This Module Handbook
This module handbook carries information and advice relative to the dissertation which you are required to undertake as a core part of your course (Module ACSS614). The dissertation is a double module that is worth 30 credits and as such it speaks for a quarter of the Level 6 credits that you must have to complete your course.
The handbook will provide you with essential information about what you need to do to please the assessment requirements for the module, and it also offers guidance on how to approach the dissertation. It tries to offer a route map through the completion of a dissertation and establishes the layout, structure, and framework of the dissertation. However, you should not rely on the module handbook as the sole source of information for the dissertation. You will need to obtain one or more of the recommended textbooks to get more detailed guidance.
The validated module description for this module states that the aim of the dissertation module is “To allow students to undertake a substantial independent research project within the area of construction studies on a subject of their choice. The module will let students demonstrate the key skills of detailed independent research working with primary and secondary sources and to achieve standards of coherence, consistency, and presentation demanded in professional report writing.”
The validated module description for this module states that at the end of the module the student, with minimal guidance and a significant degree of autonomy, should be able to:
- Select a subject area that is suitable for exhaustive and in-depth analytical study.
- Formulate research goals in the form of an aim, objectives, and key questions.
- Develop an appropriate research design and methodology for the research goals.
- Manage the independent research process.
- Analyze the results and synthesize information from a variety of sources.
- Draw conclusions that are supported by evidence from the research, and are linked to the research goals.
- Report the findings of the research effectively in good written English.
Outline of the module
As hard as it seems, the dissertation can offer students some rewards if approached in the right way. Students can undertake a theoretically informed and rigorously researched investigation of a topic within their subject area. It represents a significant piece of self-directed research in which students are expected to demonstrate their ability to recognize, analyze and comprehend a relevant issue in order to reach informed and well-supported conclusions to the arguments advanced.
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In most other modules on your course, the assessed work relates directly to the content of the module and the coursework brief is provided to students. The dissertation is different – it is a major piece of self-directed research. Responsibility for undertaking the work for the dissertation lies with the student. Indeed a major aspect of the learning which takes place involves the development by students of skills in self-management, independent learning, and research. The module will equip students with the basic skills and knowledge to go on board on this process, including the learning skills and research methodologies appropriate to undertake research.
Part 2: Assessment Requirements
The first formal requirement of a module is for students to submit an outline proposal. The purpose of the outline proposal is simply to identify the broad topic area in which you are trying to carry out research. The areas which should be covered by the outline proposal are as follows:
- What is the issue or problem which will provide the basis for your dissertation?
- Why have you chosen the topic?
- How does the topic relate to your course?
- What do you think will be gained by undertaking the research, in terms of the benefits gained or the contribution your findings might make?
- How do you anticipate the research will be carried out?
- What will your main data sources be?
- What are the likely difficulties or challenges?
- Do you have any preferences for supervisors?
The most important ‘staging post’ in the dissertation process is represented by the interim submission. It will offer an opportunity for you to receive detailed feedback on your progress and further guidance on what you need to do to complete the dissertation.
The interim submission is a formal submission that will be assessed in accordance with the criteria outlined below. The mark allocated for your interim submission will have a weighting of 10% of the overall module mark. You must not view the interim submission as being work that is separate from the requirements of the dissertation itself. Provided your interim submission is appropriate, then it will be perfectly acceptable to include much of the content of your interim submission in your final submission.
The interim submission will be expected to be up to 4000 words in length (though this is just a guideline) and should incorporate the following elements:
- A clear title for your dissertation
- A rationale for the selection of the topic
- Your research goals, expressed in terms of
- Key question(s)
- A literature review (i.e. a first draft of the literature review which you expect to include in your final submission)
- An outline of your proposed research methodology, explaining the design and anticipated approach to your primary data collection.
- A comprehensive list of references
- A proposed chapter structure
- A timetable for the remaining work required to complete your dissertation.
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The interim submission will be assessed in accordance with the following assessment criteria:
|Topic selection and research goals||Topic selection. Definition of research goals. Scope of the topic.|
|Literature review||Level and range of sources. The extent of critical appraisal. Line ofargument.|
|Research design and methodology||Selection and justification of appropriate methodology. The linkage between the methodology and the research goals.|
|Referencing||system. List of references.|
|Structure, style, and presentation||Communication. Standard of English. Spelling & grammar. Structure and style. Clarity. Layout. Presentation.|
|Proposed chapter structure||Appropriate structure and layout|
|Timetable for remaining work||Evidence of forethought for the remaining work to complete the dissertation? Evidence of planning, with key milestones, identified?|
Part 3: Guidance
This module is supported by a Blackboard site that you can access from within and outside the University. Blackboard is a virtual learning environment (VLE) and is designed specifically to support learning. After signing in at the University’s homepage, you can navigate to Blackboard.
In order to use Blackboard, you must be registered for this module. You will be denied access to it if your module registration is incomplete for any reason. It is your responsibility to make sure that you are fully registered for this module.
Blackboard is a learning support mechanism. It will be an important means of communication and will typically be used for:
- Announcements and notices relevant to the module
- Providing digital copies of module material, including the module handbook
- Links to resources which will be relevant for this module
- Email communication between tutors and students
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You can access extensive help facilities on the use of Blackboard directly from within the Blackboard environment.
Emails sent to you via Blackboard will automatically be sent to the email account set up for you by the University. If you would prefer to receive email correspondence at a different email address then you can set up “automatic forwarding”
The whole process
Most students that will take this module will have no experience of undertaking a substantial research project previously. The dissertation, more than any other module on your course, provides an opportunity for you to develop skills such as analysis, evaluation, and synthesis.
The dissertation is often viewed primarily as an academic exercise. It is certainly the case that you have to comply with various academic procedures and conventions, but just for a moment consider the activities that you undertake in connection with your dissertation. In effect, you have to identify a problem, investigate it in detail, work out how you can find out more about the problem, design a method of finding out the information, implement the method, analyze the resultant information and reach conclusions to enable you to better understand the problem. These types of skills are highly transferable in industry and the professions and are valued by employers.
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It is therefore important to view the dissertation process in context. The purpose of the dissertation is not for you to become an expert in your chosen topic, though that may well be a by-product of the exercise. The primary purpose of the dissertation is for you to develop the ability to investigate something systematically, to be able to rigorously analyze and critically evaluate information from a wide range of sources, and to design methods of data retrieval that will be appropriate and will enable you to find solutions to problems.
Peter Levin1 suggests that producing a dissertation demands two parallel activities, both of which require adequate attention. Firstly he suggests that it is necessary to undertake a project. In other words, it is necessary to carry out the work involved in conducting the research. Secondly, it is necessary to write up your dissertation to present your findings. Levin argues that if we view the process as a single task then it is very easy to lose sight of the importance of the other task. Furthermore, we need to identify that the two tasks are not entirely sequential. It is much more likely that both aspects will develop together so there will periods of undertaking research, then writing up, which in turn will highlight the need for more research to be done, and so on. As you work your way through the dissertation process you will tend (quite understandably) to concentrate on one particular aspect of the process at a time e.g. literature review, research design, data collection, etc. Nevertheless, it is important that you retain a clear view of how each part of the process fits into the ‘whole’. With this in mind, the following list sets out the main activities and considerations involved in the overall process of the dissertation. The list has been adapted loosely from a flow chart in a book by Nicholas Walliman2:
- Review your subject area and identify a broad topic
- Investigate the topic in detail (by reading and talking to people) and focus on a specific aspect or problem. Consider how primary data in relation to the topic might be obtained (i.e. research methodology)
- Define your research goals
- Write an outline proposal and gain approval to proceed
- Carry out a comprehensive review of the literature associated with the topic
- Refine your research goals as necessary
- Consider research plan in more detail
- Write up interim submission, incorporating first draft of literature review and outline of research methodology
- Obtain feedback on interim submission and act on it, including any necessary adjustments to literature review and research methodology
- Finalise research methods for primary data acquisition
- Carry out primary research
- Analyse the data you have acquired
- Write up findings and draw conclusions
- Produce draft dissertation document
- Proofread, edit and adjust as necessary
- Produce final dissertation document
- Submit dissertation
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It should be pointed out that, whilst the list of activities appears to be sequential, this will not necessarily be the case in practice. Many of the activities will overlap with each other or even run in parallel with each other. Furthermore, there will inevitably be some ‘looping’ backward as earlier work has to be refined and adjusted to suit circumstances.