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Planning and conducting a dissertation research project

What is a dissertation?

❶You will make this large subject manageable by focusing on a limited period of time onwards , and limited sources. Use all of the same reagents and instruments whenever possible to limit variability between experiments.

Choosing a topic

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Design your experiments with this in mind. Who or what is the study population? Do you need ethical approvals to work with the necessary subjects? How is the data collected? How do you define success in a study? What type of statistics will you use to analyze the data? If an experiment will not produce data that you would include in a paper, is it necessary to the understanding of the problem? This is called negative data and can help you view your problem from a different perspective or be used as a reference to revise your experiment.

Determine the sample size. In order for your experiment to be meaningful, you need to have an experimental sample size large enough to perform statistical analyses on. In order to determine this, you need to know some information about your experimental population and use a power analysis calculator. Identify all of the necessary solutions and equipment. When designing the experiment you need to know all of the solutions you will need to use and the type of equipment you will need access to.

Many universities have core facilities with instruments you can use if your specific lab does not have all of the equipment necessary. You may need to be trained on the equipment and develop the proper expertise before you can start your experiments.

Keep this in mind when planning a timeline. State all experimental conditions. The key to a well-designed experiment is to have a manageable number of testable conditions. You will likely have to do a few smaller experiments to optimize the test conditions you will use in the final experiments. Literature searches can help you identify time points, dosages, and treatment conditions relevant to your studies.

Include the necessary controls. Experimental data is useless without the proper control conditions to compare them to. A control is a condition that is kept constant and used to measure the change of the experimental condition.

A proper experiment has only one variable and multiple controls to ensure that any changes seen in the results are due specifically to the variable that was changed. To test different variables, you will need to perform multiple experiments. Define the experimental outcomes. In research you must identify and define what the outcome is for your study.

If you are studying a biological process, the outcome may be the measure of the amount of a specific protein produced. The outcomes must be measurable with consistency or they will not produce usable data. All statistical analyses to be used for the study should be established before data collection. Write up the experimental protocol. After completing the overall design of the experiment, write up a detailed protocol that includes every condition to be tested and all the necessary calculations.

Performing the experiment is much simpler when you have done all of planning before you begin. The more detailed you make the protocol, the easier it will be to follow and repeat the experiment later. Use a weekly or monthly calendar to schedule experiments, including time for analysis and interpretation of results. As you continue through experiments, some conditions may change or perhaps you will end up going in a different direction.

This is normal, just be flexible with your schedule. Gather the necessary materials. During the design phase, you will have written up a detailed protocol that should include all of the solutions and components needed to perform the experiment. Using this write-up gather everything you will need. Make sure to sign up to use shared equipment in advance so it will be available to you when you need it. Do as much of the small stuff as possible the day before such as labeling tubes and making solutions.

The day of the experiment, use your detailed protocol and follow the instructions closely. If you deviate from the written protocol at all, make sure to note what you did that was different.

Keeping a lab notebook with all of your experiments and results is essential to conducting research. This is totally normal. Take notes and learn from your mistakes for the next experiment.

Record your results in your laboratory notebook. If you were using a special kit from a company, contact them or seek out their troubleshooting information. Make sure all of the reagents used were not past their use-by date. Check to make sure all of your instruments were working properly that day. Double check all of your calculations and make sure the proper amounts and solution concentrations were used.

After collecting all of the data, you can analyze it and start drafting a manuscript for publication. Use all of the same reagents and instruments whenever possible to limit variability between experiments. Analyze the raw data. For most experiments you will be given a raw data output of numbers. Depending on the study, you will transfer these numbers into another program to make graphs and compare the various groups.

Take care to avoid copying and pasting rows or columns of data incorrectly. Run the proper statistics. During the experimental design phase, you should have decided on the statistical tests and analyses you would perform on the data. Indicate significance where applicable on all of your figures and state the exact statistical values within the text of the manuscript. Make publication quality figures. There are many programs used in the scientific community to generate figures that would be fit for publication, but even simple programs such as Excel can be used.

Figures should be clear and concise. Make sure all font sizes used are clearly legible in both size and style. Organize panels so that similar data is grouped together. Write the paper for publication. Regardless of whether you have been given a dissertation topic or you have developed your own ideas, you will need to be able to demonstrate the rationale for your research, and to describe how it fits within the wider research context in your area. To support you in doing this you will need to undertake a literature review, which is a review of material that has already been published, either in hard copy or electronically, that may be relevant for your research project.

Key tools that are available to help you, include:. It is a good idea to make an appointment to see the librarian specialising in your subject. An information librarian should be able to give you advice on your literature search, and on how to manage the information that you generate.

You will probably generate more references than you can read. Use the titles and abstracts to decide whether the reference is worth reading in detail. Be selective by concentrating on references that:. Once you start reading, ensure that you think about what you are trying to get out of each article or book that you read.

Your notes should enable you to write up your literature search without returning to the books you have read. Refer to the guides Effective Note Making , Referencing and Bibliographies , and Avoiding Plagiarism , for further help with note-making.

For most research projects the data collection phase feels like the most important part. However, you should avoid jumping straight into this phase until you have adequately defined your research problem, and the extent and limitations of your research. If you are too hasty you risk collecting data that you will not be able to use. Consider how you are going to store and retrieve your data. You should set up a system that allows you to:.

There are many systems that support effective data collection and retrieval. These range from card indexes and cross-referenced exercise books, through electronic tools like spreadsheets, databases and bibliographic software, to discipline-specific tools. You should talk about how you plan to store your data with your supervisor, an information librarian, or a study adviser in the Learning Development.

As you undertake your research you are likely to come up with lots of ideas. It can be valuable to keep a record of these ideas on index cards, in a dedicated notebook, or in an electronic file. They may be useful as ideas in themselves, and may be useful as a record of how your thinking developed through the research process. A pilot study involves preliminary data collection, using your planned methods, but with a very small sample. It aims to test out your approach, and identify any details that need to be addressed before the main data collection goes ahead.

For example, you could get a small group to fill in your questionnaire, perform a single experiment, or analyse a single novel or document. When you complete your pilot study you should be cautious about reading too much into the results that you have generated although these can sometimes be interesting.

The real value of your pilot study is what it tells you about your method. Spend time reflecting on the implications that your pilot study might have for your research project, and make the necessary adjustment to your plan. Even if you do not have the time or opportunity to run a formal pilot study, you should try and reflect on your methods after you have started to generate some data.

Once you start to generate data you may find that the research project is not developing as you had hoped. Do not be upset that you have encountered a problem. Research is, by its nature, unpredictable. Think about what the problem is and how it arose. Is it possible that going back a few steps may resolve it?

Or is it something more fundamental? If so, estimate how significant the problem is to answering your research question, and try to calculate what it will take to resolve the situation.

Changing the title is not normally the answer, although modification of some kind may be useful. If a problem is intractable you should arrange to meet your supervisor as soon as possible.

Give him or her a detailed analysis of the problem, and always value their recommendations. The chances are they have been through a similar experience and can give you valuable advice. Never try to ignore a problem, or hope that it will go away. Finally, it is worth remembering that every problem you encounter, and successfully solve, is potentially useful information in writing up your research.

Rather, flag up these problems and show your examiners how you overcame them. As you conduct research, you are likely to realise that the topic that you have focused on is more complex than you realised when you first defined your research question.

The research is still valid even though you are now aware of the greater size and complexity of the problem. A crucial skill of the researcher is to define clearly the boundaries of their research and to stick to them. You may need to refer to wider concerns; to a related field of literature; or to alternative methodology; but you must not be diverted into spending too much time investigating relevant, related, but distinctly separate fields.

Starting to write up your research can be intimidating, but it is essential that you ensure that you have enough time not only to write up your research, but also to review it critically, then spend time editing and improving it.

The following tips should help you to make the transition from research to writing:. Remember that you can not achieve everything in your dissertation. The companion study guide Writing a Dissertation focuses on the process of writing up the research from your research project. Personal tools Web Editor Log in. Search Site only in current section.

What is a dissertation? Important stages in the dissertation process include: Choosing a topic While some students come to their research project with a clear research question to address, many others arrive at this point with several ideas, but with no specific research question.

There are several ways forward: Does this spark an interest? Look at other writing: Look through the dissertations of previous students in your department: Think about your own interests: Is there a related topic of interest to you that has not been covered in the syllabus, but would fit with the theory or methodology you have been working with? This could include your research plan, early results of your data collection or draft chapters;.

Do not assume that your supervisor is available at all times to see you;. In your research plan you need to specify a time when you are going to stop researching and start writing. You should aim to stick to this plan unless you have a very clear reason why you need to continue your research longer.

Take a break from your project. When you return, look dispassionately at what you have already achieved and ask yourself the question: Speak to your supervisor about your progress.

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Suppose your research project involves travelling halfway around the world to conduct a field investigation. The question you must be asking yourself is: can I afford that much time and money? If not, then no matter how brilliant your idea is, you need to think of something else.

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When you are involved in conducting a research project, you generally go through the steps described below, either formally or informally. Some of these are directly involved in designing the experiment to test the hypotheses required by the project. The following steps are generally used in conducting a research project. 1.

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This guide addresses the task of planning and conducting a small research project, such as for an undergraduate or masters’ level dissertation. It aims to help you develop a clear sense of direction early on in the project, and to support you in organising, planning, and monitoring your project. Feb 21,  · How to Conduct Scientific Research Four Parts: Planning a Research Project Designing an Experiment Conducting the Experiments Analyzing and Publishing the Data Community Q&A If you want to contribute knowledge to the scientific community by conducting a scientific research project, you need to know the basic steps%(59).

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