This module handbook contains information and advice in relation to the dissertation which you are required to undertake as a core part of your course (Module ACSS614). The dissertation is a double module worth 30 credits and as such it represents a quarter of the Level 6 credits you need to complete your course.
The handbook will provide you with essential information about what you need to do to satisfy the assessment requirements for the module, and it also provides guidance on how to approach the dissertation. It attempts to offer a route map through the completion of a dissertation, and establish the layout, structure and framework of the dissertation. However, you should not rely on the module handbook as the sole source of information for the dissertation. You will need to acquire one or more of the recommended text books to obtain more detailed guidance.
The validated module description for this module states that the aim of the dissertation module is "To allow students to undertake a substantial independent research project within the area of construction studies on a subject of their choice. The module will allow students to demonstrate the key skills of detailed independent research working with primary and secondary sources and to achieve standards of coherence, consistency and presentation demanded in professional report writing."
The validated module description for this module states that at the end of the module the student, with minimal guidance and a significant degree of autonomy, should be able to:
- Select a subject area suitable for exhaustive and in-depth analytical study.
- Formulate research goals in the form of an aim, objectives and key questions.
- Develop a research design and methodology appropriate to the research goals.
- Manage the process of independent research.
- Synthesise information from a variety of sources and analyse the results.
- Draw conclusions which are supported by evidence from the research, and are linked to the research goals.
- Report the findings of the research effectively in good written English.
Overview of the module
The dissertation is likely to be the most challenging piece of work which students undertake in their course, yet if it is approached in the right way it can also be the most rewarding. It provides an opportunity for students to undertake a theoretically informed and rigorously researched investigation of a topic within their subject area. It represents a significant piece of self-directed research in which students are expected to demonstrate their ability to perceive, analyse and comprehend a relevant issue in order to reach informed and well supported conclusions to the arguments advanced.
In most other modules on your course the assessed work relates directly to the content of the module and the coursework brief is provided to students. The dissertation is different - it is a major piece of self-directed research. Responsibility for undertaking the work for the dissertation lies with the student. Indeed a major aspect of the learning which takes place involves the development by students of skills in self-management, independent learning and research. The module will equip students with the basic skills and knowledge to embark on this process, including the learning skills and research methodologies appropriate to undertake research.
Part 2: Assessment Requirements
The first formal requirement of the module is for students to submit an outline proposal. The purpose of the outline proposal is simply to identify the broad topic area in which you are intending to carry out research. The areas which should be covered by the outline proposal are as follows:
What is the issue or problem which will provide the basis for your dissertation?
Why have you chosen the topic?
How does the topic relate to your course?
What do you think will be gained by undertaking the research, in terms of the benefits gained or the contribution your findings might make?
How do you anticipate the research will be carried out?
What will your main data sources be?
What are the likely difficulties or challenges?
Do you have any preferences for supervisor?
The interim submission represents the most important ‘staging post' in the dissertation process. It will provide an opportunity for you to receive detailed feedback on your progress and further guidance on what you need to do to complete the dissertation.
The interim submission is a formal submission which will be assessed in accordance with the criteria outlined below. The mark allocated for your interim submission will have a weighting of 10% of the overall module mark. You must not view the interim submission as being work which is separate to the requirements of the dissertation itself. Provided your interim submission is appropriate, then it will be perfectly acceptable to include much of the content of your interim submission in your final submission.
The interim submission will be expected to be up to 4000 words in length (though this is just a guideline) and should incorporate the following elements:
A clear title for your dissertation
A rationale for the selection of the topic
Your research goals, expressed in terms of:
A literature review (i.e. a first draft of the literature review which you expect to include in your final submission)
An outline of your proposed research methodology, explaining the design and anticipated approach to your primary data collection.
A comprehensive list of references
A proposed chapter structure
A timetable for the remaining work required to complete your dissertation.
The interim submission will be assessed in accordance with the following assessment criteria:
|Topic selection and research goals
|| Topic selection. Definition of research goals. Scope of the topic.
Level and range of sources. Extent of critical appraisal. Line of
Research design and methodology
Selection and justification of appropriate methodology. Linkage between the methodology and the research goals.
Referencing system. List of references.
Structure, style and presentation
Communication. Standard of English. Spelling & grammar. Structure and style. Clarity. Layout. Presentation.
Proposed chapter structure
Appropriate structure and layout
Timetable for remaining work
Evidence of forethought for the remaining work to complete the dissertation? Evidence of planning, with key milestones identified?
Part 3: Guidance
This module is supported by a Blackboard site which can be accessed from within and outside the University. Blackboard is a virtual learning environment (VLE) and is designed specifically to support learning. You can navigate to Blackboard after you sign in at the University's homepage.
In order to use Blackboard you must be registered for this module. You will be denied access to it if your module registration is incomplete for any reason. It is your responsibility to ensure that you are fully registered for this module.
Blackboard is a learning support mechanism. It will be an important means of communication and will typically be used for:
Announcements and notices relevant to the module
Providing digital copies of module material, including the module handbook
Links to resources which will be relevant for this module
Email communication between tutors and students
Extensive help facilities on the use of Blackboard can be accessed directly from within the Blackboard environment.
Emails sent to you via Blackboard will automatically be sent to the email account set up for you by the University. If you would prefer to receive email correspondence at a different email address then you can set up "automatic forwarding"
The overall process
Most students taking this module will have no experience of undertaking a substantial research project previously. The dissertation, more than any other module on your course, provides an opportunity for you to develop skills such as analysis, evaluation and synthesis.
Often the dissertation is viewed primarily as an academic exercise. It is certainly the case that you are required to comply with various academic procedures and conventions, but just for a moment consider the activities that you undertake in connection with your dissertation. In effect, you have to identify a problem, investigate it in detail, work out how you can find out more about the problem, design a method of finding out the information, implement the method, analyse the resultant information and reach conclusions to enable you to better understand the problem. Such skills are highly transferable in industry and the professions and are valued by employers.
It is therefore important to view the dissertation process in context. The purpose of the dissertation is not for you to become an expert in your chosen topic, though that may well be a by-product of the exercise. The primary purpose of the dissertation is for you to develop the ability to investigate something systematically, to be able to rigorously analyse and critically evaluate information from a wide range of sources, and to design methods of data retrieval which will be appropriate and will enable you to find solutions to problems.
Peter Levin1 suggests that producing a dissertation involves two parallel activities, both of which need to be given adequate attention. Firstly he suggests that it is necessary to undertake a project. In other words it is necessary to carry out the work involved in conducting the research. Secondly, it is necessary to write up your dissertation to present your findings. Levin argues that if we view the process as a single task (i.e. either undertaking the project orwriting up the dissertation) then it is very easy to lose sight of the importance of the other task. Furthermore, we need to recognise that the two tasks are not entirely sequential. It is much more likely that both aspects will develop together so there will periods of undertaking research, then writing up, which in turn will highlight the need for more research to be done, and so on. As you work your way through the dissertation process you will tend (quite understandably) to concentrate on one particular aspect of the process at a time e.g. literature review, research design, data collection etc. Nevertheless, it is important that you retain a clear view of how each part of the process fits into the ‘whole'. With this in mind, the following list sets out the main activities and considerations involved in the overall process of the dissertation. The list has been adapted looselyfrom a flow chart in a book by Nicholas Walliman2:
Review your subject area and identify a broad topic
Investigate the topic in detail (by reading and talking to people) and focus on a specific aspect or problem. Consider how primary data in relation to the topic might be obtained (i.e. research methodology)
Define your research goals
Write an outline proposal and gain approval to proceed
Carry out a comprehensive review of the literature associated with the topic
Refine your research goals as necessary
Consider research plan in more detail
Write up interim submission, incorporating first draft of literature review and outline of research methodology
Obtain feedback on interim submission and act on it, including any necessary adjustments to literature review and research methodology
Finalise research methods for primary data acquisition
Carry out primary research
Analyse the data you have acquired
Write up findings and draw conclusions
Produce draft dissertation document
Proof read, edit and adjust as necessary
Produce final dissertation document
It should be pointed out that, whilst the list of activities appears to be sequential, this will not necessarily be the case in practice. Many of the activities will overlap with each other or even run in parallel with each other. Furthermore, there will inevitably be some ‘looping' backwards as earlier work has to be refined and adjusted to suit circumstances.