The length of your dissertation and how many credits the overall project is worth will depend on the university and course that you are studying. In fact, some dissertation modules will only require you to examine existing literature that has been published on the respective topic.
If you are an undergraduate student carrying out your final year dissertation, then this is likely your first experience designing a set of questions for a focus group or even conducting any research for that matter.
You might find it to be meticulous at times but you will learn a valuable skill which you will continue to develop throughout your career.
This is a skill which will be used in a multitude of professions, as organisations continue to integrate data and research into their operations. Many companies in the contemporary economy employ independent primary research or employ the expertise of an external consultant. So rest assured that your research skills will be in demand!
You will also learn to be selective with your research and to ask a question in way which stimulates discussion. This means that your audience can express opinions. You can also incorporate pauses or probes in order to encourage responses, this will result in the extraction of higher quality data.
Luckily for you, the dissertation module is usually weighted 20 credits, meaning that attaining a first class hons in the module would be like attaining the same grade four times over in any of your other modules. This is because of how the modules are weighted in the university grading process. So all of your hard work will be rewarded!
You can review the research of past students at your university, any reply that their supervisor might have left them on the project and see how they went about writing up their literature review and data on the topic. This review of their work will help you to get a better grade in your own dissertation and overall university average at the end of the year!
In this article, I will look at some skills and methods and tips that you can employ within your research so that you can maximise the overall grade that you achieve in your dissertation research project at university.
Take a look at how you can conduct your own research at university.
Deciding to Complete a Dissertation at Uni
By deciding to carry out a dissertation as part of your final year research, you will pick up some particularly valuable research skills. Although these skills might seem simple they will save you a great deal of time in your practicum and future assignments.
You will learn how to effectively navigate the college library data base and other research indexes and how to refine your searches such that you are presented with the most suitable and credible sources on my respective topic.
This is particularly useful as you might have occasionally included sources which were deemed by lecturers to be sub-optimal on occasion, as you didn’t put the necessary practice into refining and selecting published literature.
If you are like me then you often would use a simple google scholar search for journals, giving little thought as to who published the work, how credible the findings were, how the research was conducted, what metrics or measures were used or what was the angle for the research in the first place.
As I mentioned, however simple, this will be one of your more valued learnings firstly because of its practicality, but also because it can really lead to you understanding the role of critical thinking within research.
Applying critical thinking to your research practice has taught me to investigate the potential presence of a perceived bias in my research papers, this is a crucial step for research which I had neglected prior to the activity and will subsequently strengthen the validity of your work going forward.
You will notice that the higher quality journals and research from accredited publishers are more coherent and engaging to read which has had some impact on your enjoyment of research.
You can attribute this to the elimination of the tedious process of scanning countless journals that, let’s face it often leave you with more questions than answers. It’s important that you hold your sources to as high of a standard as your work.
If you are interested in learning more about applied research projects then click here to read more.
Handling your dissertation primary research
If you decide to conduct your own focus groups or mini groups within your qualitative research you should focus on being an effective moderator to ensure that the session runs smoothly.
Being an effective and inclusive moderator has more of an influence than you might have considered prior to your research.
An effective moderator must handle focus groups by constantly checking behaviours against attitudes, challenging and drawing out respondents with opposite views to further discuss their points whilst looking for the emotional component of these responses.
This brings up, the role of critical thinking within the research process. It is important for you, the researcher to think critically and objectively about the respective research method and what exactly it is that you are trying to extract from their proposed questions.
Your undergraduate dissertation is likely the first piece of research that you have conducted at university. While you might study a broad subject, you need to find a topic that you are interested in writing about. You will need to make a refined research question that you will study existing literature on and begin collecting your own data.
You will need to conduct your own literature review. This will give you an idea of the data that you will need, the work that is already out there on the topic and will help you to focus on relevant research that aligns with your respective subject.
You will develop a lot of key skills in your dissertation literature review, such as learning to read data, academic writing, review a topic and reply to potential limitations in your work.
If you are interested in learning what is expected at masters level click here!
Choosing to Conduct Focus Groups
Focus groups are a qualitative method that enables researchers to extract feedback, opinions and behaviours towards the respective topic. Historically this research method has been considered to be very effective as it allows for the collection of information from a multitude of participants at the same time.
This is a suitable method for analysing the behaviours of a specified demographic. The nature of the research will ultimately dictate how many participants will be in the focus group, some projects requiring a more extensive library of insights. Often one person will facilitate the group agenda, with another transcribing the findings of the focus group.
Though for your applied research project you might also be able to do this alone because of the recording functionality on the Zoom platform. This means that you can play back over the session and listen to the responses so no input from the participants is omitted from your research findings.
If you do decide to go with the online option when completing your undergraduate dissertation, then it is important to ‘break the ice’ or stimulate conversation in a relaxed environment.
The participants must feel comfortable if you are to fully engage with them and extract quality findings. An informal conversational approach can sometimes help the participant convey their perceptions and opinions more concisely.
It may also serve to mitigate the chances of the focus group having dysfunctional participants, which is often expressed to be one of the primary disadvantages of the research method.
Click here to learn more about research skills and methods.
Getting Help from your Dissertation Supervisor
During your dissertation research and literature review, when you are writing up the project, collecting data and putting together the final academic review, you will need to spend time getting help from your supervisor. Your supervisor is the most important resource when you are completing the project.
If you write to your supervisor about your data, research skills, study, the topic, or anything about the project they will be able to reply in just a few days. This will help you to save time with your project and improve your research skills as well as the quality of data that you gather on the topic.
Your dissertation supervisor will also help you to review your work and show you where you can improve your writing and focus the rest of your study on the topic. This is a great help for your dissertation research project and will improve your work considerably. Their help and academic review will make your project a lot stronger and easier to read.
Don’t hesitate about reaching out for help from your dissertation supervisor, they will help you to develop valuable skills that you will need if you are going to study other research modules at university. Take their review into account when you are collecting your own data on your project.
Getting help with your writing is something that you can do before entering university and it can really make a difference in your skills and the work that you hand up during your first year of study.
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