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research for your dissertation

How to start the research for your dissertation

Oct 26, 2012 - Posted to  Dissertation Writing
After working hard to select an appealing yet manageable dissertation topic to study, your next, and even more strenuous task, is to initiate the research process for that topic. This is first done by gathering important and relevant resources to answer your research question (or if you have yet to identify a question, to simply address your topic in the most suitable manner possible).

Start your literature review

Even if the topic you identified for your dissertation is too broad or not specific enough, the literature review will help you to properly redefine and fine tune your topic and main objectives. A thorough literature review can cause a world of difference between subpar dissertations and exceptional ones. A literature review serves many purposes; one is to make sure that you are well-versed in your subject area and a proven authority on the issue. This comes about from extensive research on the topic and significant exposure to the relevant concepts, theories, and ideas presented.

Identify reliable sources and create a research strategy

Research strategies are simply invaluable. They will save you time and energy. Likewise, a calculated, well-planned approach to gathering information will provide for a more organized presentation of thoughts and ideas throughout your dissertation.
Most topics have a range of data to be collected; to maximize your time spent at the library or online firstly,
(a) identify the scope of your research
(b) make a list of relevant keywords to use to search for information on your topic
(c) and choose the most appropriate and reliable sources to examine

What is the scope of your research?

The scope of your research refers to many things; including the timeframe you are considering for data collection (for example, do you need everything ever written on the topic, or just within the last 20 years?) as well as specific elements of your topic that need to be covered. For the scope of your research it is important to know who and what you are examining, the key factors to explore, and the depth of your research.
You may ask, how can I answer these questions if I don't know much about my topic or have yet to construct any type of research question? Don't worry. The more you research the more you'll know the specifics of your question. Though at this point you'll still need to start somewhere so simply try your best to narrow down your topic and identify any key elements that you can assume will be addressed to in your dissertation.
*For example, if your topic is female genital mutilation then you can list several things to assist you in defining the scope of your work. You know that (a) the data you are looking for will likely be current as there may not have been much written on this issue in the past (b) some of the variables in your study may include geographic location, long-term or short-term medical problems, mental and emotional effects, and cultural interpretations - both acceptance and rejection of female genital mutilation.

Keywords and how to get the most out of your search

Creating a list of keywords related to your topic is a wonderful research strategy that will help to speed things up and allow you to explore a wide range of possible sub topics and categories on your subject. By pinpointing the most important target words and associated words you've already taken a major step in supplying your research chest with relevant and suitable references.
When typing in keywords into online or library databases make sure to make use of Boolean operators and, or, and not. Incorporating these into your search queries will better assist you in obtaining a wider range of information that may not appear when using one simple keyword. It can also help you in keeping out, or filtering through topics that you do not want included in your research.
*For example, going back to the mutilation topic, you may find that a lot of the articles you come across on deal with case studies of this practice occurring in African countries. But say for instance you are only concerned with its occurrence in America or other Western countries. Then you would include 'not' into your search such as 'mutilation not West Africa' for example. Small changes such as this to your database searches should make a marked difference in your ability to obtain specific literature that lends to your topic's needs.

Select an abundance of literature and start reading!

Many students make the mistake of not thoroughly reading the material they obtain for a literature review. Though this may seem like a never ending task, careful reading and notetaking is essential to providing a proper and well-crafted dissertation. Not only will you be more confident in the discussion and analysis of your findings but you will also have a better understanding of where other researchers went wrong, what areas have been examined, and most importantly, avoid coming off as uneducated and unaware of the intricacies of your topic.

Take notes and connect ideas

When taking notes on your selected articles you should look for distinct patterns, obscure relationships, and unique or interesting associations that can be categorized well into your paper. At this point you can also begin developing a working outline to further map out your thoughts and ideas regarding what you've just read and are continuing to discover.

Keep detailed accounts of all sources

This point cannot be stressed enough! After possibly two months of reviewing the literature on a topic and encountering dozens of texts, it is imperative that you keep a journal or set of source cards handy to detail all of the publication material referenced.
If you are conducting original research in your dissertation, also known as experimental or scientific research, then after providing a thorough literature review you should move on to identifying your methods and strategies for research. Once you've conducted your actual study using the identified methodology you can then interpret and analyze your findings and provide a final discussion at the end of your dissertation.
If conducting theoretical or purely literature-based research your literature review then serves as the major framework for your argument. The answer to your research question will likely be in the analysis of concepts and theories prevalent in the literature you've chosen to examine.
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