What is an abstract?
The abstract is a brief summary of your dissertation to help a new reader understand the purpose and content of the document, in much the same way as you would read the abstract of a journal article to help decide whether it was relevant to your work. The function of the abstract is to describe and summarise the contents of the dissertation, rather than making critical or evaluative statements about the project.
When should I write the abstract?
The abstract should be the last section you write before submitting your final dissertation or extended project report, as the content will only be decided once the main document is complete.
What should I include?
One of the best ways to find the right ‘voice’ for the abstract is to look at other examples, either from dissertations in your field or study, or from journal articles. Look out for examples that you feel communicate complex ideas in a simple and accessible way. Your abstract should be clear and understandable to a non-specialist, so avoid specialist vocabulary as far as possible, and use simple sentence structures over longer more complex constructions. You can find a list of phrases for abstract writing here.
Most abstracts are written in the present tense, but this may differ in some disciplines, so find examples to inform your decision on how to write. Avoid the future tense - ‘this dissertation will consider’ - as the research has already been completed by the time someone is reading the abstract! You can explore some key phrases to use in abstract writing here.
Examples of dissertation abstracts
Dissertation abstracts, University of Leeds
Overview of what to include in your abstract, University of Wisconsin - Madison
Abstract structures from different disciplines, The Writing Center
For examples from Sheffield Hallam University, use the 'Advanced Search' function in Library Search to access ‘Dissertations/Theses’.
Although it is important to draft your research aims and objectives early in the research process, the introduction will be one of the last sections you write. When deciding on how much context and which definitions to include in this section, remember to look back at your literature review to avoid any repetition. It may be that you can repurpose some of the early paragraphs in the literature review for the introduction.
You only need one research aim, and this is likely to change as your dissertation develops through the literature review. Keep returning to your research aim and your aspirations for the project regularly to help shape this statement.
What are the research objectives? How are they different from research questions?
Research objectives and questions are the same thing – the only difference is how they are written! The objectives are the specific tasks that you will need to complete – the stepping stones – that will enable you to achieve your overall research aim.
You will usually have 3-5 research objectives, and their order will hep the reader to understand how you will progress through your research project from start to finish. If you can achieve each objective, or answer each research question, you should meet your research aim! It is therefore important to be specific in your choice of language: verbs, such as ‘to investigate’, ‘to explore’, ‘to assess’ etc. will help your research appear “do-able” (Farrell, 2011).
Here’s an example of three research objectives, also phrased as research questions (this depends entirely on your preference):
|Research objectives||Research questions|
|To provide an overview on how national identity and culture have emerged as a key feature of contemporary Olympic opening ceremonies.||How have representations of national identity and culture in Olympic opening ceremonies changed over time?|
|To analyse how national identity and Chinese culture were presented in the opening ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Olympics for both domestic and international audiences.||How were national identity and Chinese culture presented in the opening ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Olympics for both domestic and international audiences?|
|To assess how the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics impacted lasting public perceptions of Chinese culture and national identity||What long-term impacts did the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics have on public perceptions of Chinese culture and national identity?|
For more ideas on how to write research objectives, take at look at this list of common academic verbs for creating specific, achievable research tasks and questions.
What is the purpose of the methodology section?
The methodology outlines the procedure and process of your data collection. You should therefore provide enough detail so that a reader could replicate or adapt your methodology in their own research.
While the literature review focuses on the views and arguments of other authors, the methodology puts the spotlight on your project. Two of the key questions you should aim to answer in this section are:
The methodology chapter should also justify and explain your choice of methodology and methods. At every point where you faced a decision, ask: Why did choose this approach? Why not something else? Why was this theory/method/tool the most relevant or suitable for my project? How did this decision contribute to answering my research questions?
Although most students write their methodology before carrying out their data collection, the methodology section should be written in the past tense, as if the research has already been completed.
You may also need to include information on epistemology and your philosophical approach to research. You can find more information on this in our research planning guide.
What should I include in the methodology section?
Research paradigm: What is the underpinning philosophy of your research? How does this align with your research aim and objectives?
Methodology: Qualitative or quantitative? Mixed? What are the advantages of your chosen methodology, and why were the other options discounted?
Should I reflect on my position as a researcher?
If you feel your position as a researcher has influenced your choice of methods or procedure in any way, the methodology is a good place to reflect on this. Positionality acknowledges that no researcher is entirely objective: we are all, to some extent, influenced by prior learning, experiences, knowledge, and personal biases. This is particularly true in qualitative research or practice-based research, where the student is acting as a researcher in their own workplace, where they are otherwise considered a practitioner/professional.
The following questions can help you to reflect on your positionality and gauge whether this is an important section to include in your dissertation (for some people, this section isn’t necessary or relevant):
The purpose of this section is to report the findings of your study. In quantitative research, the results section usually functions as a statement of your findings without discussion.
Results sections generally begin with descriptive statistics before moving on to further tests such as multiple linear regression, or inferential statistical tests such as ANOVA, and any associated Post-Hoc testing.
Here are some top tips for planning/writing your results section:
Presenting qualitative data
In qualitative studies, your results are often presented alongside the discussion, as it is difficult to include this data in a meaningful way without explanation and interpretation. In the dsicussion section, aim to structure your work thematically, moving through the key concepts or ideas that have emerged from your qualitative data. Use extracts from your data collection - interviews, focus groups, observations - to illustrate where these themes are most prominent, and refer back to the sources from your literature review to help draw conclusions.
Here's an example of how your data could be presented in paragraph format in this section:
In analysing the interview data, two themes emerged which will be discussed in this section. These themes were: the complexity and challenges of working with families and the professional satisfaction and challenges of program planning for children in preschool or childcare.
Introduction to the key themes identified from the interviews.
For each of these graduates, their work with children was clearly the area of their professional lives that was bringing the most satisfaction, although there were some challenges identified. In the interviews, the data reveal that they were all seeking ways to improve their pedagogy and achieving success in different ways…
Summary of theme A identified from the data.
Angela suggested that in her second year of teaching she had changed in that she was programming in a "more child oriented" way. She discussed this change:
One of the things I've changed is this idea of herding children through the Kinder day: they go from indoor play to snack time to the mat and so on. How I do it now is that I have a lot of different things happening at once. I'll have a small group on the mat and there might be some children sitting down and having a snack and there's still some children in home corner playing.
Specific example from your interviews to support this theme, embedded as a direct quotation.
These comments seem to provide evidence that Angela is growing professionally for two reasons. First, the ability to identify changes in her program suggests to me that she has deeper pedagogical knowledge gained through critical reflection on her practice, and second, there is congruence between her expressed beliefs and the practice she describes… This is supported by…(Source A; Source B).
Discussion/ interpretation of the findings, what they suggest, and what conclusions you can draw. Refer back to texts from the literature review that support your conclusions.
Example from 'Reporting and discussing your findings', Monash University.
What should I include in the discussion section?
The purpose of the discussion section is to interpret your findings and discuss these against the context of the wider literature. This section should also highlight how your research has contributed to the understanding of a phenomenon or problem: this can be achieved by responding to your research questions.
Though the structure of discussion sections can vary, a relatively common structure is offered below:
Here are some final top tips for writing your discussion section:
How do I avoid repetition in the conclusion?
The conclusion is your opportunity to synthesise everything you have done/written as part of your research, in order to demonstrate your understanding.
A well-structured conclusion is likely to include the following:
Ultimately, your conclusion is your final word about the research problem you have investigated; don’t be afraid of emphasising your contribution to the understanding of that problem. Your conclusion should be clear, succinct and provide a summary of everything that has been learned as a result of your research project.
What supervisors expect from their dissertation students:
What you can expect from your supervisor:
Making the most of your supervision meetings
Meeting your supervisor can feel daunting at first but your supervision meetings offer a great opportunity to discuss your research ideas and get feedback on the direction of your project. Here are our top tips to getting the most out of time with your supervisor: