Research design

Dissertation Aims and Learning Outcomes

In assessing the standards of projects, examiners will seek to ensure that you have satisfied the aims which follow.

The general aims of the Dissertation are to enable you to:

(a)   develop and apply the skills of research and enquiry to produce original work which contributes to a subject, field or profession;

(b)   engage in study which demands a professional approach, academic rigour, and independence.

Dissertation Structure

Overall, the dissertation should resemble an academic research paper and not a management report.   It will mainly consist of a series of chapters, each chapter consisting of a series of flowing paragraphs of debate. The chapters should normally exclude notes, bulleted points and numbered sections and paragraphs. Headings and sub-headings, where used, should be used sparingly to indicate key themes within chapters. It is useful to provide a short summarising paragraph at the end of each key chapter.

The dissertation will normally contain the following sections or chapters and it is recommended if you wish to deviate from them that you seek advice from your Dissertation Supervisor:

  1. Title page: The title page, or cover, contains the institute’s logo and name, your name, the name of the specific award on which you are matriculated, the title of the dissertation and the date of submission.
  2. Acknowledgments: These are optional, but would normally consist of a short statement containing details of persons who have contributed and what they contributed, during the project.
  3. Table of Contents:  A contents page indicating table of contents with page numbers.   Where required, a separate list for illustrations, figures, tables and appendices should be included.
  4. Abstract:  A summary of the content of the dissertation and the main conclusions reached. The abstract should summarise the nature of the problem or issue, the aims of the project, what you did and the outcomes.

Chapter 1: Introduction:

This should clearly define the area you have examined, setting out the aims and objectives for the issue, topic or problem that was addressed in the investigation, the reason for your interest in the area and why it needs to be investigated.  It should also indicate the implications of the problem or issue for methodological choices, and describe the steps taken.   The rationale for the methodology should demonstrate the links between the nature of the research problem, the aims and the methods.  Relevant literature and key references should be included at this stage both to set the dissertation in context with other work in the area and to support your arguments and decisions.   The introduction should also provide guidance to the reader about the content which follows, i.e. what is contained in chapters 2, 3, 4 etc.

Chapter 2: Literature review:

This is a critical chapter.  It should take the form of a critique or critical review of the literature or other material used e.g. research papers, journals, reviews, reports, or audio-visual material.   These should clearly reflect the aims and objectives of the research or study.   The critical approach allows you to adopt a questioning approach to the literature, and gaps in the current literature should be highlighted.   Issues which may be considered are the validity and reliability of the research evidence, agreement or disagreement between authors and their merits.  Does the literature offer particularly relevant insights? The aims and objectives should be explicitly stated.

The literature review is essential as it provides the theoretical framework that is used to establish what is currently known and the gaps in knowledge that exist about the topic.   It also allows you to further refine the problem or issue, and inform the research approach and processes to be followed.

Chapter 3: Methodology:

It is here that you make your case for the methods you choose, and defend their validity and reliability.  The chapter can be sub-divided into (a) what you plan to do and (b) what you did and what went well and badly.

This chapter should initially remind the reader of the aims of the research.   It should include the theoretical framework guiding methods of inquiry or data collection: for example – population, sample, numbers, sampling and allocation methods; informed consent, tools of investigation, reliability, validity, calibration and cross-talk effects should be described with sufficient detail to give the reader a clear understanding; subject testing procedure, control of variables, and attempts to standardise must be explained.   Data analyses, statistical methods (where appropriate), the rationale behind your choice of methods and a discussion about the limitations or strengths of these, and a full description of the research methods used, should be addressed.

N.B. Do not simply describe basis text-book definitions of different methodologies, but identify the complexities of the actual issues raised by your research and describe how you approached them and why.

Chapter 4: Results or Findings:

This is usually the fourth chapter. It should contain a clear presentation of findings and analyses using appropriate presentation methods (e.g. use of figures and/or tables).   The data and analyses should follow a clear logical sequence which eventually leads to a demonstration of relationship(s), test(s) of significance or correlation or description as appropriate.   Data should be presented in a reduced form.     Where figures and tables are used, these must be clearly labelled and explained in the text.   Avoid including the same information in text and tables or figures. The result(s) or outcome(s) of the research should be stated in terms of whether or not the aims have been achieved, or the hypothesis supported or rejected. Quotations from transcripts must be identified anonymously.

Please ensure that raw data is collated in a separate file from the dissertation itself.

Findings in projects, which have used quantitative research methods, will include tables, graphs and statistical analyses which are carefully cross-referenced.

Findings in projects, which have used qualitative research, should be organised into higher level key overarching concepts that address the key characteristics of the individual items of the data.

Non-conforming data must also be identified with an explanation, where possible of why they do not conform.

Chapter 5: Discussion:

In some types of research, for example, qualitative research, this section may be included with the results in a single chapter. This section presents a detailed consideration of the findings and analyses in the context of the methodology and relevant literature, with an assessment of the findings in relation to informing the existing knowledge base or professional practice. The extent to which the results can be accepted should be stated.   Reservations should be clearly stated, and features of the research process which could have influenced the results, for example, sample size, practicality of tests, identified.

This is usually the most demanding section or chapter. The discussion of the findings should be linked to the aims of the research, and draw on the literature review and the selected methodology.

You may wish to combine chapter 4 and 5 as one chapter


This chapter should provide a brief resume of the key features of the research, the findings in relation to stated aim(s) and objectives, the research process through which it was investigated, and the conclusions reached.  Possible future developments of the study can be explored here if there are no recommendations.


These may be proposed: for example, further research or changes in practice or policy, but not all dissertations produce recommendations. Recommendations may focus on the value of applying your findings to industry practice or to further research, or about the appropriateness of your chosen methodology for further research. Conclusions and recommendations can be incorporated into the same chapter if you wish.

References:  A list of authors and their works, which are acknowledged in the text, should be provided in a standard manner, using, for example, the Harvard referencing system.   As indicated earlier, Appendix 3 contains information on citing and referencing.

Appendices: Where included, these should be numbered in sequence, and will normally contain material relevant to the work which is not essential for inclusion in the main body. Here, for example, interview schedules or blank questionnaires, maps, diagrams or tables may be included.

As indicated earlier, raw data, such as transcriptions or raw SPSS data, must be submitted separately.