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Dissertation Guidelines

Dissertation Guidelines

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Published by: Patients Know Best on Oct 03, 2009
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Robert Kennedy CollegeGuidelines for writing a Masters dissertation
Contents
 
Introduction
 
2Section A
 
MBA versus MSc dissertations 3Getting started and choosing a topic 3Basic structure 4Constructing the plan 5Managing time 9Data security 12Data gathering and note-taking 12Questionnaires and interviews 13Section B
 
Length and layout 16Fonts, pagination and numbering 18Graphics 19Referencing 22Writing style 27Bibliography 34Section C
 
Introductory remarks 36Part1.Original sample 37Part2.Commented sample 52
 
 
Guidelines for writing a Masters dissertation
 
Introduction
This document has been prepared by an experienced marker of Masters dissertations,
1
 one who has graded such dissertations over many years both for Robert Kennedy Collegeand for several other institutions. You would be well advised to read it through carefullybefore starting on your dissertation, then subsequently to refer to it now and then, aboveall when writing up. There is a wealth of material on aspects of doing dissertationresearch, from working in a conducive physical environment, through planning and timemanagement, to academic writing style. Some good sources are mentioned in thebibliography. This document, however, contains most, if not all, of what you need toknow. If you have already started writing up, or even have finished doing so, it will stillbe worthwhile reading it and making any consequent amendments you think necessary.For most students, especially those who have little or no experience of producing anacademic dissertation, if these guidelines are followed, the chances of a better mark willcertainly be increased. Nevertheless, while some of the material presented is prescriptive,some of it is optional – that is to say, advice rather than instructions – and some of it willdepend on circumstances such as the type of dissertation undertaken and, consequently,different kinds of source material. The difference in this document between what isprescriptive and what is optional will be made clear where it is not self-evident. However,since no series of guidelines, no matter how detailed, can hope to cover every possible setof circumstances, it will almost certainly be necessary to adjust some of what is said toyour particular project.The document is divided into three sections. Section A consists of basic guidelines andgeneral advice. Section B deals with specific issues, such as page layout, writing style,referencing and the like. Section C is divided into two parts. Part 1 is a sample from a(fictitious) MBA dissertation for you to mark as an exercise. Part 2 is a commentedversion of that sample.
 It is best not to look, either now or later, at the commented version until you have marked the uncommented version.
If you have not yet discussed the matter of your dissertation with your supervisor, you areadvised to arm yourself at least with the information in Section A before doing so. Itmight save him or her a lot of explanation!
1
 
If you go to sources other than this present document for help and advice on writing a dissertation, youmay see the term
dissertation
referred to as
thesis
, although MSc and MBA dissertations, which form onlypart of a course, and which are usually done at the end of that course, are more usually referred to asdissertations. A thesis tends to be longer than a dissertation. However, in the USA, even PhD theses areoften called dissertations.
 2
 
Section A
1. The difference between (a) an MSc dissertation and (b) an MBA dissertation
There is, in fact, very little difference. Both require academic rigour, and both representan exercise in gathering and structuring information, analysing that information, andsetting the text out in a standard academic format. However, the MBA dissertation ismore often than not undertaken by those already in work, typically as managers, and it isnatural that they should focus not only on their own field but often on the company theywork for. The MBA dissertation thus generally draws heavily on a candidate’s work experience, whereas the MSc dissertation tends, although not without exception, to drawmore on the experience and knowledge of others. It is not so much that the MBAdissertation is essentially less theoretical than the other type, but rather that there is adifference of direction. There are nevertheless exceptions to this pattern, so that it isimperative that candidates fully discuss with their supervisors their proposed projects andthe general approach they intend to take.
2. Getting started and managing the work
There is a considerable literature on ways to decide on a topic, plan and write up adissertation. Whole books are dedicated to the subject, and many academic websitesproduce guidelines aimed at their graduate students. Some of these sites, and somepertinent books, are listed in the bibliography, although if you use them you will find thatsome of what they have to say is specific to their institutions.
2.1 Choosing a topic
If you do not have any good ideas about a topic, contact your supervisor outlining somegeneral areas, and ask for advice. Look at what other people have done, or in text booksor articles, and/or talk to people in your organisation, and see if anything sparks off anidea, as can often happen. In fact, as you research a topic you have chosen, you may findthat with the knowledge gained, a better one suggests itself. If you do already haveconcrete ideas, write them all down (do not discard any at this point – even ones whichmay seem not so good) and discuss them with your supervisor.It is preferable, although not mandatory, to choose a topic based on a hypothesis of somekind – therefore allowing something to be discussed, maybe where there are arguments tobe made on both sides, and a judgement made at the end after the evidence has beenpresented. The following two statements illustrate the notion:a.
The desk measures 2.35 metres by 1.46 metres
b.
The desk is too small
 The first of these does not allow for any argument. One takes a ruler and measures thedesk: the statement is either right or it is wrong. The second does allow for argumentbecause the statement can be justified or otherwise in various ways. Too small for what?For the room? It all depends. For sufficient working space? It depends on the work involved and perhaps the habits of the worker.3

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