my-cumbria-logo, my-cumbria-logo Toggle navigation

A dissertation is an extended project on a topic of your own choosing that might involve the asking and answering of a research question, or addressing a specific research problem. Your research might seek to shed new light on a topic or aspect of practice, or it might review existing evidence in order to gain fresh insights. Dissertations and research projects represent a substantial piece of work but enable you to develop expertise in an area that interests you and develop skills in conducting research.

Take a look at our online Dissertation tutorial for an overview of getting started.

Dissertation Tutorial image,

If you are working at Level 7 or above take a look at the Postgraduate research pages.


  • Types of dissertation

    Dissertations usually fall into one of three main types;

    1. Research based You carry out a piece of original research as part of your study using quantitative or qualitative methods. 
    2. Review or audit This could be a detailed literature review perhaps combined with reflective practice and asking for recommendations to develop a new idea, procedure or policy.
    3. Thematic Using a theoretical framework and select examples within your subject to construct an argument or thesis 

    The type of dissertation you do will depend upon your discipline and the approach you decide to take to your methodology. In some courses, you will be instructed as to which type of dissertation you will be expected to do. Ensure you read your dissertation assignment brief or handbook carefully to see if your tutors have any specific requirements for your dissertation.  


  • Choosing a topic, proposals and planning your research

    Deciding on a topic for your dissertation or research project is both exciting and challenging. You're able to pursue a topic that holds significant personal interest but it must also be feasible, focused and of signifcance to your field. This video outlines some considerations to bear in mind when choosing a research topic. 

     Choosing your topic video thumbnail, Choosing your topic video thumbnail. Click to open video

    To aid you in planning your research, download our Research mapper that poses some key questions you will need to address at an early stage. For a more comprehensive approach to devising a research project, have a look at the SAGE Research Methods Project Planner

    Research Question Models 

    In fields such as health and social care, models such as PICO or SPIDER are often used to formulate research questions. You can find out more about these models From this NHS Guide. If your tutor has recommended using PICO or a similar model, our PICO searching form can take you through the steps to build your research question and guide you into your literature searching as part of your literature review.

    Before embarking on your dissertation or research project, you may be asked to complete a proposal outlining your ideas and intentions before you begin your research.

    A proposal might include the following headings:

    Section Contents 
    Overview Introduction to topic area that provides the background and context to your research. 
    Rationale  Justification for your research topic in terms of its significance to your field. 
    Aims Pinpoints specficially what you intend to achieve through your research. This section might list key questions you seek to answer or define the research problem to be addressed. 
    Literature review Critical survey of the existing research on your topic and identification of gaps in current knowledge. This will generally be structured around the themes that emerge from the literature.
    Methodology Your proposed approach to conducting your research wth justification for your choices. This includes the philosophy or paradigm underpinning your research and an explanation of the data collection tools that will be used. 
    Timescales Projected dates of key milestones in your research project.
    Bibliography List of the sources you have read so far in preparation for your research.

    Dowload our Research Proposal Structure for a more detailed breakdown of the sections of a research proposal. However, bear in mind that some courses may have specific requirements for structures or templates, that you're expected to use for proposals so check the relevant guidance on your Blackboard module site. 

  • Literature review

    An important part of any research, it can be part of a wider primary research project or secondary research in it's own right.  Either way you will need to demonstrate that you have carried out a systematic search and identified any relevant sources.  The results should be presented as a critical survey of the existing research on your topic, which may identify gaps in current knowledge. The discussion will generally be structured around the themes that emerge from the literature. 

    See the Literature review page for much more detail on what a Literature review is and isn't, and how to carry one out.

  • Research methods

    Not sure what's the difference between methodology and methods, or what ontology means? No idea about which methods are valid for your proposed research? The Sage Project planner is a good place to start.  It takes you through the research planning process, explaining all the terminology and helping you make key decisions in your research design.

    The Sage Dictionary of Social Research Methods is a useful glossary of terms related to research.

    The Methods map provides a visual interpretation of research hierachy. Click on the image to access (you may need to sign in).                 Methods map, Methods map

    If you are conducting quantitative research involving data analysis, you can use SAGE's Which Stats Test to identify the statistical method or tool that will help you make sense of your data. The University subscribes to a number of data analysis tools.

    These resources are all part of Sage Research Methods which holds a large number of research books.  Once you know what you are looking for, search the collection to find videos, book chapters and guides to help you complete your research successfully. 

    We have put together a reading list but there are many other books in the library if you search OneSearch.


  • Writing it up

    Dissertations tend to have a specific stucture, please read your module guide and/or check with your tutor about the sections that are required for your particular dissertation. Here are a couple of templates identifying the key sections and what goes in them.

    If you are not already familiar, these guides to using Headings and creating contents pages might be useful for organising the content.

    Otherwise you need the same skills that you use to write your normal assignments, making sure you maintain a critical stance.  Some of these resources should help

     The Academic Phrasebank also provides some good tips on how to word specific sections of your dissertation.

     Additional reading and signposting of resources casn be found in the Dissertation reading list


  • Further resources

    Enlist the support of your dissertation supervisor. They will be able to help you with refining your topic, selecting your methodology and will provide guidance throughout your research process.

    SAGE Research Methods - This resource helps you gain a deeper understanding of research methodologies, approaches and specific data collection tools. Browse sections or search for specific terms. As well as books, articles and videos, SAGE Research methods also includes useful features such as the Methods Map and Project Planner.

    Tools and Software for Dissertations - A list of apps and platforms for conducting research including survey tools and data analysis software.

    Final Chapter - developed by Leeds University, this resource is a very good guide to tackling your dissertation.

    Academic Phrasebank – a fabulous resource showing you phrases and words in introduce your dissertation, critically analyse your findings or use evidence in your discussions. 

Edit page