In my last blog about my dissertation I told you all that I was stressing a little at the fact that my deadline for the draft of the first 3 chapters of my dissertation (introduction, literature review and methodology- adding up to 5,500 words) was within 2 months of starting back at university. It is fair to say that this was indeed the toughest deadline I have had to deal with during my time at university. However, it’s now been and gone (and I have had feedback on it from my dissertation supervisor) and it wasn’t all that bad.
What exactly did I have to do?
Introduction: The introduction is 1000 or so words outlining the sociological problem being investigated. You are to introduce your central research question, sub-questions, research hypotheses and the approach you will adopt in answering them.
Literature Review: For this you need to read the existing literature around your general topic and literature specific to your question. This is to be about 3000 words and it is not just a case of stating each study, you need to outline how your research fits with this- does it challenge certain studies or does it extend them?
Methodology: In this chapter you are to discuss your research design (what is your research technique? What is your sampling technique? How will you analysis your data?), methodological issues (is it quantitative or qualitative research? What are the advantages and limitations of your approach?) and ethics (what did you have to consider in order to ensure your research ethical?).
How did I go about it?
I read a lot. But it wasn’t just about reading as much as I could, it was about reading the stuff that was relevant. Because gentrification is a geographical concept, I had to ensure that I wasn’t just reading the geographical studies. Whilst I did include some of these for context, I had to make sure it was the sociological studies that I concentrated on. Unlike essays where you can read the readings on the reading list in order to answer a specific question, for the literature review you have to find the literature yourself and identify what is relevant in that literature even though you don’t necessarily have a specific question to answer. Sometimes I’d read an entire article only to realise that it was not at all helpful (a useful tip is to read the abstracts of articles first because they summarise what the article is about). It was certainly a stressful process reading for and writing the literature review but overall I did enjoy it because I find the topic so interesting.
I changed a lot. Writing these chapters was not a linear process. It wasn’t a case of writing the introduction then the literature review and then the methodology. As I read studies I got a better idea of what it was I wanted to study and what the best methods would be. My research project question changed all the time (at one point I even changed from a qualitative to quantitative approach and then back again!). But this is how it’s meant to be. It is unlikely that any researcher comes up with an idea and sticks to it throughout their research. Ideas and questions change in light of new knowledge and information. I expect that even when I start my interviews I’ll want to change and re-think questions because participants might say something I hadn’t thought about. I have spent endless hours in the library (even at 9am on Sunday!) re-structuring my introduction, literature review and methodology chapters so, second years, be prepared!
What was the outcome?
My dissertation supervisor emailed me back my draft with comments on and I wasn’t all that pleased when I opened up my email and it said ‘Please see your draft with my comments on what to change. Sorry, there are lots of them’. Great. I was prepared to be given criticism (because what else is a draft for?!), but with a deadline for a 4,000 word essay fast approaching the last thing I wanted was to have to make massive changes to my draft. However it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I opened it up and yes, there were lots and lots of comments on there. But a lot were about grammar and sentence structure which could be changed reasonably quickly. There were comments about other things I needed to include, but there was not anything major. This was such a relief. I am now well on my way in improving my draft based on the comments AND I have nearly finished my 4,000 word essay. Of course I do still have a 3 hour exam to prepare for, but lets not mention that just yet…
Once I finalise these chapters I need to start thinking about planning my interviews. I am actually really excited about doing my interviews, but I am a little nervous too because I have never done anything like this before. Because I am interviewing people in my village in Norfolk I will be looking to start interviews over the Christmas “holidays” (I say “holidays” because with exams just around the corner we don’t really get much of a break!), so I’ll do a post next month saying how I got on with them.