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Introduction

 

The work book has been produced to reinforce and add to the material discussed in class.  It covers the keys areas you need to have knowledge of to prepare for and undertake research that will lead to the successful completion of your dissertation.

 

The work book has been written to encourage you to think about the nature of research and how your own ideas can be developed.  You will find that at the end of many of the sections there are tasks to complete. These will help you to understand your own learning needs as well as improve your research ideas.

 

 

 

The aim of this workbook is:

 

1)      To prepare you for a research study

 

2)      To expose you to different types of research methodologies and specific data collection and analytical techniques

 

3)      To enable you to make informed decisions about how to progress your study.


Topic One Outline:

Introduction to the dissertation.

 

1.      Introduction: objectives of topic one

2.      What is a dissertation

3.      Getting started

4.      Your role in “doing the study”

5.      Your supervisors role in helping you through the process

6.      Reading list

 

 

Introduction

 

The learning objectives of the topic are:

 

1)      To give you a realistic insight into the processes involved in planning, managing and completing a large-scale research project.

 

2)      To provide a framework to help you plan your dissertation.

 

3)      To enable you to start the process.

 

 


What is a dissertation

According to the Oxford Dictionary a dissertation is:

“A detailed (1) discourse on a subject, one submitted in partial fulfilment of a degree” (Discourse – to speak or write learnedly or at length on a subject)

 

This definition provides two insights:

 

Firstly, that a dissertation is a body of work with a purpose.  The purpose for you is to create a document that can be examined and assessed to be master’s degree level.

 

Secondly, that a dissertation is a collection of arguments which build a case to satisfy a set of objectives or to verify a hypothesis. This is based on the systematic collection and interpretation of researched material. 

 

 

 


2.0 The idea

The first challenge is to identify the area in which you want to conduct a study.  This may in itself be a complex activity.  It is hard without a good understanding of a topic to decide which particular area you want to focus on, and how you will research it. The starting point in this process is simply identifying a broad area to study.  Students gain ideas for their research in four main ways:

 

1)      You have identified an area of Management / Leadership that you find interesting and wish to explore more widely.

 

2)      You have conducted a study in the past and found there were questions that remained unanswered and want to explore these issues more deeply.

 

3)      You wish to gain specific knowledge about a Management / Leadership issue that will help you gain a job related to that area.

 

4)      You are asked to conduct a study in a particular area because of the wishes of your sponsor.

 

2.1. What if you don’t have an idea?

 

It is very hard to pull an idea for a research topic out of thin air that will fulfil all the requirements of a Masters Dissertation.  This problem is relatively common and is due to inexperience, having only partial knowledge about aspects of management / leadership, or not being able to choose the area you want to study.  Ultimately the choice of topic has to be your decision and yours alone.  There are a few ways to help you identify a topic. 

 

Blaxter et al (2006) identified ten strategies to help you think of a research topic.

 

a)      Take advice from your supervisor, manager, friends, colleagues, learning set members, customers, clients or parent, partner etc.

b)      Look at previous research work.

c)      Develop some of your previous research, or your practice at work.

d)     Relate it to your other interests.

e)      Think of a title.

f)       Start from a quote that engages you.

g)      Follow your hunches.

h)      Draw yourself a picture or a diagram.

i)        Just start anywhere.

j)        But be prepared to change direction.

 


Activity One

 

Before you look at the format of a dissertation, take some time to reflect on the area you want to conduct the study in.  Use the following list to help you form your ideas.  As you work through the rest of this section review your ideas and amend them as you go along.

 

 

Try to answer each of the following questions

 

a)      What is the general area that you are interested in?

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

b)     What parts of management / leadership theory are relevant to this general area?

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

c)      What title will you give to this study?

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

d) Who do you think will be targeted to answer your questions (sample group)?

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

d)     Can you foresee any problems that would make this study hard to complete (Time, finance, language….)

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


2.2 The stages of the study

 

Wherever the idea for your study comes from you will still follow a similar process of refinement and of putting building blocks together to complete a dissertation.  There are considered to be eight steps in this process:

 

Step One:    Defining the subject and purpose of the study.

This is the first stage in any research study.  It is where you actually decide what it is you are going to investigate, why you are going to investigate it, and gain an idea of how you will tackle the project. In essence the task you are faced with is one of gaining clarity about the subject matter that you want to study.  This ultimately has to come from a position of knowledge.  To gain knowledge about a topic will involve undertaking some research.   This may be reading books and journal articles related to the subject, talking to industry experts, and discussing ideas with your supervisor. Once you have clarity about what you want to research you need to identify the purpose of the study.

 

Underpinning the purpose of the study is that you are going to write up a research into a body of work that can be examined as an MA in Leadership and Management dissertation.  The purpose of the study can be defined in a number of ways:

 

1)      To find something out that has not been researched before or which is a new phenomena.

2)      To test an assumption.

3)      To explore the links between a number of variables to identify how they influence each other.

 

By going through the process of identifying both the area of your study and what the overall purpose of it is, you should be able to create specific objectives or hypothesis.  These are statements that say exactly what your study is about and what is the overall purpose of conducting it. Hypothesis and objectives are discussed in topic four.

 

Step Two:    Studying the literature.  

There is a vast pool of knowledge available on most subjects.  This knowledge is distilled into academic journals, texts books, general books, newspapers, commercial reports and increasingly, electronically stored material and the Internet.  The use of a wide selection of this type of material is vital to progressing your study.  The literature will help you formulate ideas, identify aspects of the study that would not have occurred to you, to see what others have done and how they have done it.  Using literature as a foundation to your study is also important.   It will prove that you have researched the topic in-depth, considered a different set of arguments, and proved the worthiness of the study you are undertaking.  To gain the benefits you will need to understand sources of literatures, the benefits of different types of literature, and how to record the data when you have read and thought about it. Finally you will need to understand how to use the literature in your dissertation to tell the story of the reasons for the research so that those who read your work can follow your thoughts.  To gain these benefits you need to learn literature management skills; these are dealt with in topic two.

 

Step three:   Planning the methods of investigation.

Planning the methods of investigation is concerned with operationalising your study.  So far you should have developed good objectives or a hypothesis, and from this you will identify how you are going to get the answer to the questions you have posed.  Methods of investigation include the following. Selecting whom should be targeted as the individuals or organisations most likely to answer the needs of the study and gaining their contact details. Selecting the best data collection techniques - designing questionnaires; preparing the interview topic guide. Identifying the appropriate sequence for data collection (for example conducting interviews and using a questionnaire to verify findings.  Finally identifying the most appropriate techniques to analyse and present your findings.

 

 

Step four:       Testing the proposed methodology by carrying out pilot studies or by means of rigorous examination.

                        This is a vital stage in the development of a study.  It is where your assumptions about the proposed methodology are tested to ensure that they hold up when exposed to the realties of the real world.  This includes; evaluating that you have the correct sample group as respondents; ensuring the data collection tools work in the way you have planned by exposing them to the sample; and evaluating whether your analysis techniques are sufficiently robust.  It is also about identifying if the time-scale you have planned is realistic, whether you will gain access to the sample and whether you have got the basic premise of the study correct.  This is the last stage that you can safely amend your methodology before you collect all of your data.

 

Step Five:    Collecting data.

Data collection is the implementation stage of the study where you either conduct interviews, or dispatch a questionnaire.  This is a difficult and often fraught part of the study.  You have so far been able to conduct your research without having to rely too much on other people.  Now you are totally reliant on those whom you have targeted to be part of the study.  You may find that times and dates of meeting have to be re-scheduled by weeks or months, that the total number of completed questionnaires is too few for effective analysis, that responses to your questionnaires are not what you expected.  In addition the time scales you have planned for this activity may well be hard to stick to.  Time slippage during this stage could well increase the overall time scales for the study. 

 

 

Step Six:      Analysing the data.

Once you have collected the data you will need to set aside time to analyse it.  For qualitatively generated data (week five) you will need to identify how long it will take you to transcribe your interviews into text, and the time it will take to break the text down into meaningful chunks that give you insight.  Finally, you will need to consider how the data can then be used to fulfil the objectives of the study.  With quantitative data you have similar issues to deal with, you will need to code and input data into an analysis package), identify the type of analysis that is appropriate to the type of variables, and make sense of the analysis.  Ultimately the challenge at this stage of the study is to find meaning and understanding in what you have found.  This has to be translated into discussion based on fact that can be read and understood by others

 

Step Seven: Drawing conclusions from the data.

By the time you have completed all the various stages of the study in terms of collecting secondary and primary data and looking for meaning you should be in a position to draw conclusions.  Conclusions should relate strongly to the body of work you have completed.  They should relate in a very transparent way to the objectives that have guided you in your choice of secondary research, selecting a methodology, collecting the data and analysing it.  Conclusions are more than a summary.  The role of conclusions is to say what you have really found out, the key findings linked to wider issues that can be built on at a later date.

 

 

Step Eight:  Writing the study up into a dissertation format.

Completing the dissertation is the overall objective and tangible outcome of the study.  To succeed you must translate all the different types of information that you have collected into coherent discussion in a format that can be examined.  The rules concerning the format of your thesis are addressed in the module handbook.


2.3 Format of the dissertation.

The dissertation is a very specific type of document.  Its purpose is to be examined by at least two academics that will, based on the quality of the work, decide if it merits being passed at Masters level.  The guidelines followed by the examiners are relatively simple.  They look for the following:

 

1)      How well the research problem has been formulated, hypothesis generated or objectives set.

 

2)      Familiarity with relevant literature, critical evaluation of the contribution of the literature to the study, and the use of it to support the objectives of the study.

 

3)      How a methodology has been developed and used.  This includes an understanding of theory generation, selection of data collection and analytical techniques, how the study has been managed, and limitations of the method.

 

4)      Within the findings the examiners are looking for clarity in interpretation of the basic findings, and a wider discussion of the meaning of those findings in relation to the issues identified from the literature and the original parameters imposed at the outset of the study.

 

5)      Whether the dissertation has conclusions that relate to the objectives of the study, the literature and the primary data.

 

6)      How well the dissertation is written up, quality of presentation, the use of English, the ease of reading etc.

 

7)      Finally, you have demonstrated maturity by being able to identify the weaknesses or limitations in your study.

 

 

From an examiner’s perspective, most of the above points are considered at two levels. The first is whether they exist and how well they have been dealt with.  Second, how they combine to make up the dissertation.  It is one thing to be able to name all the different elements of a dissertation, but another to understand how they combine to create a quality end product.   This means that you have a role to play in assessing the quality of your own work. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.4 How the parts of a thesis relate to each other

The diagram outlines how the various stages of the dissertation relate to each other.  Take some time to explore the model.  Each stage is described on the following page.

 

 

 

Research methodology (proposal)

Interpretation of primary data findings

 

 

 


Conclusions, Limitations,

Recommendations

Analysis and interpretation of the meaning of the findings

Objectives of the study

Context of study

Literature review


DESCRIPTION OF DIAGRAM

 

a)      Objectives of the study – Objectives of the study are crucial in identifying what the nature and topic area of the research is.  Your objectives should seek to define the topic area, why you are investigating it and perhaps what areas you are not going to explore.  Depending upon the approach to theory development you take (grounded or scientific) your objectives will normally be used to measure what you want to accomplish in the study.  The objectives will also guide you towards the literature that you need to review, the data collection methods employed and how the data is analysed and presented.

 

b)      Context of the study – this should place the study within a commercial setting by providing an overview of such things as the nature of the industry or organisation, structural influences e.g. legislation, or changes in demographics. 

 

c)      Literature review - The importance of the literature review is that it sets the scene for the study.  It builds the case for the primary research by exploring what has been written before, and assessing the quality of the material in the context of the study’s objectives.  It seeks to identify gaps in what is known and to quantify the extent to which theory is lacking.  Finally it should enable a clear set of research questions to be developed that link into both the methodology section of the dissertation and help guide the choice of data collection tool.

 

d)     Methodology – this section provides a number of key functions for the dissertation.  Within this section you will outline your approach to the study.  This involves how you have decided to approach the problem from both a conceptual theory development angle and also from the practical operational angle.  The theory development side is ultimately about you providing a case as to why your study is valid and acceptable as a contribution to developing new theory.  The practical side is concerned more with operational issues, a rationalised choice of data collection tools, how they were constructed and tested, what limitations exist in their use and how the findings can be viewed by other users of your work. 

 

 

e)      The findings sections of the dissertation can be considered at two levels.  The first is really a presentation of the basic interpretation of the primary data.  For example if a quantitative survey approach has been taken, each of the questions asked would be presented with a summary of the responses. The level of interrogation of this data should be sufficient to provide a good understanding of what was identified with some interpretation about meaning. The interrogation should be done to provide a foundation for the deeper analysis that has to be undertaken to move the study from being descriptive to one that allows new theory to be developed.

 

f)       The next level of analysis in your dissertation is to provide meaning and explanation.  This achieved by combining the primary data with the secondary literature you previously critiqued, to identify if other issues can be determined to impact on the overall interpretation of the data.  This process fulfils two key roles.  First it allows you to evaluate the how far you have managed to fulfil the objectives of the study.  Second, it is where the reader of your work can see the process of the dissertation you have followed.  If your primary data does not relate to the literature or the study objectives, it is likely that you have either collected primary data before building the case for the study or before you understand all of the issues that need to be explored.

 

g)      Conclusions – for dissertations, conclusions are not a summary of the study; they are about pulling together key facts that come from the deeper analysis of the data.  The conclusions should contain a clear indication of what is really significant and what contribution your work has made.  You may feel it is appropriate to make recommendations based on your conclusions.  These usually are concerned with future activity, which could be additional research, or to make changes in how things operate. 

 

h)      As part of your development the dissertation should contain a section on limitations of the study.  These are caveats in the process you have followed, and explanation of any issues that arose which undermine the robustness of the findings.  As part of this you should also be able to direct readers to other areas that need to be researched.  This indicates that you know the limits of the contribution your study makes, and also that you have gained a wider perspective of the subject area.

 

If you look back at the diagram you will see that a number of these sections seem to be linked together in a variety of different ways.  For example the literature review feeds into the research methodology chapter, the analysis of finding and into the conclusions.  The research objectives feed into all the other sections of the dissertation.  The key point to bear in mind is that building a dissertation is a combination of physically writing material and of mental interpretation.  So although you may complete the literature review as part of the foundation to the study, you will need to continually review it to see if other areas you have investigated alter your interpretation of the material and understanding of its contribution.  The process is best described as being iterative i.e. from learning as you go along and incorporating what you have learnt back into the process.  To put it another way it is about creating a mind set of seeking to continually improve how you research, how you think, and how you write the outcomes of this process up.

 

 

2.5 Research skills

So far you should have gained an understanding of the process of doing a dissertation, you will have seen what each stage of the study involves, and what goes into the final document which is submitted for examination.  What drives this process is you. Before progressing further into the theory of research methods it is advisable for you to conduct an assessment of what skills you already have and what skills you will need to complete the study (activity 2). 

 

For each of the skill areas outlined take time to explore what they mean in a research context.  Try and relate them to the research process you looked at in section 2.2 & 2.3.  Once you understand the importance of each skill area and have completed activity 2, move on to activity 3.  Task 3 is designed to allow you to rate your skills across a number of key areas.  The task is designed to provide you with a benchmark to measure your progress in this module, and b) to give you an indication of where you will have to put extra effort into skill development via additional reading and by practising activities that build these skills.

 

 

 

Activity Two

For each of the following skill areas, make notes about why they are important to help you make progress in your dissertation.

 

Using text books and journal sources identify what each of the following skills are used for in an academic research context.  The task should take you about 45 minutes to complete.  After you have competed the activity find somebody else to compare notes answers with.  Once you have discussed your answer try activity three.

 

Reading skills _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Organisational skills

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Time management

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Conceptualising skills

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Writing skills

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

Being objective

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being analytical

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Being systematic

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Negotiating skills

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Knowing when to ask for guidance

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Being able to use appropriate IT tools

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Being motivated

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Being critical

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Having an open mind

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Learning from doing

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

 


Activity Three

All of the skills considered in activity two will be used to varying levels in your research.  It is important that you identify to yourself the things you have a lot of experience in, and the skills that need further development.

 

Using the scales provided identify your research strengths and development areas (1 = A lot of experience, 2 = Some experience, 3 = No experience). 

 

 

 

1

2

3

Reading skills

o

o

o

Organisational skills

o

o

o

Time management

o

o

o

Conceptualising skills

o

o

o

Writing skills

o

o

o

Being objective

o

o

o

Being analytical

o

o

o

Being systematic

o

o

o

Negotiating skills

o

o

o

Knowing when to ask for guidance

o

o

o

Being able to use appropriate IT tools

o

o

o

Being motivated.

o

o

o

Being critical

o

o

o

Having an open mind

o

o

o

Learning from doing

o

o

o

 

 

 

 

 


3.0 Getting started.

So far you have examined the ‘process’ of studying for a dissertation, identified what each stage of the dissertation/project contains and conducted a personal skills audit.  In addition you should have a working idea of the area that you want to study.  The objective of this section is to highlight some practical ways of how to start your dissertation.  You may at this point want to review your ideas for the study developed in activity one to remind yourself about what you want to achieve. 

 

The “getting started” stage of any study is often one of the hardest ones.  The challenge is to identify a topic area that fulfils the following things:

 

a)      It has to be something that you have an interest in.  After all you will be looking at the subject area for three months or so.

 

b)      It has to fulfil the criteria of the qualification for which you are studying.  This means that it must have a strong connection to some aspect of management / leadership practice or theory.

 

c)      You need to have topic that you can complete within the allocated timescale.  This means the topic must have realistic study parameters.  It also means that you must be able to work through the objectives with your available resources.  The most important resource being time - or the lack of it.  You must also think about the financial costs involved in conducting interviews or sending out questionnaires.  In addition you should consider whether you will be able to gain access to the people who you think the most suitable to answer your questions.

 

 

3.1 Techniques for getting started

Getting started is really about answering the questions created by the above list.  Task 4 is a checklist of specific questions that you will need to answer before you can really begin to make progress on your study. 
Activity Four

Reflect on each of the following questions.  Try and formulate answers to each of them.

1)      Will the topic fit the specifications and meet the standards set by the module document?

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

2)      Is the topic something in which you are really fascinated?

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

3)      Will your research contain issues that have a clear links to management / leadership theory?

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

4)      Do you have, or can you develop within the dissertation time frame, the research skills to undertake the topic?

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

5)      Is the research topic doable within the dissertation timescale?

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

6)      Is the research topic achievable within the financial resources available to you?

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

7)      Are you confident of gaining access to appropriate secondary and primary data?

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

8)      Can you state your research questions and objectives clearly?

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

9)      Will your research provide fresh insights on this topic?

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

10)  Does your research topic relate clearly to the ideas you have been given (by an organisation, colleague, supervisor etc)?

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Adapted from Saunders, Lewis & Thornhill, 1997, pp14


3.2  Four steps to make progress

 

How successful have you been in identifying answers the questions in Activity 4?  It is probable that you have hit one of the conundrums of planning for a research study.  To be able to fully answer most of the questions you need to be quite advanced in the research project.  Given this you need to consider other ways of gaining the knowledge that will help you answer these questions.  You have already started the process by writing your ideas for the study down.  The task now is to refine those ideas so that you can identify specific research objectives and the actual questions that you will seek answers to with your secondary and primary research activity.  The following are a few ideas of how you begin to upgrade your knowledge and start to translate your raw ideas into the research process.

 

a)      Looking at past research projects.

The university’s library holds a number of completed undergraduate and postgraduate thesis.  These are an invaluable source of information that you can utilise. It is very useful to see what a completed thesis looks like, and what the structure of it is. A word of caution is necessary.  Not all theses in the library are of good quality or will be constructed under the same requirements and regulations as yours. 

 

You may be fortunate to find a dissertation that is akin to the subject area you are interested in.  This may help to shape your views about the particular direction that you want to take.  The methodology used by others may give you indication of problems in accessing the sample. The part of the dissertation, which outlines areas for further research, may help guide your choice of topic.  The key rationale for looking at other works on the subject is to help identify your topic area more clearly, and to learn from what others have done so as to avoid the mistakes they made or problems they encountered. 

 

b)      Discussion.

As a student you are in the fortunate position to be able to access the wealth of knowledge capital that is contained within the university.  The academic and library staff will have both general, and specific subject knowledge that you can use to help to guide you though the various choices that have to be made.   You will also have a specific individual who will supervise you throughout the whole of your study.  Their function is outlined later on, but they will be critical in helping you formulate your research objectives and in operationalising your study.

 

Others who should be considered to help you are industry experts, friends who may have gone through a dissertation process, and those who are at the same stage as you.  Gaining help from these sources should be considered to be highly valuable and not ignored.  Don’t be afraid to talk about your ideas, everyone has to start with a broad concept and develop it over time.  Discussion is a crucial tool in the refinement process. You will learn from what others think about your ideas, and by having to verbalise them.

 

c)      Reading.

There is a vast body of written information available on most subject areas.  Even if you decide on a topic that is so original that no else has published on it, you can still gain much by reviewing literature. Books, journals, Internet searches, and the popular press provide a collection of ideas, different ways of thinking, and help you to identify alternative solutions to issues central your study.  As part of developing objectives and research questions you should be reading material to help support your own ideas.  The knowledge that can be gained from existing literature is both subject specific and research method orientated.  By reading you will be able to see the extent to which theory exists about a subject, how extensive it is, and how long the theory been established.  From journals you will be able to see how many different types of research methods have been employed previously, and which ones apply to the study you are interested in. The use of literature in much more detail in week three. It is important that you start reading as early as possible to improve both your understanding and to learn how to construct academic argument.

 

d)     Writing

One of the key development tools you have available to you in getting started is to actually commit your thoughts and ideas to paper.  By writing things down you create an information source that can be amended, played around with and changed.  Each time you re-visit an idea you are likely to improve on it.  The iterative nature of research means that you are continually learning, adapting, and refining what you produce.  Even if you feel that you do not have enough information to answer the start up questions, write down what you do know. Benchmark your ideas so that you can develop them.  This is especially true of the research objectives, which may well change in wording and in focus a number of times at the start of a study as you learn more about the subject matter. Students who fail to put themselves through the refinement process ultimately pay it for by not being able to concentrate on aspects of the study in its latter stages.  This is because they have failed to identify the true parameters of the study.

 


4.0 Your role in the dissertation process.

The process of completing a dissertation will involve you being a master of a number of different activities.  These can be broadly separated into two areas.  The first has been the main thrust of the sections so far and is concerned with the skills required to conduct research.  The second area is concerned with you.  Your attitudes to being part of the process, how you will learn, and how you will manage your supervisor.  This section is concerned specifically with this area.

 

 

4.1 Personal skills

a) An open mind

As you start the process of selecting a topic and planning how you will conduct the study have an open mind.  Having an open mind allows you to look for the meaning of things based on the information you identify rather than making an assumption about meaning.

 

b) Being motivated

The time scale you have to complete your studies may appear to be a long time e.g. 12 months from the start date.  In reality this time will fly by.  You will find that the time you have allocated for individual tasks will disappear faster than planned. Time slippage is a key reason why students fail to submit on time.  This could be for many reasons – under estimation of the time required for a certain activity, your data collection period is extended because the person who is vital to your studies goes on holiday.  Despite the fact that the process of research is highly susceptible to time slippage one reason that is under your direct control is linked to motivation.  Being motivated means working within the timetable you agree with your supervisor, producing work in sufficient time so that feedback can be given.  It also means dealing in a positive way with the inevitable hick ups in the research process.

 

c) Driving the study forward

The responsibility for completing the study is yours and yours alone.  From the outset you must take ownership of the project.  What this means is that you control the study -from creating objectives or formulating hypothesis, to collecting and analysing data and producing the dissertation.  You cannot and must not expect that others will do either the physical work involved in sourceing data and the cerebral work in finding meaning.   Throughout the process you will have the help of your supervisor. Phillips and Pugh (1987) looked at what supervisors expect of their students and they found the following factors:

 

1)      For the student to be independent – this means that there is an expectation that the student will think for himself or herself.  Asking for advice is accepted when you have identified specific issues, asking what do I do next? without trying to identify alternative options is not.  This does not mean that your supervisor will always expect you to identify alternative options, they will be there to help if you become bogged down with an issue.

 

2)      To produce work that is not the very first unedited draft – the first time you write something down it is likely be lacking in quality.  This is not necessarily a reflection of your abilities, more an indication of the time you have had to refine your ideas.  The truth of this is provable – go back to the work you produced early on in your academic studies and examine it.  If you were to write it again how much better would it be?  Remember that your supervisor’s time is valuable. When you present work for review, ensure that it is the best that you can produce.

 

3)      To attend meetings – how often and the length of meeting you will have with your supervisor will depend a where you are within the research process. At the start you may find the meetings will be frequent and quite long.  As you gain expertise and experience you will see less of your supervisor but produce more work for them to review.  Supervisors are busy people; they are likely to have other research students to supervise plus teaching and administrative duties, and their own research agendas.  If you fail to keep appointments then you run the risk that it may be a long time before they have time to see you.  This may be detrimental to you making progress.  It is fair for you to expect that if you make an appointment with your supervisor and give them work to review that they should both keep the meeting and review your work.

 

4)      To be honest when reporting progress – the question of being honest about progress is really about admitting whether you have achieved certain set objectives and deadlines.  Your supervisor will not be impressed if instead of promised work there is a note saying every thing is fine and you are doing OK.  If a pattern of missed deadlines and none attendance at meeting develops your supervisor will feel that you may have some problems.  An aspect of being honest is that when you agree to deadlines you know whether they are realistic and can be met.  Be realistic about what you can achieve within the time available to you.  It is better to take longer than to miss a deadline and become demotivated because of it.

 

5)      To follow advice that is given – your supervisors are there to advise you.  They will usually have good knowledge of the subject that you are studying, they will also have a good idea about the viability of your proposed methodology.  More importantly they will be able to help you identify what can be achieved and what cannot.  They are supervisors because of the experience of research and have often produced a dissertation as part of their own qualifications.  So why ignore their advice? 


5.0 The supervisors role in your dissertation

Supervisors are there to help you through the process of undertaking a dissertation. A key question to ask is what is fair to expect from your supervisor?  Supervisor’s, contrary to belief, are human, like to eat, sleep and have a social life away from the university and you!  They also have a number of roles to play in the university of which supervising you may be but one.  Within this context there are certain things that your supervisor should do (adapted from Philips & Pugh 2005).

 

5.1.    Fair expectations of how you should be supervised

 

a)      To supervise them.  There is no model that defines what this actually means and to try and create one would ignore the uniqueness of the relationship that develops between you and the supervisor.  You may want lots of written feedback and your supervisor may feel that verbal feedback is more helpful to you.  The key to gaining good supervision is the ability to communicate what your supervision needs are as they change over the course of the study.  Your supervisor with their knowledge and experience should adapt their supervisory style to meet your changing needs.  Key concerns that students often have are: “Am I heading in the right direction?  Is my work up to standard?  When should I be doing X by?  What is the best approach to take with this type of problem?  What should I do now?” 

 

b)      To prepare for their meeting with you.  It is fair to expect that when you arrange a meeting with your supervisor that they keep to it and that sufficient time is put aside to discuss all the matters to be raised.  This only works if there is forward planning on your part.  You should give your supervisor written work sufficiently in advance of the meeting to allow them to read and make sense of it.  You may also wish to submit a set of questions to allow your supervisor to think about appropriate answers.  The supervisor should read your material, answer questions, and give you appropriate feedback.  It may be worth discussing how to make this process work at the start of your study. 

 

c)      To empower you to learn.  Part of the supervisor’s role is to help you to learn, both about the subject that you are researching and also about the process of researching.  Learning about the subject is based on seeking a wide range of information sources and identifying alternative ways to interpret those sources.  Your supervisor should be able to help to direct you towards information sources.  Perhaps as important is the role of trying to get you to interpret data in different ways.  This can only be done through discussion and the questioning of meaning.  Your supervisor should be willing to discuss in an open and honest way the subject matter of your research.  This does suggest that your supervisor should be approachable and be willing to spend time exploring issues with you.  The supervisor is not there to do the research for you.

 

The relationship that develops between you and your supervisor should be constructive and aid your completion.  The success of this relationship ultimately is about managing expectations.  The expectations you have of your supervisor should be fair and reasonable.  It is best to spend time identifying what fair and reasonable means with your supervisor.  In return your supervisor should 1) supervise you, 2) monitor your progress, 3) help develop you.

 

5.2.    What happens if it does not work out with your supervisor?

Supervisor student relations don’t always work.  This could be due to a personality clash, a break down in communication, or a loss of trust.  It is inevitable that over the period of a dissertation the relationship between the supervisor and student will change.  The management of the change is the responsibility of both parties and can only be effectively achieved if there is on going discussion about how the supervision should be conducted.  If your relationship is moving towards a break down the first thing you should do is to try and talk to your supervisor about why it is failing.  If this is not possible then you must talk to either the course leader or the head of department to identify alternative supervisory support. 

 

 

6.0 Background Reading

Saunders M, Lewis P, & Thornhill A  (2007) “Research Methods for Business Students.” Pitman Publishing. 

Cryer P  (1996)   “ The Research Students Guide to Success” Open University Press. 

Blaxter L,  Huges C, & Tight M.  (2006)  “How to Research” Open University Press. 

Phillips E. M, & Pugh D S.  (2005)  “How to get a Ph.D” Open University Press.

Robson C.  (2002)  “Real World Research” Blackwell Publishers, Oxford.

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