Notes on dissertation outlines

Notes on dissertation outlines
Indicative project title
The important thing to remember here is that this is purely an indicative title. It is likely to be very similar to your project aim. It is very easy to fall into the trap of spending a disproportionate amount of time trying to come up with the ‘best’ title – try to avoid this!
Main academic area(s)/sub-area(s)
Try not to cover too many areas here – the idea is to make sure you have an academic starting place (and also so that we can allocate you a supervisor within that area). Don’t worry about your focus being too narrow – this is a common worry for students, but it is very unlikely that your idea is too focussed.
Think too about modules you have studied which might be relevant to your project idea. Where do they sit? Remember that if you are on a specialist route, the academic area will need to be within your specialism.
Context and rationale
The basic question here is – why?
Your rationale is your reasoning behind why you have chosen this topic. Is there a need, or a gap somewhere which your study might help to address? Who might find use for such a study? Try to identify a problem, issue or opportunity that you can focus on.
Don’t fall into the trap of solving a work problem here – your idea might have been prompted by something you are doing at work, but keep your focus academic (see FAQs for more detail).
Another trap which has become more common recently is the idea of studying the effect of something which hasn’t yet happened. In Europe, for example, a lot of people are interested in the effects of Brexit on businesses, but since Brexit has not yet happened at the time of writing, data collection would be challenging!
Aim and objectives
Make sure you have one aim, not several aims. You only have one project, after all. Your aim should not be a whole paragraph long. Imagine that you are speaking to a friend and they ask you what your dissertation is about – you can answer them in a sentence or two, and that is all you need here.
You will also need 3-4 objectives – the overall steps you will take in order to complete your project. See unit 1.5 for exactly what each objective should cover (in terms of theory, data etc.) – the most frequent feedback I give on objectives is that they should follow what is set out in this unit. You do not need to give extreme amounts of detail here – that’s what your methods section will cover in your proposal and dissertation.
Indicative research approach
It is quite possible that you don’t know exactly how you will collect your data yet, and that’s okay. Read a few studies in similar areas and see what other researchers have done. Might that work for you? Try to let your methods be driven by your aim, not the other way around – don’t say ‘I want to do a questionnaire’ and then try and reverse-design a topic around that, because it is much more difficult to do.
In general for this section, you should ask yourself 3 questions:
-What sort of information might I need to collect in order to address my project aim?
-Where will I get the information from (or from whom)?
-What might I need to do with it once I have it (i.e. how will it help me)?
Your supervisor will be able to give you more advice on this section later on.
Potential ethical issues
Again, you might not have too much detail in this section yet, but it is important to start thinking about any potential ethical issues at an early stage. If you intend to collect data from any vulnerable groups (e.g. children or the elderly), you will need to complete extra ethics checks. If you foresee other potential ethical issues, it would help to think about how you might address them.
If any of your data collection involves speaking to people, you will need to think about things like consent, anonymity and data storage. This section is specifically about your project and the data you will collect and use, so don’t worry too much about broader ethical/philosophical issues here.
References
We know that you have only just started reading, and you will not yet know the ‘most important’ references that you will use, but try to give some examples of where you will start. Do a library search within your chosen topic area and see what comes up. What might be both relevant and valuable? Give the whole reference, in APA6th format – you might as well get used to using it!
Frequently Asked Questions:
How do I know I am on the right path?
Once you submit your outline and are allocated a supervisor, they will give you feedback on your ideas. It is perfectly okay to make adjustments afterwards. Remember that the outline is not graded!
What if I change my mind about something after I have submitted the outline?
We fully expect that as you read more and your ideas develop, you will make some changes to your proposed research. This is not a problem. We do not recommend that you make fundamental changes to your topic area, as you will have been allocated a supervisor with expertise in that area. Remember that if you are enrolled on a specialist route, your dissertation topic must be within that area of specialism. If you’re worried about making changes, talk with your supervisor about it.
I want to collect data from the company I work for but I don’t want to mention them by name – is that okay?
That’s fine – you do not need to mention a company by name if you don’t want to (or indeed if they don’t want you to name them) – you can refer to it as company X, for example.
The company I work for wants me to start a particular project to solve a problem at work. Can I use this for my dissertation?
Remember that your dissertation is an academic piece of work, and your dissertation will be about an academic topic, not about a company. Whilst there needs to be some kind of practical application/relevance, this should be seen as something your study could contribute to, rather than its purpose.
For example, a dissertation looking at employee motivation in a particular well-known coffee company in a particular city is not about the company – it is about employee motivation. This perspective will help you later when you search for literature – in this case you might look for papers studying employee motivation, or perhaps employee motivation in the beverage industry, or even with a particular focus on North America. You would not find many useful studies if you searched only for the company by name.

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