Theory of Research
Superficially the research process can appear to be relatively simple - if you
carry out the basic steps methodically and carefully, then you should arrive at useful
conclusions. However, the nature of research can be very complex and when you are
reading textbooks on research methodology you will come across many unfamiliar
words and terms. We first look at types of research and explain some of the terms.
Types of research
The main different types of research can be classified by its purpose, its
process and its outcome. These can in turn be broken down further:
The purpose of the research can be classified as:
The process of the research can be classified as:
The outcome of the research can be classified as:
o basic or pure
Let us look at these in more detail.
Purpose of research
This is conducted when there are few or no earlier studies to which references
can be made for information. The aim is to look for patterns, ideas or
hypotheses rather than testing or confirming a hypothesis. In exploratory
research the focus is on gaining insights and familiarity with the subject area
for more rigorous investigation later. In an undergraduate dissertation it is
likely that you will be drawing on previous studies and so pure exploratory
research is not generally appropriate for studies at this level – it is more
appropriate for postgraduate research. However, it is possible that you may
carry out an initial survey to establish areas of concern (exploratory research)
and then research these issues in more depth, perhaps through interviews, to
provide a deeper understanding (explanatory research).
This describes phenomena as they exist. It is used to identify and obtain
information on the characteristics of a particular issue. It may answer such
o What is the absentee rate amongst a particular group of workers?
o What are the feelings of workers faced with redundancy?
The data collected are often quantitative, and statistical techniques are usually
used to summarise the information. Descriptive research goes further than
exploratory research in examining a problem since it is undertaken to ascertain
and describe the characteristics of the issue. An undergraduate dissertation
may include descriptive research, but it is likely that it will also include one of
the following two types (explanatory or predictive) as you are required in your
dissertation to go beyond description and to explain or predict.
Analytical or explanatory research
This is a continuation of descriptive research. The researcher goes beyond
merely describing the characteristics, to analyse and explain why or how
something is happening. Thus, analytical research aims to understand
phenomena by discovering and measuring causal relations among them. It may
answer questions such as:
o How can the number of complaints made by customers be reduced?
o How can the absentee rate among employees be reduced?
o Why is the introduction of empowerment seen as a threat by
Predictive research goes further by forecasting the likelihood of a similar
situation occurring elsewhere. It aims to generalise from the analysis by
predicting certain phenomena on the basis of hypothesised, general
relationships. It may attempt to answer questions such as:
o Will the introduction of an employee bonus scheme lead to higher
levels of productivity?
o What type of packaging will improve our products?
Predictive research provides ‘how’, ‘why’, and ‘where’ answers to current
events as well as to similar events in the future. It is also helpful in situations
where ‘What if?’ questions are being asked.
Process of research
There is no consensus about how to conceptualise the actual undertaking of research.
There are, however, two main traditions of approaching a research topic –
quantitative and qualitative. Each approach demands different research methods.
The quantitative approach usually starts with a theory or a general statement
proposing a general relationship between variables. With this approach it is
likely that the researchers will take an objective position and their approach
will be to treat phenomena as hard and real. They will favour methods such as
surveys and experiments, and will attempt to test hypotheses or statements
with a view to generalising from the particular. This approach typically
concentrates on measuring or counting and involves collecting and analysing
numerical data and applying statistical tests.
The alternative tradition is the qualitative approach. Here the investigator
views the phenomena to be investigated as more personal and softer. He or she
will use methods such as personal accounts, unstructured interviews and
participant observation to gain an understanding of the underlying reasons and
motivations for peoples’ attitudes, preferences or behaviours. With this
approach, the emphasis is more on generating hypotheses from the data
collection rather than testing a hypothesis.
In reading around the subject you will find many alternative names for
qualitative and quantitative research. It is good to have an understanding of
these and to recognise them when you see them in research methods
The features and differences between the two research processes are detailed
You should note the following points:
Qualitative and quantitative research methods are not clear-cut nor
mutually exclusive – most research draws on both methods.
Both approaches can generate quantitative and qualitative data.
The difference between the two methods is in the overall form and in the
emphasis and objectives of the study.
Outcome of research
Applied research is problem-oriented as the research is carried out to solve a
specific problem that requires a decision, for example, the improvement of
safety in the workplace, or market research. For your dissertation it is not
usually acceptable to carry out applied research as it is very much limited to
one establishment or company and you are required to look at issues of wider
significance, perhaps to your industry as a whole or to a sector of it. You may
have already carried out a problem-based piece of research related to your
placement. It is important to understand that the dissertation requires you to
carry out some form of basic research – see below.
Basic research is also called fundamental or pure research, and is conducted
primarily to improve our understanding of general issues, without any
emphasis on its immediate application. It is regarded as the most academic
form of research since the principal aim is to make a contribution to
knowledge, usually for the general good, rather than to solve a specific
problem for one organisation. This may take the form of the following:
o Discovery – where a totally new idea or explanation emerges from
empirical research which may revolutionise thinking on that particular
topic. An example of this would be the Hawthorne experiments.
o Invention – where a new technique or method is created. An example
of this would be the invention of TQM (total quality management).
o Reflection – where an existing theory, technique or group of ideas is
re-examined possibly in a different organisational or social context.
For example, to what extent can Herzberg’s theory of motivation be
applied to front-line workers in the contract catering sector?
(Torrington & Hall, 1995)
For an undergraduate dissertation it is most likely that you will be
concentrating on reflection, as the scope of the project is unlikely to be large
enough to consider discovery or invention.
This is a form of research where action is both an outcome and a part of the
research. The researcher ‘interferes’ with or changes – deliberately – what is
being researched. The critics of action research argue that since the researcher
is changing what is being researched during the process of research, the work
cannot be replicated. If it cannot be replicated its findings cannot be tested in
other situations. This prevents general knowledge being developed and thus it
cannot contribute to theory. Also, as the researcher is involved in the change
process there is a loss of critical, detached objectivity. There are two
approaches to action research:
o Classical action research begins with the idea that if you want to
understand something you should try changing it.
o New paradigm research is based on a new model or framework for
research. It claims that research can never be neutral and that even the
most static and conventional research exposes the need for change in
what is being researched. It involves inquiry into persons and relations
between persons, and is based on a close relationship between
researcher and those being researched. The research is a mutual
activity of a ‘co-ownership’ involving shared power with respect to the
process and the outcomes of the research. Those being researched can,
for example, decide how the research will be undertaken, in what form
and with what questions being asked. The researcher is a member of a
‘community’ and brings to it special skills and expertise. The
researcher does not dictate what will happen. This type of research is
most easily carried out when working with individuals or small groups.
It means that the researcher must be highly skilled not only in research
methods but also in the interpersonal skills of facilitating others. It is
not, therefore, usually appropriate for an undergraduate student who is
carrying out a major piece of research for the first time. Action
research is often used by educationalists who are trying to improve
their own practice by making changes to the delivery of their classes
and by observing and asking students which actions work best.
As you can see, there are a number of types of research and not all may be
suitable for you in your dissertation. The key points to remember are as
While the purpose of your dissertation may have some elements of exploratory
or descriptive research you should concentrate on research that will mainly fall
into the explanatory area, or perhaps predictive research if you are very
confident. Explanatory research gives you the opportunity to demonstrate the
skills of analysis and evaluation which will help you to score highly in your
The process of your research can either be quantitative or qualitative and the
different methods that can help you to carry out your research in this way are
outlined more fully in Unit 3.
It is likely that you will be carrying out basic or pure research in the reflection
mode (rather than applied or action research) as this will give you the best
chance of showing that you can test out a theory in a new situation.
Other research terms
You may find a number of research terms when reading about methodology and it
will help if you have some understanding of them as they can be confusing! The next
activity will help you explore some of these terms.
Please do not worry too much if these terms seem confusing at this stage. It will
gradually fall into place as you carry on with this pack and do more reading around
the subject. However, we hope this has demonstrated to you that there is a lot
involved in this research process!
A difference between a dissertation and almost any other piece of work is that you
have to decide on a topic and the title. You start with a blank sheet. This, for most
students, is daunting, troublesome and challenging. So where do you begin?
You begin with the ‘research proposal’. This is the document which sets out your
initial ideas and thinking and shows, to a certain extent, how much thinking you have
devoted to the issue. The research proposal form specifies the need for:
topic and title
a research question or hypothesis (not both)
a review of some literature associated with the title
some indication of how you are going to collect the primary data
a time plan
a bibliography of the literature consulted in putting the proposal together.
The key point about any research is that it has to concern something that you are
interested in. Motivation in undertaking research rises and falls. If you have no or
little interest to start with, then it will be difficult to lift that interest should you
encounter problems and a drop in motivation later on. In the following sections, we
consider each aspect of the proposal in more detail.
Topic and title
Where does the inspiration for your dissertation topic come from? There are various
sources but the most common, from which this interest may arise, are:
something someone has said
something you have read
something you have studied
something you have not studied
your career aspirations.
What is an acceptable topic? Basically any topic is acceptable but:
it must be in the area of your major pathway
it has to be suitable for the level of study
there has to be a literature base which discusses the various theories (concept
and model are alternative words for theory) that underpin your topic.
Start by identifying the general topic area; then have a conversation with yourself that
narrows the topic down – to something that is more focussed – and then come up with
main aim or purpose of the dissertation.
If you have more than one topic in mind
Perhaps you have more than one area in mind – if so, you should go through the
above process with all of them to help you decide.
Refining the aim – getting the title
Having stated your aim in one sentence, you now need to think about it in more detail
to refine your ideas and thinking. Hopefully at the end of this you will have a short,
succinct title. To do this you need to have a conversation with yourself. For the
example on motivation this conversation may run as follows:
1. Here is how I see the issue. ‘Increased or enhanced motivation leads to
But what are you referring to when you say ‘increased or enhanced
motivation’? What actually happens in the workplace when motivation is
increased? Or put it another way, what causes motivation to be enhanced?
Possible answers are changes in the job design, management or leadership
style, organisational structure or reward system. Why not change your
2. Right! ‘Changes (improvements) in job design, leadership style, organisational
structure, reward systems and so on, cause increased productivity.’
Well, this statement appears to be true, but surely it only happens when the
individuals in question have the ability to carry out the prescribed tasks in
ways that are expected. Why not qualify it?
3. OK. ‘Changes (improvements) in job design, leadership style, organisational
structure, reward systems and so on, cause increased productivity when the
individuals have the relevant ability (competencies).’
That is better, but by now you should be aware of some of the managerial
implications of your chosen line of research. You can see various new lines of
research beginning to open even before you have completed the design of your
research. So, you have now got the flexibility to direct your enquiry along the
lines you find most interesting and appealing.
Why not go back to the original point of focus? Motivation and motivational
factors are about individuals and the outcome of motivation is satisfaction.
Since your research idea is on workplace satisfaction your concerns are with
job satisfaction. Why not give this interpretation of the issue?
4. Right. ‘Changes (improvements) in job design, leadership style, organisational
structure, reward systems and so on lead to job satisfaction which causes
increased productivity when the individuals have the relevant ability
That looks even better, but couldn’t you shorten the statement?
5. ‘Job satisfaction causes increased productivity.’
That is short and sweet. What about your conclusion?
6. ‘Increased job satisfaction causes increased productivity, given the right
A nice short title!
Notice the title does not begin with:
‘An investigation into …’
‘An analysis of …’
The very fact you are undertaking research implies you are investigating or
analysing. Also the title is short – aim for a maximum of 12 words in your
As you can see from this activity, a diverse range of factors determines job
satisfaction. There are many examples of this in the workplace. One example,
relating to organisational factors, might be the effects on job satisfaction of a
major hotel rebuilding programme. A feeling of lack of involvement or
knowledge of what is happening may lead to a lot of resentment; moreover,
building workers and noise can have a very disruptive effect on the daily work
of a busy hotel.
A dissertation would not cover all of these possibilities. It would probably
concentrate on one or two at the most. The above list shows there are at least
10 potential dissertations in this area. It is important that you narrow down
your topic to a very specific aspect for investigation. You are looking for
depth not breadth.
Whereas the aim or purpose statement explains the general direction of the
study and is summarised by your title, the research questions (or hypotheses)
expand on this by providing detail. This is a critical stage in your research,
even though it appears early in the process. If you do not ask the appropriate
questions you will not be able to collect suitable data and arrive at sensible
conclusions. By research questions we do not mean the detailed questions you
might use in interviews or questionnaires, but questions which identify the
general nature of research or issue you wish to focus on.
At the proposal stage we want the core or key question, or, to put it
another way, we want a ‘grand tour’ question. After further reading you might
identify another key question, but remember, the more core questions that you
have, the more work you will need to do.
A core research question should imply:
an explanation of some phenomenon
a relationship between variables
a comparison between variables
This list is only for illustrative purposes and is not exhaustive. There
are many other possibilities. A point to note, and one that is often ignored by
students, is that a question ends in a question mark.
In the above example, the researcher does not know if there is a
difference between younger and older students and is interested in determining
this. However, suppose the researcher knows there is a difference (from other
research) and wants to find out why there is a difference. The aim of the
dissertation and main research question will change, even though the title
remains the same.
An alternative way of posing a research question is to state a
hypothesis (plural hypotheses). A hypothesis is a proposition about the area
that you are studying and is expressed as a statement of fact or what you
believe to be true. You then try to find out whether the statement is true or
A ‘good’ hypothesis is:
based on current knowledge and understanding (facts, theory)
compares two variables
can be tested by the collection and analysis of data.
A hypothesis is worded such that it implies that the two variables are
independent of each other. Strictly this is called the null hypothesis. If we
consider the example on the type of degrees obtained by younger and older
students, we can state the (null) hypothesis as:
There is no difference in the level of degree obtained by younger and older
Younger and older students do not differ in the level of degree attained.
This hypothesis is then tested by trying to disprove it by saying, ‘let us
look for evidence that would show the hypothesis to be incorrect’. In this
example this means trying to show that there is a difference in the level of
degree obtained. If we could find sufficient evidence to show a difference we
would reject the null hypothesis:
There is no difference in the level of degree obtained by younger and older
in favour of the alternative hypothesis:
There is a difference in the level of degree obtained by younger and older
Of course, if you show there is a difference it introduces the questions, ‘What
is the difference and why?’
The notion of a hypothesis is a difficult one and may not be necessary
for your research. However, it is a good exercise to try to phrase your research
in this way as it helps to clarify your ideas.
Another type of hypothesis is a statistical hypothesis. These hypotheses
tend to be used when researchers are dealing with large amounts of numerical
data. Also theoretical statistical tests are used to prove or disprove the null
hypothesis. Such hypotheses are unlikely to concern you as you will be
handling smaller amounts of data.
Preliminary literature review
For the research proposal, you are required to write an essay that identifies the
main underpinning concepts/theories/models that are relevant to your
topic/title/research question. This essay – the preliminary literature review –
is a much smaller version of the actual literature review that would be found in
your dissertation, but provides a starting point that you can use for
Primary data collection
As with the literature review you are being asked in the proposal to do
something that you have not yet covered in great detail. In particular, you have
to try to identify how you are going to collect your primary data.
You have now thought and written about the:
core research question or hypothesis
preliminary literature review and bibliography
primary data collection
The penultimate stage of the proposal is to produce a time plan of what you are
going to do and when. The plan should be detailed and include all the tasks
necessary to complete your dissertation. Remember these are not discrete – many
of the tasks have to be thought about in advance and overlap with other activities.
They also take a lot longer than you actually think. For example, it is no good
thinking that the literature review will take four weeks. You have to spend time
finding material, reading the material, writing a draft, submitting it to your
supervisor, giving him or her time to read it, get feedback, and redraft based on
the comments. Students often underestimate how long data analysis and
evaluation takes. At undergraduate level it should take a minimum of four weeks.
Many students, because of poor planning, or things going, wrong find themselves
short of time towards the end of the dissertation and rush the analysis and
evaluation. This often negates all the good work that may have gone before. A
number of approaches are possible in preparing a time plan. The basic method is
to list the weeks from the commencement of the dissertation to the submission and
slot in the detail. In this way you can identify holidays and other times when you
may not be able to work on the dissertation. You can also identify milestones and
Assessment of the proposal
By now you have almost completed the proposal. The final step is to
reflect on your proposal. You probably are very tempted to put in the final full
stop and not look at it again! However, you need to reflect and re-assess what
you have written.
Remember that you have to convince the supervisors who
assess your proposal that you know what you are talking about, that
you have given sufficient thought to the proposal and that you have
devoted some effort to it. To do this, you need to ask the same
questions the supervisors ask when assessing your proposal:
Is the title clear and concise?
Is the core research question appropriate and answerable?
Does the preliminary literature review draw on authors from both
textbooks and journals?
o Is it up-to-date?
o Is it sufficiently detailed?
o Is it descriptive or does it include discussion and debate?
o Is it written in a fluent, easy-to-read style?
Is the proposed primary data collection reasonable at this stage?
Is the time plan detailed and feasible?
Is the bibliography correct?
Has the proposal been spell-checked? Is it grammatically correct?
Does it look professional?
Hand in the proposal. Well done!
The literature review is a key part of your dissertation and it is your chance to show
that you have the skills of academic writing appropriate for an honours graduate. You
should have used all these skills before in your earlier studies but the dissertation
takes the skills of reading and writing to a higher level than you have achieved before.
In this unit, we help you develop your academic skills to the level required. These
skills are: searching the literature; record keeping; reading the literature critically;
making notes; writing a literature review; referencing and compiling a bibliography.
Searching The literature
Searching the literature is the starting point of all research and is the process of
exploring all sources of published information. This information, whether it is textual,
statistical or diagrammatic, is secondary. Searching the literature will enable you to:
ascertain what has been published and by whom
increase your knowledge and understanding of the topic
assess whether the research topic is feasible
possibly narrow the topic down
refine or amend the research questions
give you some ideas about the approaches, methods and analysis.
You should aim to start your literature search as soon as possible. Everything
associated with research takes longer than planned and searching the literature is no
exception. At the very outset, you need to undertake the following:
Define the scope of the research and set parameters, for example, by time,
geography, industry, or sector of an industry. The more precise you can be the
easier the task. Try and identify key words; include alternative spellings of
these words or synonyms (words that have similar meanings). For example, if
you are researching 'wage bargaining' you should also look at 'industrial
relations' and 'conflict theory'.
Conduct searches on these key words using a variety of sources. Only collect
articles and books, etc., which are relevant, for example, in terms of subject
matter, methodology, theoretical discussion, research instruments, etc
Having found one reference in one source, use the references in that to guide
you to others. It is important to try and get the most recent literature first and
work back in time.
Sources of published information
Most students underestimate the number of sources and the amount of material
available. The basic problems are:
knowing what is available
where to find it.
We can classify sources as:
paper-based sources - books, journals, periodicals, abstracts, indexes,
directories, research reports, conference papers, market reports, annual reports,
organisations' internal records, newspapers, and magazines
electronic sources - on-line databases, Internet, off-line databases (CD-
ROMs), videos and broadcasts.
To find the appropriate information, the researcher needs many technical skills.
Consider the following:
Do you know the Dewey classification system?
Can you access data from on-line databases?
Can you access data from off-line databases?
Do you know what government publications are held in your university
What market intelligence reports are there?
It is fundamentally important that you keep a record of the details of any text you
read, whether it is a book, article or information on the Internet. Should you wish to
return to the material some time later you will know where to look. Finding
information is hard enough, finding it again is even harder!
Keeping a record of a text you have read can be done in a variety of ways - using
loose sheets of paper, a notebook, index cards, or electronically with a spreadsheet,
database or even a personal organiser.
One way of keeping a record is to build a card index system. It has the following
They are easy to sort, for example, into topic areas, alphabetical order, etc.
They can be colour-coded, for example, by subject.
You can insert cards as you read more.
You can carry them around with you.
They stand up to wear and tear.
You can check texts and information as you find it.
You are building a bibliography as you go; you will need this eventually and
thus ultimately saves time.
Having found a text, note the following basic details immediately on the card:
1. Book or article title.
2. Author's surname and forename and any subsequent initials.
3. Year of publication.
4. If a book: book title, edition if 2nd, 3rd, etc., place of publication, publisher,
chapter or page numbers.
5. If an article: the article's title, journal name, volume number, issue or part
number, page numbers.
6. Library catalogue number (Dewey decimal number).
7. Precise details when found, also location, floor, room and shelf.
The completed front of index cards for a book and an article in a journal are shown
Author: Kerlinger, F.N.
Title: Foundations of Behavioural
Publisher: CBS Publishing, Japan
Location: St Mary's Road LRC
Floor A3, Shelf 4
Date found: 20 October 1999
Classification number: 150.72/KER
Author: Brown, M.
Article title: Environmental policy in the
Journal title: International Journal of
Volume/Number: Vol. 8, No. 3
Page numbers: 18-23
Location: St Mary's Road LRC
Floor B2, Periodicals
Date found: 20 October 1999
Reading Material Critically
The SQ3R strategy, which stands for:is an approach not just for reading a text but for
reading a text effectively, efficiently and critically. It has been found to be particularly
useful because it can be applied to different texts (for example, textbook, article or
dissertation) and the type of reading required (for example, overview of the text or
Most people who are given a new book start reading the text without making any
attempt to gain an overview of whether the book or article is worth spending time on.
It is important to survey the whole before you attempt to read the parts. Here are a few
suggestions about how you should gain this overview. To begin with, consider the
start and the end of the book:
Title page - This can give the answer to some important questions: the general
subject area, the level of approach, the author's name and qualifications, the
year of publication.
Table of contents - This gives you information about the scope of the book,
the way it is organised, and the main chapters and sections. It is a very
valuable source of information in signposting the issues raised.
Preface - The preface, author's remarks, foreword or introduction, will often
give you an overview of the author's intentions and assumptions. This can be
particularly valuable when there are different views about a topic.
Index - Turn to the back of the book and glance through the index; this can
give a more detailed source of information about the book. It is particularly
useful if you are looking for references on a specific topic.
Bibliography - Is there a bibliography (some texts call it References)? How
many references are given? Many or few?
Glossary - Is there a list defining key words used in the text? Would it be
useful to know any definitions before you start reading?
Appendices - Are there any appendices? Consider when these might be
Leaf through the book - Turn each page, looking at section headings, any
chapter summaries or key words. Any pictures or figures and tables can be
First and last chapters - For a journal article especially, it is useful to read
the first and last paragraphs. Often these will summarise the key points made.
Some of the better textbooks will have chapter summaries or a list of key
points or concepts developed. Headings and sub-headings are also valuable in
setting the scene.
Surveying a chapter - Having gained an overview of the book, you may wish
to look at one chapter in greater depth. Even if you are just dipping into a
particular chapter in preparation for a tutorial you should adopt the same
This survey should take no more than 10 minutes. Investing in this time pays good
dividends. You will find that with practice even a few minutes will give you an
overall idea of the content and layout.
The survey process will have helped you to develop further the questions that you
want answered. Never start detailed reading until you have some clear questions
requiring an answer. Questioning is a vital stage in assisting with recall. These
questions will vary according to your tasks, but some issues are probably common.
How does this text fit in with what I already know?
Who is telling me this?
Does the author offer evidence to support or contradict the views being
presented? Is the piece being argued from only one point of view?
Is the language used reasoned and objective? Or is it emotive?
What theoretical perspectives does the author apply?
Is the material up-to-date?
What can I do with the information?
Reading in detail is the third step - it is not, as many students seem to think, the one
and only stage! In planning your reading remember some key points:
Reading with purpose is more effective than reading without purpose.
Make reading an active process - in other words, you are actively in search of
Divide your reading into manageable sections. Do not try and read too much at
Make notes after you have read a particular section. Do not try and make notes
as you go. This interferes with your ability to question and concentrate.
Look for the idea behind each paragraph. There should be one sentence in the
paragraph that sums up the key idea.
Look for the author's plan. What is the main idea? How does the author
develop the idea behind the book, through the chapters, sections and
Read the passage again - you may find it easier to return to the book the next
day. Difficult concepts will then appear less difficult. Do not expect to
understand everything on the first reading.
With the SQ3R method, studying does not end with reading the text. You may
understand the text, but will you be able to recall it? Most people forget 50% of a
book within seconds of putting it down!
Organised recall strategies will improve your learning in a number of ways:
You will concentrate because you have a task ahead of you.
You can correct memory lapses, thereby making your learning more effective.
You will be active during the learning process. Again, this will make you
much more effective.
The key recall steps are:
Depending on the text, try to recall the key points made by each paragraph
within a section, preferably in your own words.
Jot down the key words.
It can be useful to try and recall the main explanatory sentence in each
Always check the accuracy of what you recall by viewing again the material you have
studied. The best way of doing this is to repeat the process - survey, question, re-read,
There are two particular aspects to take into account in note making:
1. What are the contents of the notes?
2. Where do you record the notes?
Contents of the notes
It is up to you what you record and the depth or detail contained in your notes. You
can record key words, chapter headings, a summary (which may be provided in the
text), quotations, personal opinions, etc. For example, the following is a 62-word
summary of a book written by Carl Boggs in 1980 called Gramsci's Marxism.
"Straightforward introduction. Easy to read, logical in its structure and presentation of
Gramsci's work. Well articulated background of Marxism and the philosophy of
Praxis. Excellent in accessing the notion of ideological hegemony and its role in the
class struggle. Makes Gramsci and his work understandable and applicable to modern
capitalism by taking the key concepts and exploring and applying them in context."
Where do you keep the notes?
Some possibilities of the place where you keep your notes include the following:
1. Use the reverse side of the index card if the comments are short.
2. Use loose sheets of paper, a notebook, or a photocopy of the material.
Whichever of these you use you should cross-reference to the index card.
3. If you use notebooks or paper, do not write on the reverse side as you may
wish to cut it up and re-order the material, for example, topic-by-topic.
4. On photocopies you can use a highlighter pen for key words, sentences,
Writing a literature review
You have to do this twice - once in your proposal and once in your final dissertation.
In your proposal, the literature review is rather like an essay and should discuss the
key points of relevant literature that you have found on the topic identified in your
title. This section is likely to form the bulk of the proposal, and the committee will be
looking for evidence that you have found some key and relevant texts in the topic
area, have read them, identified some key themes and issues and can discuss them
with a level of understanding. It is not expected that you have undertaken a complete
literature search but it is expected that you have made a start and read around the
subject. You cannot develop your research questions or hypotheses unless you have
done this. It should be 600-800 words long and end with a list of full references. A
literature review is not done book by book (or source by source) but is integrated and
written up under key themes and issues that may or may not have headings.
In your dissertation, the literature review is much more substantial but the same
principles apply. You should use an integrated style presented under clear and logical
headings. Most of what follows is relevant to both the proposal and to the dissertation
- it is really a matter of scale that differentiates them.
A literature review is a written summary of the findings from the literature search. Its
purpose is to provide proof of scholarship - to show that you know the literature and
you have the intellectual capacity to read it, develop the theoretical argument and be
able to give a critical, constructive analysis of that literature.
Writing a review is a demanding exercise. You will not get it right first or second
time. Much material that you have found and recorded will not be used. Editing and
discarding information is heartbreaking but essential.
Some tips on writing up the literature
Start writing as soon as possible.
Select and cite only relevant material - you do not need to include a mention of
everything you read.
Group the material into categories and comment upon the most important
Be critical. An uncritical review tends to be descriptive, where everything
merits a one paragraph entry, such as 'Smith (1985) found...; Jones (1987)
found....' A critical review shows that you have studied existing work in the
field with insight by pointing out the strengths and weaknesses; by comparing
the results of different studies; and by evaluating theories, etc., with reference
to your own study.
Use quotations to illustrate a point and add an extra dimension to your
Structuring a literature review
It is often difficult to decide how to organise the huge amount of information you
have collected. The structure of each dissertation will be different but there are some
general principles and these are really the guidelines you should use for any piece of
academic writing. The dissertation is just much longer than most essays or other
pieces of work.
Introduction to the literature review
There should be an introduction to your literature that signposts the content by
stating the approach you will take and puts forward the central ideas and
purpose of the literature review. It 'sets the scene' and provides a 'map' of
where the literature review is going to take the reader and why. It should also
stimulate interest. It is likely that this part will have to be written after the
main sections. It is not likely to be more than half a page long but needs to be
This should consist of discrete sections arranged in a logical order. Unlike an
essay where paragraphs are simply arranged in order without headings, a
dissertation needs clear headings due to the size of the work. Headings help
the reader, and you, the writer, to keep on track. Each section should be
devoted to one topic or theme, and each paragraph within each section should
confine itself to a single idea. The first sentence of a paragraph should indicate
what the paragraph is about in some way and then move on to develop that
idea supported by evidence and examples. Avoid having a lot of short
paragraphs of one or two sentences. Also avoid lots of lists. This may be
appropriate for report and business-style writing but is not suitable for essays
The key concept here is of developing an argument, and your tutors will be
looking for the following:
o The writing shows a sense of purpose and direction, as though the
writer knows where he or she is going and is leading the reader there
o There is a definite central idea with reasons for it and evidence to back
it up and support it.
o The writing may present a 'case' for a certain viewpoint.
o The writing is logical with ideas or events linked together in a logical
o The ideas are put together in a way that is clear to the writer and to the
At the end of your literature review you must summarise and draw conclusions
about the key points in your writing. There needs to be a sense of completion
to the whole piece; you need to 'round off' rather than just stop abruptly. At
this stage, you will discover just how much of your writing is descriptive and
how much is critical. It is only when you are writing using analysis and
evaluation that you are likely to be able to draw conclusions!
Styles of writing
There are many different ways of looking at academic writing styles and one
way is to try and identify which of the following styles you are using. All
styles have their place but you need to be wary of spending too much time in
your dissertation on the first two.
This style of writing looks at events over a period of time and relates them
chronologically or in date order. Thus, historical texts would follow this style.
Often students want to give the historical background to their research area
and this is often appropriate. However, be careful not to overdo this. If your
research question relates to the 'here and now' (and most do), then it is not
appropriate or relevant to have three-quarters of your literature review giving
the historical background. It may be appropriate for you to read it so that you
understand the context of your study, but it is usually appropriate to confine
yourself to a brief summary of the key points, or use this material in the
introductory chapter to the dissertation.
An example of this would be a student who wanted to research into whether
the media treats women and men athletes the same in terms of sports
reporting. There is a vast amount of literature on the historical inequalities in
sport which make fascinating reading and could perhaps be mentioned.
However, this student would be much better advised to concentrate the bulk of
their literature on athletics, sports coverage in the media, gender bias in media,
and content analysis of gender bias.
It is likely that your literature review will contain descriptive writing which is
appropriate for outlining characteristics, models, theories and diagrams, etc.
However, beware of this style! If all your writing is descriptive then you will
not show that you have the ability to critically review the literature and,
therefore, you need to include some of the following styles.
Cause and effect writing
Here you identify the link between one activity and another or one variable
and another. What happened? Why did something happen? What were the
consequences? This may be an appropriate style of writing in your literature
review and is also useful for writing up your findings.
Compare and contrast writing (theme-by-theme)
Here you take two or more concepts or ideas and compare them (looking for
similarities) and contrast them (looking for differences). This often occurs in
an essay where you may be specifically asked to do this. In a literature review,
you may have identified a number of models or theories and want to compare
and contrast them in order to develop a rationale for which one to use as the
basis for your dissertation, or to help you construct a model on the best or
most appropriate aspects of each.
Sometimes you are asked to summarise something for a piece of work, but this
style is particularly appropriate for making notes on key topics, summarising
the key points. When doing this, think about why you wish to include this idea
and how it fits in with your overall dissertation. You may need to summarise
the key points of someone else's work in your dissertation. Summaries are
Analysis means breaking things down into their constituent parts. For
example, if you were to analyse milk you would find, in simple terms, that it
consisted of a large amount of water, protein, sugar and various minerals and
vitamins. In academic writing this means you have to 'unpick' or 'tease out' a
concept in order to answer questions such as:
In order to evaluate, you have to make a judgement or put a 'value' on
something. Is it 'good' or 'appropriate for the purpose', or 'inadequate' or
'lacking evidence', or 'useful' and so on? To do this, almost certainly you will
first have analysed the data in order to make your judgement. Analysis and
evaluation go hand-in-hand. You then have to go one step further and say why
something is 'useful', or whatever, and give reasons for your judgement.
It is quite likely that your dissertation will contain most, if not all, of the above
styles of writing. They apply not only to writing up the literature but to all
sections of your work. There is also some overlap between them. For example,
chronological writing could also encompass any of the other styles although it
is often used descriptively - first this happened, then that happened. Your
tutors will be looking for you to use a range of writing skills in your
dissertation as appropriate, but make sure that you minimise the descriptive
writing and try to develop the other styles.
Language and writing
Note some key points about language:
Keep it simple and clear.
Do not use a long word when a short one will do.
Try to have an average sentence length of 15-20 words; long sentences are
hard to follow.
Always use the 'third person'. Do not use words such as 'I', 'me', 'my'. For
example, write, 'It could be considered that', and not, 'I think that'.
Check spelling and grammar; if this is a weak area then improve by asking for
feedback from your tutor; reading texts on grammar, punctuation and spelling,
Try to write in a way that will be interesting to read. Your tutors have a lot of
dissertations to mark and one that is interesting and enjoyable to read will be
You need to show that in addition to describing something you can interpret,
apply, evaluate and reach conclusions. Some useful words and phrases are
given below to help you identify when you are doing what!
Compiling a Bibliography
One of the common features of a good essay or other piece of academic work is the
appropriate use of references and quotations. In both cases, they will add scholarly
weight to your work, but they must be properly dealt with.
Any idea which is not your own but comes from someone else must be acknowledged
in your writing. This acknowledgement of the source of the information is called a
reference or citation.
Referencing aims to:
help the reader to distinguish between your ideas and those from other sources
give authority to ideas that you are putting forward by showing that they have
independent theoretical support
enable readers to check and follow up for themselves the authors you have
indicate in a concise fashion the existence of the body of published work that
you have used in preparing your essay, report, etc.
avoid the accusations of plagiarism.
You will lose marks if you do not reference correctly.
Using references within your text
There are many ways to give a reference used within the text. Perhaps the most
popular method, because it is the simplest, is the Harvard System - where the
author's surname is followed by the year of publication. This is also known as the
'author-date' system and is the method we advise you to use in all your writings whilst
studying on this programme.
As well as the general aims of references given above, references within the text are
specifically used to:
provide support for ideas (see 'a' below)
cite supporters of ideas (see 'b' below)
acknowledge the source of ideas (see 'c' below)
establish facts (see 'd' below).
If there is one author who is the subject of the sentence (such as 'a' and 'b' above)
the date of publication is put in brackets (parenthesises) after the surname.
If the reference to both the author and the date of publication are not a main part
of the sentence (as in 'c' and 'd' above) add them parenthetically at the end of the
If you refer to Smith again within the same paragraph, there is no need to quote
the year. You can say, for example:
As Smith argues...
Smith's position on this is...
Here the reference to Smith indicates that you are still presenting the ideas of his
1997 article. If, in another paragraph, you wish to refer to Smith again, revert to
specifying the name and the date - Smith (1997)
If the work is the product of an organisation and does not carry an individual author's
name, the name of the organisation is used:
In a survey of households in the UK in 1997, it was found that 80% of them had a
washing machine (NOS 1999).
If you have read an article by Elliott written in 1996 in a book by Kitson and
Campbell that was written in 1998, cite the author who wrote the article (Elliott) not
the author of the book in which you found the material (Kitson and Campbell).
You want to quote only when it is especially important for your reader to see and
appreciate the precise wording of the original. You may choose to do this to:
provide the reader with the original when you are discussing the text in detail
illustrate a point precisely
discuss interpretations of a well-known authority
respect the wording of the original when the impact would be lost if you tried
to explain it or paraphrase it.
Quotations should be directly quoted, using the exact words, punctuation and spelling
of the original author irrespective of the source. A specific quotation from a text
should always be identified with its page number after the date of publication. A colon
separates the year and the page number. All quotations should be enclosed within
speech marks. It is common to italicise the quotation as well.
...can be included in the main text.
Longer quotations should be started on a new line and indented further from the left-
hand margin than the main text.
It is not appropriate to put long passages in quotation marks. For an extended citation,
you should summarise the material in your own words and give the appropriate
reference. As a very rough guide, you would not expect to use more than one or two
sentences in quotes on each page of your text.
A bibliography is a list of all references, whether cited or not in your work, which
have been consulted in the preparation of the work. It should be possible to see from
the bibliography, which texts are books and which are articles. Unfortunately, there
are many variations in bibliographic styles.
The variations are based on the use of upper and lower case letters, commas and full
stops, italics, bolding and underlining, and the position of the various elements that
make up the reference.
Do not devise your own system. For simplicity and consistency, the following
approach to constructing and writing a bibliography should be adhered to and is based
on the Harvard System. The bibliography should:
be in alphabetical order of authors' surnames. If there is no author, the issuing
organisation should be used
appear at the end of the work and not at the end of each chapter or section
be a single listing and not be sub-divided into cited references and non-cited
references, or books and journals, etc.
For a book, the order of the reference is:
author's surname, followed by the initials
year of publication in round brackets
title of the book, italicised and only the first word and proper nouns capitalised
edition number, if appropriate
place of publication followed by a colon
name of the publisher.
For an article in a journal the order is:
author's surname, followed by the initials
year of publication in round brackets
title of the article in speech marks
title of the journal in italics.
Then, if you also know:
month or date of issue, the volume number, the issue number
page number - preceded by 'p.' for a single page and 'pp.' for multiple pages.
For organisations the order is:
name of organisation
year of publication in round brackets
title of the article in speech marks.
For articles in non-academic sources:
For articles in non-academic sources, such as a newspaper or manuals, the structure
and order is dependent on the availability of detail, such as the author's name, and is a
mix of the above procedures.
For a cited author quoted in another text:
cited author's surname followed by the initials
year of the cited author's publication in round brackets
title of the cited author's book (italicised) or article (speech marks)
author, year, title, location and publisher of the source text preceded by the
words cited in, all enclosed in square brackets.
For an Internet source:
The reference style for Internet sources uses a modified Harvard system:
author's surname, first name or homepage/institution/university/business name
date if available
<email address if given>
title of document
Internet address URL www.address
date site visited.
Remember that you should be able to:
cite an author (and variations) using the Harvard System
quote an author
construct a bibliography using the Harvard System
be able to differentiate between books, articles, organisations and Internet
sources when listed in a bibliography.
In this unit, you have worked through the skills of searching and reviewing the
literature, making notes and keeping bibliographical records. You have also worked
through some theory on writing more effectively, developing your writing structure
and style. These skills need practising and are applicable to any other modules you are
studying. Practise them and get feedback from your tutors. You should also show a
sample of your draft literature review to your supervisor who will be able to help you
with these skills.