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Skills for Learning

Dissertations & Literature Reviews

Overview

Dissertations are extended projects in which you choose, research and write about a specific topic. They provide an opportunity to explore an aspect of your subject in detail. You are responsible for managing your dissertation, though you will be assigned a supervisor. Dissertations are typically empirical (based on your own research) or theoretical (based on others’ research/arguments).

The Dissertation IT Kit contains information about formatting your dissertation document in Word.

Look at the Library Subject Guides for your area. These have information on finding high quality resources for your dissertation. 

We run interactive workshops to help you prepare for your dissertation. Find out more on the Skills for Learning Workshops page.

We have online academic skills modules within MyBeckett for all levels of university study. These modules will help your academic development and support your success at LBU. You can work through the modules at your own pace, revisiting them as required. Find out more from our FAQ What academic skills modules are available? 

Dissertation proposals

What are dissertation proposals?

A dissertation proposal is an outline of your proposed research project. It is what you imagine your dissertation might look like before you start. Consider it a temporary document which might change during the negotiation process between you and your dissertation supervisor.  The proposal can help you clarify exactly what you want to cover in your dissertation. It can also outline how you are going to approach it. Your dissertation plan and structure might change throughout this process as you develop your ideas. Your proposal is the first step towards your goal: a completed dissertation.

Structuring your dissertation proposal

The structure, content, and length of your dissertation proposal will depend on your course requirements. Some courses may require that your aims and objectives are separate from the main body of the proposal. You might be expected to write a literature review, and/or provide a detailed methodology. You might also be asked to include an extensive context for your proposed study. Consult your module handbook or assignment brief for the specific requirements of your course. 

It might help to subtitle the different sections of your proposal. You can also experiment with giving your proposed dissertation a title. Both of these approaches may help you focus and stay on topic. Most dissertation proposals will have a fairly standard structure, under the following headings:

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Describe what you plan to investigate. You could write a statement of your topic, a research question(s), or a hypothesis.

  • Explain why you want to do this research.
  • Write a justification as to why the project is worth undertaking.
  • Reasons might include: a gap in existing research; questioning or extending the findings of earlier research; replicating a piece of research to test its reliability.
  • Describe and justify how you plan to do the research.
  • You might be reviewing the work of others, which mainly involves secondary, or desk-based, research. Or you might plan to collect data yourself, which is primary research. It is common for undergraduate dissertations to involve a mixture of these.
  • If you are doing secondary research, describe how you will select your sources. For primary research describe how you will collect your data. This might include using questionnaires, interviews, archival research, or other methods. 
  • Others will have researched this topic before, or something similar.
  • The literature review allows you to outline what they have found and where your project fits in. For example, you could highlight disagreements or discrepancies in the existing research.

Outline who might potentially gain from your research and what you might find out or expand upon. For example, there could be implications for practice in a particular profession.

Dissertation style and language

A dissertation is a logical, structured, argument-based exploration of a topic. The style of your writing may vary slightly in each chapter. For example, your results chapter should display factual information, whereas your analysis chapter might be more argument-based. Make sure your language, tone and abbreviations are consistent within each section. Your language should be formal and contain terminology relevant to your subject area. Dissertations have a large word count. It is important to structure your work with headings and a contents page. Use signposting language to help your reader understand the flow of your writing. Charts, tables or images may help you communicate specific information. 

Top tip! To signpost in your dissertation, use the ‘Signalling Transition’ section of the Manchester Academic Phrasebank.

Download the Dissertation Project Checklist Worksheet to help with planning your dissertation work. 

The Dissertation IT Kit also contains information about formatting your dissertation document in Microsoft Word.

Past dissertations

Exploring past dissertations within your academic field can give you an idea as to how to structure your dissertation and find similar research methodologies. You can access dissertations and theses completed by students at Leeds Beckett and other universities. To find external dissertations, look at our FAQ answer 'Are there other dissertations I can look at?'. To find dissertations completed by Leeds Beckett students, search in the Discover theses search box below or look at our FAQ answer 'Can I find copies of past dissertations in the Library?

Sections of a dissertation

Not all dissertations will follow the same structure. Your style can change depending on your school. Check your module handbook, assignment brief or speak with your course tutor for further guidance to find out if you're expected to complete a theoretical or an empirical research project. 

To decide what to include:

  • Think about your project from an outsider’s perspective. What do they need to know and in what order? What is the most clear and logical way for you to present your research?  
  • Discuss your project with your supervisor. Be open about ideas or concerns you have around the structure and content. 

Each section of a dissertation has a different purpose. Think about whether you're doing an empirical or theoretical dissertation and use the headings below to find out what you should be including.

You can also use the Leeds Beckett Dissertation Template to help you understand what your dissertation should look like. 

Empirical (research-based)

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Abstract: provides a brief summary of your whole dissertation.

The abstract outlines the purpose of your research and your methodology (where necessary). You should summarise your main findings and conclusion.

Top tips! Give the reader a sense of why your project is interesting and valuable. Write in the past tense. Aim for about half a page.

Contents page: lists all the sections of your dissertation with the page numbers. Do this last by using the automatic function in Word.

Introduction: introduces the reader to your research project.

Provide context to the topic and define key terms. Ensure that the scope of your investigation is clear. Outline your aims and objectives, and provide a brief description of your research methods. Finally, give an indication of your conclusion/findings.

Top tips! Start broad (background information) and get more specific (your research aims and findings). Try writing the introduction after the literature review and methodology chapters. This way, you will have a better idea of your research aims.

Literature Review: positions your research in relation to what has come before it.

The literature review will summarise prior research on the topic, such as journal articles, books, government reports and data. You should introduce key themes, concepts, theories or methods that provide context for your own research. Analyse and evaluate the literature by drawing comparisons and highlighting strengths and weaknesses. Download the Critical Analysis Questions and Evidence Matrix Worksheets to help you with this process and for more information on literature searching see Finding Information.

The literature review should justify the need for your research and highlight areas for further investigation. Avoid introducing your own ideas at this point; instead, compare and comment on existing ideas.

Top tips! Your literature review is not a descriptive summary of various sources. You need to synthesise (bring together) and critically analyse prior research. Sophisticated use of reporting verbs is important for this process. Download our Reporting Verbs Worksheet to help you with this.

Find out more about literature reviews elsewhere on this topic page.

Find out more about critical thinking.

Methodology: provides a succinct and accurate record of the methodology used and justifies your choice of methods.

In this section, you describe the qualitative and/or quantitative methods* used to carry out your research/experiment. You must justify your chosen research methodology and explain how it helps you answer your research question. Where appropriate, explain the rationale behind choices such as procedures, equipment, participants and sample size. You may need to reference specific guidelines that you have used, especially in subjects such as healthcare. If your research involves people, you may also need to demonstrate how it fulfils ethical guidelines.

Top tips! Your account should be sufficiently detailed so that someone else could replicate your research. Write in the passive voice. Remember, at this point you are not reporting any findings.

*Qualitative research is based on opinions and ideas, while quantitative research is based on numerical data.

Find out more about the research process.

Findings/Results: presents the data collected from your research in a suitable format.

Provide a summary of the results of your research/experiment. Consider the most effective methods for presenting your data, such as charts, graphs or tables. Present all your findings honestly. Do not change any data, even if it is not what you expected to find.

Top tips! Whilst you might acknowledge trends or themes in the data, at this stage, you won’t be analysing it closely. If you are conducting qualitative research, this section may be combined with the discussion section. Important additional documents, such as transcriptions or questionnaires, can be added to your appendices.

Discussion: addresses your research aims by analysing your findings.

In this chapter, you interpret and discuss your results and draw conclusions. Identify trends, themes or issues that arise from the findings and discuss their significance in detail. These themes can also provide the basis for the structure of this section. You can draw upon information and concepts from your literature review to help interpret your findings. For example, you can show how your findings build upon or contradict earlier research.

Top tips! Ensure that the points you make are backed up with evidence from your findings. Refer back to relevant information from your literature review to discuss and interpret your findings.

Find out more about critical thinking.

Conclusion: summarises your main points.

Provide an overview of your main findings and demonstrate how you have met your research objectives. Set your research into a wider context by showing how it contributes to current academic debates. Discuss the implications of your research and put forward any recommendations.

Top tips! Do not introduce any new information in this section. Your conclusion should mirror the content of your introduction but offer more conclusive answers.

Reference List / Bibliography: a complete list of all sources used.

List all the sources that you have consulted in the process of your research. Your Reference List or Bibliography must follow specific guidelines for your discipline (e.g. Harvard or OSCOLA). Look through your module handbook or speak to your supervisor for more information.

Find out more about referencing and academic integrity.

Appendix (single) or Appendices (plural): presents raw data and/or transcripts that aren’t in the main body of your dissertation.

You may have to be selective in the data you present in your findings section. If this is the case, you may choose to present the raw data/extended version in an appendix. If you conduct qualitative research, such as interviews, you will include the transcripts in your appendix. Appendices are not usually included in the word count.

Top tips! Discuss with your supervisor whether you will need an appendix and what to include.

Theoretical (argument based)

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Provides a brief summary of your whole dissertation.

The abstract outlines the purpose of your research and your methodology (where necessary). You should summarise your main findings and conclusion.

Top tip! Give the reader a sense of why your project is interesting and valuable. Write in the past tense. Aim for about half a page.

Contents page: lists all the sections of your dissertation with the page numbers. Using the automatic table of contents feature in Microsoft Word can help you format this.

The Dissertation IT kit provides guidance on how to use these tools. 

Introduces the reader to your research project.

Provide context to the topic and define key terms. Ensure that the scope of your investigation is clear. Outline your aims and objectives, and provide a brief description of your research methods. Introduce your argument and explain why your research topic is important. Finally, give an indication of your conclusion/findings.

Top tip! Start broad (background information) and get more specific (your research aims and findings). Try writing the introduction after the literature review and methodology chapters. This way, you will have a better idea of your research aims.

Summarises prior research on the topic, such as journal articles, books, and other information sources. You should introduce key themes, concepts, theories or methods that provide context for your own research. You should also analyse and evaluate the literature by drawing comparisons and highlighting strengths and weaknesses. 

The literature review should justify the need for your research and highlight areas for further investigation. Avoid introducing your own ideas at this point; instead, compare and comment on existing ideas.

Many (although not all) theoretical dissertations will include a separate literature review. You may decide to include this as a separate chapter. Otherwise, you can integrate it into your introduction or first themed chapter.

Find out more about literature reviews on the Literature Reviews page.

Divide the main body of your research into chapters organised by chronology or themes. Each chapter should be like a mini-essay that helps you answer your research questions. Like an essay, each chapter should have an introduction, main body and conclusion. Develop your argument and demonstrate critical thinking by drawing on relevant sources. Compare and contrast ideas, and make suggestions or recommendations where relevant. Explain how each chapter helps answer your main research question.

Top tip! Divide each chapter into chunks and use subheadings where necessary to structure your work.

Find out more on the Critical Thinking pages. 

Provide an overview of your main findings and demonstrate how you have met your research objectives. Set your research into a wider context by showing how it contributes to current academic debates. Discuss the implications of your research and put forward any recommendations.

Top tip! Do not introduce any new information in this section. Your conclusion should mirror the content of your introduction but offer more conclusive answers.

List all the sources that you have consulted in the process of your research. Your Reference List or Bibliography must follow specific guidelines for your discipline (Harvard, APA or OSCOLA). Look through your module handbook or speak to your supervisor for more information.

Find out more about referencing and academic integrity.

Appendix (single) or Appendices (plural): presents any data, such as images or tables, that aren’t in the main body of your dissertation.

You may have to be selective about the information you include in the main body of your dissertation. If this is the case, you may place data such as images or tables in the appendix. Appendices are not usually included in the word count.

Top tip! Discuss with your supervisor whether you will need any appendices and what to include.

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