Organizing your Dissertation (MSc Psychology)

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General Information

Your dissertation will normally include the following sections, in the order listed. Please consult with your supervisor regarding which sections could be excluded from your specific dissertation.

  1. Title/Cover page
  2. Acknowledgements
  3. Abstract*
  4. Contents page
  5. List of tables
  6. List of figures
  7. List of abbreviations
  8. The introduction*
  9. Method section*
  10. Results section*
  11. Discussion and conclusions section*
  12. Reference list
  13. Appendices

*=Included in word count

Word limit

The maximum word limit allowed is 10000 words if it involves a quantitative methodology or is a systematic review.

The maximum word limit is 10000-12000 words if it involves a qualitative or mixed methodology (to allow space for interview quotes).

The word limit includes the abstract, but excludes:

  1. The acknowledgements;
  2. The list of contents;
  3. The list of tables;
  4. The list of figures;
  5. The list of abbreviations;
  6. The reference list; and,
  7. The appendices.
    All dissertations are different: please be guided by your supervisor on the requirements (both content and structure) for your specific dissertation.
  1. Title/Cover page
    The dissertation must include a Title/Cover page with the following information:
    The title of the dissertation, the candidate’s full name, year and the degree for which it is submitted.
    [Insert title here]
    Submitted to BPP University in Part Completion for the Award of
    By ……………………..
  2. Acknowledgements
    Use this section to thank the people who have contributed to the conduct and writing of your dissertation.
  3. Abstract
    The abstract provides a brief summary of your dissertation and can be no more than 300 words. Your abstract can be structured (i.e., with sub-headings), in which case it should contain the following sections:
    Purpose: a brief overview of the background and rationale for your study;
    Methods: the methods used in the research;
    Results: your main or key findings;
    Conclusion(s): a brief discussion of what these findings mean and your overall conclusion.
  1. Table of contents
    List all of the sections of your dissertation together with the page number. All pages should be numbered stating with the Title page as page 1.
  2. List of tables
    List the title of all tables in the dissertation with the corresponding page number.
  3. List of figures
    List the title of all figures in the dissertation with the corresponding page number.
  4. List of abbreviations
    List any abbreviations included in your dissertation here, together with what each abbreviation stands for. Compile this list in alphabetical order. This list can be either placed after the tables of contents, tables, and figures or after the reference list: this is down to personal preference. Remember that when using abbreviations, they should be written in full on the first occasion they are used in the dissertation. For example: “….according to the Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB)…”.
  5. Introduction
    This is the first substantial section and sets out the problem under consideration, discusses any relevant theories, and presents a thorough analysis and evaluation of the research evidence-base.
    As with essays, the introduction needs an introductory section which essentially sets the scene for the dissertation that follows and the research conducted. It sets out the nature of the problem or issue under consideration. It helps to orientate the reader to the dissertation and provides then with a “road map” for what follows.
    The main body of the introduction will then go on to present an in-depth review of the relevant theoretical framework for your dissertation together with a thorough synthesis and evaluation of the empirical literature (e.g., the evidence-base underpinning your own research). You should demonstrate that you have critical understanding of this literature,

that this understanding is based on current understanding and knowledge, where the gaps in our knowledge and understanding are, and how your dissertation is addressing these issues. It may also, depending on the research question and/or the methods you are using, present an analysis of methods that have been employed and a justification for your choice of methodology.

The introduction would usually conclude with a paragraph or two outlining the rationale for your own study (which should be very clear after reading the literature review), and detailing the specific aims/research questions/hypotheses that will be addressed in your own research.

9 Methods
The method section should provide a detailed account of how the research was conducted. The overarching aim of the method section is to provide sufficient information that other researchers could replicate your study. The method section should be organised under sub-headings, although the exact nature of these will depend on the methodology of your study. The headings typically used are:

 Design: A brief section of typically one or two sentences which orientates the reader to precise nature of the study. For example, it is a cross-sectional questionnaire study, a study using semi-structured interviews and qualitative data analysis, a quasi-experimental study using a pre- and post-design with no control group, an experimental study with two independent variables (and how many levels per variable) with randomisation to condition.

 Participants: a section detailing which group(s) of people were approached for the study and who participated. You would include and inclusion and exclusion criteria here and information on how many out of those approached decided to participate (the uptake rate) if you have this information.

 Materials and/or apparatus: Describe any materials used in the study and how these were selected here. Materials could refer to stimulus materials used in a focus group or the content of any experimental manipulations. You would probably information about these in an appendix and signpost the fact here. If you are using specific pieces of kit or apparatus also describe this here and any decision made in how this was used.

 Measures: Describe all of your measures here, which might include both independent and dependent variables. You will also want to include information on why these specific measures were chosen, such as information about reliability and validity of the measures, suitability for specific populations, etc. If you have developed specific measures of your own for your research say how and why here. If you are conducting qualitative research you will want to say how the interview schedule or topic guide were developed. You may want to include the measures used in an appendix, so signpost this here.

Procedure: Again this should be a detailed account of your specific study that would allow replication by others. Include information about the ethical issues raised by the study and how these were addressed together with the ethical approval of the study (appendices will usually include a copy of participant information sheets, consent forms, any debrief materials). If a pilot study was conducted include the information here (or alternatively in a separate section just about the pilot study). If you had to deviate from your original protocol (for example, approaching participants in a different way because of recruitment issues) then also provide this information.

 Data analysis: not all method sections contain a data analysis section, but it can be helpful in both providing another “road map” for the reader on what will follow in the results section and also giving you an opportunity to say how you dealt with data issues that you came across during screening and analysis. For example, you could detail any data screening issues here and how this influenced the choice of analytic strategy (i.e. data not being normally distributed). If you are conducting qualitative research you would usually include a section on data analysis, stating which analytic technique was used and why it was appropriate and the process of transforming the raw data into what appears in the results section. Again, good use of appendices can help here to provide information on data analysis issues which are not included in the word count (such as SPSS output or coding on interview transcripts).

10 Results
The results section should be logically structured and coherent. It is the section where readers are most likely to get lost in the details and it is your job to try and prevent this.

Having a data analysis section in your method section can be helpful in this respect. In addition you can use sub-headings in your results section to help structure it. For quantitative research, don’t forget to include descriptive data that can be helpful in terms of interpreting the results of inferential statistics rather than diving straight into the inferential statistics. Make good use of tables and figures in order to explain data and do not copy and paste these from SPSS output. For qualitative studies, make sure you have a good balance between description, illustration of data (usually through quotation) and your interpretations. It is usually best, for both quantitative and qualitative research, to resist the temptation to discuss findings in the results section: this is best left for the discussion section.

11 Discussion
In the discussion you would usually want to restate the aim of the research you conducted and then present a summary of the main findings. You would then go onto discuss these findings in the context of previous literature (usually that which was contained in the introduction to the dissetation) and any theoretical and/or methodological issues. You

should demonstrate an ability to think about your own research critically. This does not mean stating all the problems with the research that you conducted, but is rather a consideration of both the strengths and weaknesses of your research. You will probably want to consider how future research could be conducted to take forward the findings of your dissertation or address the methodological issues you have identified. The discussion section is an opportunity to think about the “big picture” and your own research in within this context. Therefore, depending on the nature of the enquiry you may want to consider the implications of your findings for policy or practice. You would usually finish the discussion section with your concluding comments: a summing up of the research conducted and what it means: the issues raised above concerning further research and implications for policy and/or practice would typically be included in your concluding comments.

12 References
The reference list should match all of your in-text citations (don’t forget any citations in the method section) and should be in APA style.

13 Appendices
Appendices are optional, but it would be unusual not to have any with the majority of dissertations. Ethics approval information and supporting documents would usually be included and any materials used in the study (questionnaires, interview schedules, experimental materials, an illustrative interview transcript and/or table of themes). In addition, you can include both quantitative and qualitative data here that is informative but which would otherwise interrupt the flow of the dissertation.


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