Opie (2004:3) defines educational research as ‘the collection and analysis of information on the world of education so as to understand and explain it better’, whereas Clark (2005: 289) defines educational research as ‘the scientific construction of the causes of “effective” teaching’. Bassey (1990: 39), defined educational research as entailing ‘systematic, critical and self-critical enquiry which aims to contribute to the advancement of knowledge’. Bassey provides details of what this term means, noting:
· Enquiry: Research is conducted for a purpose in order to get answers to questions, however, this is an attempt and one that may not be achieved.
· Systematic: The importance of collecting and analyzing data in a regular pattern has at its foundation, a theoretical rationalized basis.
· Critical: The research ensures that the data presented is as accurate as possible, for example by being a representative sample.
· Self-Critical: The importance of a researcher needing to be critical of their methods of collecting, analyzing and presenting data.
· Advancement of Knowledge: Research should aim to increase the individual’s knowledge through informing them of something they did not know beforehand. This knowledge may in turn be shared with others should it be beneficial through publication.
· Knowledge: Knowledge is the understanding about events, things and processes. Such knowledge includes descriptions, explanations, interpretations and value orientations.
Writing Chapters of Dissertation in Education
There are a number of chapters that are generally expected in any education dissertation. They may have different terms depending on your institutions. Generally, a dissertation consists following five chapters:
· Literature Review
· Discussion and Conclusion
The five-chapter dissertation structure is perhaps one of the most common, however there are different variations, for example the conclusion may be written as a separate chapter taking the dissertation to a total of six chapters.
A brief overview of the content of each five chapter has been provided:
Ø Define the focus of your research
· A short summary of the content of the study
· The main problems or issues to be investigated
· The overall approach to the project
· The environmental issues of your research
· Research aim and objectives
· Signposting your research
· Aspects of the subjects investigated
· Historical and current context
· Evidence of problems or contentious issues
· Current debate-comparison of different opinions or approaches
o Shortcomings in the level of knowledge
Ø General approach to your research (your research stance/philosophy)
Ø Selection of samples
Ø Ethical statement
Ø Discussion of how your research adheres to validity and reliability
Ø Method(s) of analysis and presentation of results (e.g. charts, graphs, diagrams, spreadsheets, statistics, coding systems, models, commentaries, etc.).
Ø Charts, graphs, diagrams, etc with annotation and interpretation
Ø Impact of findings
Ø Impact on practice
Ø Recommendations for action
Ø Impact of methodology
Ø Impact on you
Ø Conclusions (although this may be a separate chapter)
o Conclusions drawn from sets of data in relation to the main issues (this can be separated into sections for each aim/objective)
o Overall conclusions of the dissertation
At the end are sections that provide important information on aspects of the work.
Ø A list of references-fuller details about all the publications and other sources that you have cited in the text.
Ø Appendices-supplementary information such as questionnaires, letters, related information, pictures, etc) These give examples of your methods of working and/or further background information about issues that are important to your work, but not so central as to warrant being included in the main text.
First Impression Counts
Presentation: Although your dissertation will be marked according to academic content, creating a favourable first impression to start with can only be of benefit. A neat cover, practical binding and well designed page layout all contribute to creating such an impression. Furthermore, ensure that the font is easily readable, for example using a basic font (Arial, Times New Roman, etc.) that is of a clear size (size 12) with at least 1.5 line spacing. Your institution may detail specifically how they want your work to be submitted: take note! Remember that your dissertation will be on a pile with all of the others to be marked, and your examiner will be naturally better disposed to the more attractive submissions.
Organization: A brief scan through the dissertation should give an immediate impression of how the work is organized. This means clearly headed sections, easily spotted chapter divisions and a logical arrangement of the sections of the study. The examiner will feel much more comfortable with work that is easy to navigate. A clear structure is a strong indication of clear thinking- a markable aspect of the work.
Length: Should conform to the requirements. A report that looks too thin or too thick immediately rings alarm bells for the marker. The former will be difficult to award sufficient marks and the latter will be a daunting task to wade through.
Abstract Although this is not always a requirement, this is useful as a brief introduction for the reader. Summarizes your whole dissertation in 150-200 words, including the main conclusions. Not an easy task but good practice, and again demonstrate clear thinking.
List of contents Situated near the front of the dissertation, this gives a simple overview of not only what is in the text, but how it is organized. It will also provide a useful navigation tool for later on to find the page numbers of the different sections.
Main conclusions One of the main points of doing a dissertation is to come to some conclusions based on the research. The final chapter should spell out the conclusions extremely clearly so that they can be picked out by the examiner by simply scanning through the pages. He/she will check that the conclusions relate exactly to the research problem or question.
Reference list This will be a measure of your background reading, both in depth and in scope. You will impress your examiner if the relevant books are cited, but won’t if your list is padded with numerous extraneous references.
Relevance and quality of background study
You will not be reinventing the wheel. Whatever the subject you are tackling, there will be numerous other writers and experts who have worked in the same area. The examiner will look to see if you have discovered the main ones relevant to your study and have understood what they have written. This will provide the context for your own research and will enable you to pinpoint the particular issue that you will tackle in your study. It will also provide precedents of how the research might be carried out.
Clarity of research problem or question
It is essential to be clear, not only in your own mind but also in your writing, about the exact problem or question that you are tackling. This is the foundation stone of your dissertation and produces the main aims of the research. The research problem or question will be elaborated and dissected during the course of your study, but it remains the linchpin of all your research efforts. It should be possible throughout the dissertation for the examiner to relate the writing to the stated aims derived from the research problem or question.
Selection of methods for data collection and analysis
One of the main aims of doing a dissertation is to discover and implement basic research methods. The choice of methods is huge, so you will be marked both on the discussion about possible methods and on the appropriateness of your choice.
Use of Research methods
Each method has its own rules and procedures, so you need to demonstrate that you have understood these and implemented them correctly.
Solidity of argument to support findings and conclusions
You could see the whole dissertation as a piece of detective work, with the report being the evidence and argument that leads to your conclusions. Do you have a watertight case? The examiner will dissect the logic of your argument and weigh the strength of your conclusions based on the evidence you bring forward.
Quality of referencing
Your work will inevitably be based on the research and writings of others; after all, that is how we learn about most things. It is therefore essential that you acknowledge the source of your information and the ideas by consistent use of a citing and referencing system. Marks are specifically allotted to this aspect of the work.
Quality of writing
The main form of your communication is the written word. Correct spelling and grammar are basic requirements (your word processor will help to some extent). Proper sentence and paragraph construction are also essential; these will be partly dependent on your personal style. You should aim at clarity throughout. The examiner will have limited time to read your work, so make it easy for him or her: you will be rewarded for this. If you are not writing in your first language, it is a good idea to find a native English speaker to read through your work and correct it as necessary.