Planning your Dissertation Part 2 : 'Taming that Dissertation!' by Roy Horn

The first step in taming your dissertation is to define and refine the research question. This is just a posh way of saying what your research will do – so don’t let the wording put you off. All dissertations should have a clearly set out aim statement. For example:

‘The aim of this research is to carry out a qualitative case investigation of employee absence at SEDO Ltd using the Steers and Rhodes (1978) notion of Ability to Attend’ This is a good start, it is precise, but there is not enough detail to use as a practical guide – remember precision and breaking tasks down into smaller units is good planning. So we must add more detail in a different form.

Also, remember that these statements are your setting of the dissertation exam paper – so you need to set the right exam! Take time in the beginning so that you can achieve what you say you will achieve by the end.

Research questions

Research questions are one such way and are very suited to non-quantitative dissertations. These look like this:

RQ(1) – Investigate the pattern of attendance for individual employees.

RQ(2) – Investigate Employee issues related to ‘ability to attend’

RQ(3) – and so on… …until you have listed all the required elements that the dissertation will cover.


The other common method is to express quantitative aspects of a dissertation as hypotheses. Such as:

H1 - Students with jobs spend more on books than those without jobs

H2 – Students who get high grades spend more on books than those who get low grades

For more detail on creating appropriate hypotheses check out my book Researching and Writing Dissertations (2009), Roy Horn, CIPD: London, pages 189:190.

Find a Supervisor So now you have an aim and some more precise statements it's time to find a supervisor and see if they think the research is doable. Some universities allow you to select your own supervisor and some just allocate them. Either way, you need to establish a quick and effective communication channel with your supervisor. The two main tasks with supervisors are reporting progress and asking questions. Tom’s Planner is a really easy and quick way to update your supervisor. If you share the link to your planning schedule on Tom’s Planner they can see how you are progressing. Then, just pop them an email with the link once a week. Hey, presto! That tricky little issue is solved.

Break the tasks into doable chunks The real key to taming the dissertation is to break all the tasks required into small doable chunks. That is good planning! If some of the tasks can be done by friends and family that is good management. There are some classic areas you just do not want to have to do yourself. Such as interview transcription, data entry, and proofing reading. Using Tom’s Planner you can schedule these tasks. Then you and they know what to do by when.

You will already have plenty of work to do with coursework and exams so don’t waste time doing boring and repetitive tasks that someone else can do. Don’t forget to have a look at my developing planning schedule to see how it is done:

In the next blog, I will look in detail at how to structure the dissertation proposal. Get a head start on your dissertation by using this template and start planning now! This schedule will save you lots of time and energy.

Roy Horn is an academic at Buckinghamshire New University in the UK and tutors dissertation students. He has written two books one on dissertations and one on skills.

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