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The work book has been produced to reinforce and add to the material discussed in class.  It covers the keys areas you need to have knowledge of to prepare for and undertake research that will lead to the successful completion of your dissertation.


The work book has been written to encourage you to think about the nature of research and how your own ideas can be developed.  You will find that at the end of many of the sections there are tasks to complete. These will help you to understand your own learning needs as well as improve your research ideas.




The aim of this workbook is:


1)      To prepare you for a research study


2)      To expose you to different types of research methodologies and specific data collection and analytical techniques


3)      To enable you to make informed decisions about how to progress your study.

Topic One Outline:

Introduction to the dissertation.


1.      Introduction: objectives of topic one

2.      What is a dissertation

3.      Getting started

4.      Your role in “doing the study”

5.      Your supervisors role in helping you through the process

6.      Reading list





The learning objectives of the topic are:


1)      To give you a realistic insight into the processes involved in planning, managing and completing a large-scale research project.


2)      To provide a framework to help you plan your dissertation.


3)      To enable you to start the process.



What is a dissertation

According to the Oxford Dictionary a dissertation is:

“A detailed (1) discourse on a subject, one submitted in partial fulfilment of a degree” (Discourse – to speak or write learnedly or at length on a subject)


This definition provides two insights:


Firstly, that a dissertation is a body of work with a purpose.  The purpose for you is to create a document that can be examined and assessed to be master’s degree level.


Secondly, that a dissertation is a collection of arguments which build a case to satisfy a set of objectives or to verify a hypothesis. This is based on the systematic collection and interpretation of researched material. 




2.0 The idea

The first challenge is to identify the area in which you want to conduct a study.  This may in itself be a complex activity.  It is hard without a good understanding of a topic to decide which particular area you want to focus on, and how you will research it. The starting point in this process is simply identifying a broad area to study.  Students gain ideas for their research in four main ways:


1)      You have identified an area of Management / Leadership that you find interesting and wish to explore more widely.


2)      You have conducted a study in the past and found there were questions that remained unanswered and want to explore these issues more deeply.


3)      You wish to gain specific knowledge about a Management / Leadership issue that will help you gain a job related to that area.


4)      You are asked to conduct a study in a particular area because of the wishes of your sponsor.


2.1. What if you don’t have an idea?


It is very hard to pull an idea for a research topic out of thin air that will fulfil all the requirements of a Masters Dissertation.  This problem is relatively common and is due to inexperience, having only partial knowledge about aspects of management / leadership, or not being able to choose the area you want to study.  Ultimately the choice of topic has to be your decision and yours alone.  There are a few ways to help you identify a topic. 


Blaxter et al (2006) identified ten strategies to help you think of a research topic.


a)      Take advice from your supervisor, manager, friends, colleagues, learning set members, customers, clients or parent, partner etc.

b)      Look at previous research work.

c)      Develop some of your previous research, or your practice at work.

d)     Relate it to your other interests.

e)      Think of a title.

f)       Start from a quote that engages you.

g)      Follow your hunches.

h)      Draw yourself a picture or a diagram.

i)        Just start anywhere.

j)        But be prepared to change direction.


Activity One


Before you look at the format of a dissertation, take some time to reflect on the area you want to conduct the study in.  Use the following list to help you form your ideas.  As you work through the rest of this section review your ideas and amend them as you go along.



Try to answer each of the following questions


a)      What is the general area that you are interested in?




b)     What parts of management / leadership theory are relevant to this general area?



c)      What title will you give to this study?



d) Who do you think will be targeted to answer your questions (sample group)?



d)     Can you foresee any problems that would make this study hard to complete (Time, finance, language….)


2.2 The stages of the study


Wherever the idea for your study comes from you will still follow a similar process of refinement and of putting building blocks together to complete a dissertation.  There are considered to be eight steps in this process:


Step One:    Defining the subject and purpose of the study.

This is the first stage in any research study.  It is where you actually decide what it is you are going to investigate, why you are going to investigate it, and gain an idea of how you will tackle the project. In essence the task you are faced with is one of gaining clarity about the subject matter that you want to study.  This ultimately has to come from a position of knowledge.  To gain knowledge about a topic will involve undertaking some research.   This may be reading books and journal articles related to the subject, talking to industry experts, and discussing ideas with your supervisor. Once you have clarity about what you want to research you need to identify the purpose of the study.


Underpinning the purpose of the study is that you are going to write up a research into a body of work that can be examined as an MA in Leadership and Management dissertation.  The purpose of the study can be defined in a number of ways:


1)      To find something out that has not been researched before or which is a new phenomena.

2)      To test an assumption.

3)      To explore the links between a number of variables to identify how they influence each other.


By going through the process of identifying both the area of your study and what the overall purpose of it is, you should be able to create specific objectives or hypothesis.  These are statements that say exactly what your study is about and what is the overall purpose of conducting it. Hypothesis and objectives are discussed in topic four.


Step Two:    Studying the literature.  

There is a vast pool of knowledge available on most subjects.  This knowledge is distilled into academic journals, texts books, general books, newspapers, commercial reports and increasingly, electronically stored material and the Internet.  The use of a wide selection of this type of material is vital to progressing your study.  The literature will help you formulate ideas, identify aspects of the study that would not have occurred to you, to see what others have done and how they have done it.  Using literature as a foundation to your study is also important.   It will prove that you have researched the topic in-depth, considered a different set of arguments, and proved the worthiness of the study you are undertaking.  To gain the benefits you will need to understand sources of literatures, the benefits of different types of literature, and how to record the data when you have read and thought about it. Finally you will need to understand how to use the literature in your dissertation to tell the story of the reasons for the research so that those who read your work can follow your thoughts.  To gain these benefits you need to learn literature management skills; these are dealt with in topic two.


Step three:   Planning the methods of investigation.

Planning the methods of investigation is concerned with operationalising your study.  So far you should have developed good objectives or a hypothesis, and from this you will identify how you are going to get the answer to the questions you have posed.  Methods of investigation include the following. Selecting whom should be targeted as the individuals or organisations most likely to answer the needs of the study and gaining their contact details. Selecting the best data collection techniques - designing questionnaires; preparing the interview topic guide. Identifying the appropriate sequence for data collection (for example conducting interviews and using a questionnaire to verify findings.  Finally identifying the most appropriate techniques to analyse and present your findings.



Step four:       Testing the proposed methodology by carrying out pilot studies or by means of rigorous examination.

                        This is a vital stage in the development of a study.  It is where your assumptions about the proposed methodology are tested to ensure that they hold up when exposed to the realties of the real world.  This includes; evaluating that you have the correct sample group as respondents; ensuring the data collection tools work in the way you have planned by exposing them to the sample; and evaluating whether your analysis techniques are sufficiently robust.  It is also about identifying if the time-scale you have planned is realistic, whether you will gain access to the sample and whether you have got the basic premise of the study correct.  This is the last stage that you can safely amend your methodology before you collect all of your data.


Step Five:    Collecting data.

Data collection is the implementation stage of the study where you either conduct interviews, or dispatch a questionnaire.  This is a difficult and often fraught part of the study.  You have so far been able to conduct your research without having to rely too much on other people.  Now you are totally reliant on those whom you have targeted to be part of the study.  You may find that times and dates of meeting have to be re-scheduled by weeks or months, that the total number of completed questionnaires is too few for effective analysis, that responses to your questionnaires are not what you expected.  In addition the time scales you have planned for this activity may well be hard to stick to.  Time slippage during this stage could well increase the overall time scales for the study. 



Step Six:      Analysing the data.

Once you have collected the data you will need to set aside time to analyse it.  For qualitatively generated data (week five) you will need to identify how long it will take you to transcribe your interviews into text, and the time it will take to break the text down into meaningful chunks that give you insight.  Finally, you will need to consider how the data can then be used to fulfil the objectives of the study.  With quantitative data you have similar issues to deal with, you will need to code and input data into an analysis package), identify the type of analysis that is appropriate to the type of variables, and make sense of the analysis.  Ultimately the challenge at this stage of the study is to find meaning and understanding in what you have found.  This has to be translated into discussion based on fact that can be read and understood by others


Step Seven: Drawing conclusions from the data.

By the time you have completed all the various stages of the study in terms of collecting secondary and primary data and looking for meaning you should be in a position to draw conclusions.  Conclusions should relate strongly to the body of work you have completed.  They should relate in a very transparent way to the objectives that have guided you in your choice of secondary research, selecting a methodology, collecting the data and analysing it.  Conclusions are more than a summary.  The role of conclusions is to say what you have really found out, the key findings linked to wider issues that can be built on at a later date.



Step Eight:  Writing the study up into a dissertation format.

Completing the dissertation is the overall objective and tangible outcome of the study.  To succeed you must translate all the different types of information that you have collected into coherent discussion in a format that can be examined.  The rules concerning the format of your thesis are addressed in the module handbook.

2.3 Format of the dissertation.

The dissertation is a very specific type of document.  Its purpose is to be examined by at least two academics that will, based on the quality of the work, decide if it merits being passed at Masters level.  The guidelines followed by the examiners are relatively simple.  They look for the following:


1)      How well the research problem has been formulated, hypothesis generated or objectives set.


2)      Familiarity with relevant literature, critical evaluation of the contribution of the literature to the study, and the use of it to support the objectives of the study.


3)      How a methodology has been developed and used.  This includes an understanding of theory generation, selection of data collection and analytical techniques, how the study has been managed, and limitations of the method.


4)      Within the findings the examiners are looking for clarity in interpretation of the basic findings, and a wider discussion of the meaning of those findings in relation to the issues identified from the literature and the original parameters imposed at the outset of the study.


5)      Whether the dissertation has conclusions that relate to the objectives of the study, the literature and the primary data.


6)      How well the dissertation is written up, quality of presentation, the use of English, the ease of reading etc.


7)      Finally, you have demonstrated maturity by being able to identify the weaknesses or limitations in your study.



From an examiner’s perspective, most of the above points are considered at two levels. The first is whether they exist and how well they have been dealt with.  Second, how they combine to make up the dissertation.  It is one thing to be able to name all the different elements of a dissertation, but another to understand how they combine to create a quality end product.   This means that you have a role to play in assessing the quality of your own work. 











2.4 How the parts of a thesis relate to each other

The diagram outlines how the various stages of the dissertation relate to each other.  Take some time to explore the model.  Each stage is described on the following page.




Research methodology (proposal)