Analysis is the process of presenting and interpreting data. Qualitative data (non-numeric data) is generally achieved by reducing the data, structuring it and desexualising it . Quantitative data analysis is based on applied mathematics and uses standard statistical methods.
For qualitative data, it is a progression from the raw data (Results) to an explanation, understanding and interpretation of the replies and opinions that have been gathered. It requires an examination of the important and the figurative content of the qualitative data. You may be trying to illustrate some or all of the following:
- An individual’s understanding of a subject,
- Why this point of view has occurred,
- What led to this view being adopted,
- The individual’s involvement with the subject,
- How the view was communicated,
- The individual’s understanding of other peoples’ point of view.
From the Study Skills and Academic Writing workshops and e-learning content you will have learnt that common features of analytic methods include:
- Affixing codes to a set of field notes drawn from data collection
- Noting reflections or other remarks in margin
- Sorting or shifting through the materials to identify similar phrases, relationships between themes, distinct differences between subgroups and common sequences
- Isolating patterns and processes, commonalties and differences, and taking them out to the filed in the next wave of data collection
- Gradually elaborating a small set of generalisations that cover the consistencies discerned in the data base
- Confronting those generalisations with a formalised body of knowledge in the form of constructs or theories
One approach open to the researcher is to quantify the data - convert qualitative, text based data into numeric data. In some cases, this may enable some statistical analysis to be carried out if required.
Whatever technique or combination of techniques is used to analyse this rich, informative, but essentially cumbersome data, the researcher should bear in mind that good research requires that a logical, systematic and robust approach be taken to the treatment of the data, and one which is transparent to the reader.
a) Descriptive Statistics
Your research may generate a large quantity of data – a questionnaire comprising 30 questions, completed by 100 people will generate 3000 items of raw data. This will need to be organised and summarised, so that anyone reading it can understand what the data is showing. Descriptive or summary statistics (including ‘measures of central tendency ‘ and ‘measures of dispersion’) are frequently used to describe and/or summarise data.
b) Inferential Statistics
This infers the beliefs of the population from a knowledge of the beliefs of a sample. Usually it is not practical to interview the entire population.
For this, the sample must be representative of the population, and you must justify the selection of your sample group. However, the sample is still unlikely to truly reflect the beliefs of population in all aspects. This uncertainty can be quantified by statistical methods and needs to be recorded in your dissertation.
** More details of both of these can be found in the Study Skills content and you will be offered workshops on Quantitative and Qualitative data analysis methods later in the year**
You will need to remind the reader of the purpose of the research and the research questions from the introduction and discuss how the research has or has not answered the research questions. Remember this is the chapter where you have most opportunity to demonstrate your intellectual skills. You need to be self-critical so consider how reliable and valid the findings are. What have you learnt from doing the research and what would you do differently if you could repeat it? Can you really generalise about the population based on the data that you have gathered from your sample? Have you made any sweeping statements or exaggerated claims that could be challenged in your oral presentation? The chapter should have the following sections (based on Rudestam and Newton, 1992 p. 121): -
- An overview of the significant findings of the study
- A consideration of the findings in light of existing research studies
- A careful examination of findings that fail to support or only partially support your hypotheses
- Limitations of the study that may affect the validity or generalisation of the results
Remember that most examiners read this chapter after the INTRODUCTION so check that your CONCLUSIONS show that the OBJECTIVES have been achieved or if it not, explain why not. Try to use some of the same key words or phrases from the OBJECTIVES to show consistency. It should start with the focus on your study and broaden out to discuss the implications for this research area and for future research. The main challenge in the conclusions is to give a summary whilst avoiding too much repetition and bullet points can be very useful. In the analysis section you may have identified areas for further research but in the conclusions you could give a little detail on the possible research methodology that could be adopted. Hussey and Hussey (1997 p. 293) give the following suggestions on content: -
- Refer to the OBJECTIVES
- Summarise the main points from the results and show how they address your research questions
- Give guidance of the implications of your research - who might be affected by your findings and what might the affect be?
- Do not offer new opinions - these should all have been introduced in the Discussion and Analysis chapters of the dissertation.
- Identify the weaknesses in your research and the limitations of your study
- Suggest what future research might be conducted and how your study helps
- In the same way that you should have spent time getting the opening of the introduction right try to get a convincing ending to the dissertation.
When considering what the implications of your research are, Greenfield (1996 p. 11) suggests the following possibilities: -
You may have filled a gap in the literature.
You may have produced a solution to an identified problem in the field. (Writing a new software programme might help solve a particular problem.)
Your results may challenge accepted ideas in the field (some earlier statements in the literature may seem less plausible in light of your findings).
Some earlier statements in the literature may seem more plausible in the light of your findings.
Your work may help to clarify and specify the precise areas in which existing ideas apply and where they do not apply.
Your results may suggest a synthesis of existing ideas. (A literature-based project can contribute by providing a comparison of previous research.)
You may provide a new perspective on existing ideas in the field.
Your results may suggest new ideas, perhaps new lines of investigation.
You may have generated some new (research) questions in the field.
Your work may suggest new methods for researching your topic.
This chapter should not be used to present a list of activities that time did not permit you to execute. The purpose of this chapter is to enable the field of research to progress, so that any new research project can build on the ideas and concepts of what has gone before. Having completed the research and knowing what you now know, if you had the time and resources to start a new research project in the same area, what would you do? What further questions have been raised as a result of your research and what are the next steps? You may not necessarily be the one to do this research, but by identifying what direction the research could take, you may enable others to do so.
Use whichever referencing style you wish, although the Harvard method is probably the most widely used within UK academic institutions, due to its simplicity and ease of understanding.
If you have used the Harvard system the references are much shorter and contain each source listed only once in alphabetical order by originator’s name. This means that there is much less need for a bibliography but it could be used to list any sources not cited in the actual dissertation and therefore not contained in the reference list.
When using the numbering or Vancouver system for recording references if you refer to the same book or article many times the reference list becomes very lengthy. If an examiner wants to check your sources of information to verify the quality and quantity of your literature review; this is very difficult to achieve from the reference list because of the multiple listings of the same sources.
Further information on referencing techniques can be found under the Operation and Regs section of this site - specifically in the Quality of Written Work part.
If you wish to include some of you own work, previously submitted for a Post Module Assignment, you can but it must be correctly referenced. If you do not reference it, it will be seen as plagiarised; a special form of plagiarism known as Auto-plagiarism, but never the less plagiarism. For further information see Work Previously Written by yourself and for the correct method of referencing your work please see Plato.
The bibliography should list all sources of literature consulted when preparing the dissertation (and listed in alphabetical order of author's surname), that have NOT been already cited in the dissertation (NB: these are your REFERENCES). Please discuss with your dissertation supervisor whether or not they wish you to inlcude a bibliography, as for many projects this section may not really be necessary.
All appendix material must be referred to in the main body of the dissertation or it will be ignored. Appendices can become a dumping ground for material that you cannot fit into the dissertation. Remember it is quality not quantity that counts! They can be useful for information that is too detailed or not sufficiently relevant for the main dissertation.
If the research involved gathering primary data the APPENDICES often contain a copy of the interview or postal/e-mail questionnaire (the data collection instrument), the raw data collected such as transcript of a face-to-face interview or a listing of the computer software.
When you have completed each chapter you need to compile the dissertation and this may take one week or more. Unfortunately if you have left everything to the last minute you may find that there is no time for this! However, it is surprising how much easier a dissertation can be to read if you have found the time to do the following:
1) Introduced each chapter with one or two sentences explaining its purpose and why it logically follows on from the previous chapter, do not just re-iterate the contents page.
2) Finish each chapter with a summary of the key points and logically link it to the next chapter
3) Edit the document to avoid repetition of material and ensure there is a logical flow and clear structure.