Hello everyone. I’m back, and now that my studies are over I thought it would be of some value to share with you some hints and tips regarding the dissertation process.
This blog is divided into a number of areas. It is however of importance to explain the context of my dissertation because, with this in mind, some of the hints and tips that follow may not be relevant to your dissertation.
- The research was undertaken at one company – a company that was not my employer.
- The research sample comprised participants located in different countries.
- The literature on the subject under investigation was limited.
- I implemented three research methods – analysing company documentation, conducting interviews and a focus group.
Fine-tuning your research enquiry
Start to think about your dissertation as early as possible. I recall indicating on my course application the topic I was interested in researching; you may need to do (have done) the same. It is therefore probable that you will be thinking about your research when you choose which course you will study. Furthermore, as you work through each module you will continue to generate further ideas. On the matter of idea generation:
At the end of each module, write down what you liked about the module; what interested you the most?
- What is happening locally, nationally and/or internationally within HR?
- What is the current literature focusing on?
- What would add value to the organisation I work for?
Share your ideas with others and seek their feedback:
- Contact other students on blackboard or speak to them at the teaching weekends.
- Post your ideas on the CLMS’s LinkedIn and Facebook pages to get other student input.
- Speak with a member of the CLMS team.
- Talk to your employer, if appropriate.
- Talk to your family and friends.
When you have shortlisted a few topic areas ask yourself:
- Does the topic interest me and will this interest be maintained for six months?
- Is the topic linked with the course material within my course – is it academically sound? (It must be).
- Will the topic assist me with my career development?
I found that by talking to people my research idea became more fine-tuned.
You will be reviewing literature on your chosen topic, conducting research, analysing the results of this research, critiquing your own work and making recommendations for future research; you will be writing up to three times more words than for any previous assignment. Take a look at some sample dissertations on blackboard to give you an idea of what the finished product looks like. With this in mind it is vital to consider the resources available to you.
- Is what I am proposing achievable in the time-scale available to me?
- Will I need to invest financially and if so how much?
You may have gotten to know some of the CLMS employees at teaching weekends and when obtaining feedback from your assignments. There is no harm in asking if one of them would be interested in supervising your dissertation. As they say, if you don’t ask – you don’t get!
- Once you have been assigned your supervisor, make contact with him/her as soon as possible to discuss your proposal – module 4 assignment.
- Agree with him/her how you will communicate with each other – maintaining a regular and open dialogue is crucial.
- Before each meeting send an email detailing what you would like to cover in your discussion.
- When you submit a chapter of your dissertation or the whole dissertation to your supervisor, allow sufficient time for him/her to read it and respond (build this time into your plan (see below)).
- Above all else, listen to his/her feedback and take it on board.
Plan, plan, plan
I viewed the dissertation as a project. You would not start any project without a plan would you? The good news is that module 4 requires you to present such a plan (timetable). Do make sure that you really think this through; your plan may need to change and if it does, update your plan. In addition, take a look at the earlier blog on recommended reading: https://studentblogs.le.ac.uk/labour-market-studies/2012/04/30/recommended-reading-for-module-4-and-the-dissertation/ I found that writing a checklist from these books and the readings in module 4 really helped me to remain focus and ensure that I covered everything when writing the dissertation.
Do build in extra time for delays.
- As you complete your module 4 assignment your dissertation planning will already be underway. You will definitely need to be clear about who will make up your research sample.
- Make your plan (timetable) visible. Mine faced me every day for 6 months so I could check where I was and what still needed to be done. It enabled me to remain focused and in effect motivated me by reminding me of what still needed to be undertaken.
- If you get behind at any time tell your supervisor and consider what else you can be doing. For example, if your interviews are due to end today but there has been a setback due to participants withdrawing from the process, look to your timetable and start working on something else. Remember to update your timetable.
- Open up a document that covers each chapter of your dissertation. As you read material, take notes within the respective chapter document. You will find this not only saves time later but enables you to structure your chapters as you start to write.
I wrote the introduction chapter after writing all the other chapters. This was a mistake. I therefore suggest that you write a draft when you start your dissertation, not towards the end.
- The introduction is in effect a structure of what your dissertation entails; it is therefore a working plan to refer to as you progress.
- It is highly likely that changes / amendments will be necessary, however that will be easier than having to write the introduction when all other chapters are completed.
Unlike all other modules you are not provided with literature to read – instead you have to source the material.
- Dissect your research question to identify the literature subject areas you need to explore.
- Start to gather literature appropriate to your research topic during module 4.
- It sounds obvious but only read and analyse literature that is aligned to your research question; it is so easy to drift away when you become interested in other readings. Don’t do it; you’ll be wasting time.
- Make sure you file your readings in order – you will find it so much easier later to locate the document when searching for a quote, etc.
- Read the articles and take notes appropriate to your dissertation title – just as you have with your other assignments.
- If you are not able to source material on your chosen subject speak to a member of the CLMS team and speak with a member of the library team. In addition think broader, for example I researched Norwegian cultural values and their existence in international human resource management (IHRM). I quickly found that such literature was limited and so I widened my search to include Scandinavia and Europe.
- Like previous assignments, end this chapter with your conclusion of what the literature is indicating in relation to your research question.
Choosing the research sample
Think very carefully about your choice of organisation / research sample. If you don’t have access to the right research pool you will not be able to answer your research question; you will have problems completing module 4 as well as your dissertation. You must be able to extract sufficient data to answer your dissertation question from your research sample.
- Start early – while you are completing module 4 obtain tentative confirmation(s) from your research sample.
- When selecting an organisation, ask your network, ask your family and friends and consider organisations where you would like to work. Some companies openly seek students to undertake their research with them; the company may have an application process so do allow sufficient time for your application to be processed.
- If the organisation is not your employer, be prepared to present yourself, your studies and a clear outline of what you intend to research.
- Keep your options open. Don’t just rely on one organisation saying yes because you may be disappointed and you will have wasted valuable time.
- Be flexible if an organisation wishes you to take a different approach, just make sure that any changes to your research are academically sound. If changes need to occur after you have submitted your module 4 assignment you must notify the CLMS or your supervisor.
- Remember to maintain professional communications with organisations including informing them politely that you have selected another company to undertake your research.
- It sounds obvious however do ensure that you will be able to gain access to the research pool – clarify how with your company contact.
Having selected your topic you will probably have some idea of which research methods to use to extract the data you require to answer your research question. This will become much clearer as you progress through module 4. If, like me, you choose more than one research method be very clear about how the data extracted will be integrated and presented in your results chapter.
When reading literature related to your chosen topic:
- be aware of the research methods used and take a note of these including the authors own critique of the methodology utilised.
- be aware that what is recommended by researchers may not be what is used in practice. This I discovered. I chose to implement the recommended methods detailing my justifications for rejecting the most used methods.
When writing questions for a questionnaire or for interviews, check that each and every question will provide you with answers that will enable you to answer your research question. If not, remove or amend the question. To ensure this I conducted a pilot:
- I asked myself the questions and wrote down answers.
- I asked my friends and network, who were aligned to my research sample, the questions and wrote down their answers.
- I shared the research questions with the company contact and my supervisor for comment.
If you conduct a focus group allow sufficient time – whatever time you think you will need, allow at least half as much time again. When people start talking it eats time, especially in a group forum.
Conducting the research
Your reputation and that of the university is at stake when you conduct your research.
- Remember that you are bound by the University ethics agreement and the agreement you have created to undertake the research (this is covered in module 4).
- You may also be bound by the organisation’s ethics agreement or other document that sets out the terms of how you conduct your research.
- Be professional at all times.
- Be prepared for people to withdraw from the research. If they do, contact your CLMS supervisor and your contact within the organisation. Remember to delete all records of that participant.
- If you conduct telephone interviews be aware that any poor quality of connection can lead to misunderstandings and missed opportunities.
- If your research sample comprises participants who are not fluent in English be aware of misunderstandings and missed opportunities.
- Conducting a one-hour interview took me 8 hours of typing; to ensure accuracy of transcripts I listened to each recording 3 times.
- When your participants read the transcript of the interviews give them sufficient time to comment, make amendments, deletions and additions.
- Remember that in conducting your research you are costing the organisation and the participant time and time often = money.
Your Research Results
Your research results should confirm:
- That your choice of research method was appropriate.
- The disadvantages of your research method(s).
Prior to undertaking the research and analysing the results you are likely to have an idea of what the outcome may be. It is vital however to be open to alternative findings and therefore to steer away from influencing the outcome with your opinions.
How you present the results will vary. Do:
- remember to present the characteristics of your research sample.
- ensure the data you present is aligned to answering your research question. You will likely obtain data that is superfluous to requirements; ignore it.
- not disclose the identity of any respondent and if there is any possibility of doing so, discard the information.
- tie your findings back to your literature review.
- remember to highlight any difficulties that you encountered and how these were tackled (you may choose to integrate this into your methodology chapter).
Conclusion and Recommendations
When concluding refer back to all the previous chapters.
- What have I found?
- Do the findings support or reject what the literature states?
- Was the methodology appropriate to collect the data required to answer the research question?
- Remember not to generalise your findings if your philosophical and methodological choices do not support this possibility.
It is of vital importance that you critique your own work and present recommendations based on this.
- What are the weaknesses within my research; turn these into recommendations of how similar research can be done differently in future.
- Where do gaps still remain in the literature and in my research that requires exploration?
When to start writing
…….as soon as possible.
- The dissertation is between 16,000 and 20,000 words. You cannot leave the writing until the last few weeks.
- Start the bibliography as soon as you start to write.
When you undertake your proof-reading, you will be looking for a number of things. It is likely therefore that you will proof-read a number of times. As you read keep asking yourself:
Am I answering the research question?
Is what I am writing aligned to the research enquiry?
Of key importance when proof-reading is to make sure the whole document is integrated; that each chapter does not stand-alone. Furthermore and importantly, that you regularly refer your reader back to your research question within each and every chapter of the dissertation.
- Allow up to two weeks to do one final proof-read of your dissertation. This does not include the proof-reading you undertake along the way.
- Ask others to proof-read your dissertation.
- If you are fortunate to have more than one proof-reader get each person to look for different things for example, one to focus on spelling and grammar, another to focus on ease of reading, another to ensure that your total document is integrated and another to comment on whether they understand what is written even though they may know nothing about the subject matter.
- Check each and every quotation you have written for accuracy. As you write you will change things and this may mean that you inadvertently alter a quotation.
In terms of time this took me three days, approx. 24 hours.
- Revisit the plagiarism tutorial and/or contact your supervisor if you have any doubts at all about referencing.
- Check each and every entry in your bibliography to make sure it is accurate. This took me two days, 16 hours.
Finished? Hurrah, you made it…..
- Submit your dissertation on time.
- Congratulate yourself on your achievement.
- Reflect on what you have achieved, not about what you believe you could have done better.
- Wait for your results.
Oh yes, and prepare a report and/or presentation to the company where you have undertaken the research, if applicable.
Your dissertation should not be viewed as another assignment; it is much more than that. It is a critical part of your studies and it is potentially of vital importance for your career prospects.
Undertaking the dissertation, I viewed as a rollercoaster ride. However, you will find that it will have more highs than lows if you choose the right topic that is academically sound, that will retain your interest for 6 months and that you seek support from your supervisor along the way.
I wish you every success. Enjoy!