ROUTE #1: Getting Started
ROUTE #1: Chapter-by-Chapter


Things to discuss with your supervisor

From your supervisor's point of view, this may only be the second time you have met to discuss your dissertation, and it could have been a few weeks or a couple of months since you first discussed your dissertation with them (i.e., STAGE FOUR: Assessment point may have been your first meeting). Therefore, start by briefly recapping what your dissertation is about, including the research questions/hypotheses that you are going to answer.

Next, if you developed a theoretical model for your dissertation (i.e., during STEP FOUR: Set the theoretical model for your dissertation in STAGE FIVE: Building the theoretical case), it is worth showing this to your supervisor. After all, theoretical models are useful frameworks to describe what you are studying in a clear, succinct, and visual way. More specifically, your theoretical model should: (a) set the boundaries/scope of the research project in terms of the theories and constructs that will be studied and measured; and (b) illustrate the research hypotheses to be tested, and the predictions that are being made (if any) about the relationship between the constructs under study.

If you didn't develop a theoretical model, you should focus on explaining the main constructs you will be studying, and the potential relationships between those constructs. This will help your supervisor to understand the theoretical case for your dissertation upon which your research strategy is based. It will also allow you to spend the majority of the meeting discussing your research strategy, which is the main thing you need to discuss with your supervisor. When you discuss your research strategy, remember to focus on the major aspects of your research strategy rather than the detail and justifications behind all of your decisions. You just won't have time to do this unless your supervisor has given you a long meeting.

During this meeting, we would suggest that you: (a) determine whether your research design, research method and sampling strategy are sufficient; (b) get advice on whether your research strategy is likely to be achievable in the time you have available; (c) check that your research strategy meets your dissertation and university's ethical guidelines; (d) present your measurement procedure, if you have time; and (e) defend the choice that you have made. Each of these considerations is discussed in turn:

Determine whether your research design, research method and sampling strategy are sufficient

The research strategy that you set determines how you are going to carry out (i.e., operationalize) your dissertation. In this respect, your research design, research methods and sampling strategy need to fit with the research hypotheses you have set and the theoretical case you have built for your dissertation. This is important for achieve a good mark. However, these components of your research strategy also have a significant impact on the effort that is required to complete a dissertation. By effort, we mean the practical aspects of going out and collecting your data, which includes everything from setting up your research design, to building a representative sample of your population, gaining access to such data, collecting the data using the research methods you have set, before analysing that data. Whilst effort is not going to get you a good mark by itself, there is a minimum amount of effort that will be expected of you when it comes to carrying out your dissertation. For example, the use of secondary research is often criticised because there is a general expectation that you will go out and collect data in the field (i.e., primary research), unless the secondary research, and the statistical analysis of that research is substantial. Similarly, the effort of putting together a probability sample can clearly be recognized over a non-probability sample due to the time and care that this takes. A third example would be your sample size, with the effort of collecting larger samples, for the most part, providing you with the ability to carry out more rigorous and extensive data analysis that is not possible with smaller samples.

By examining you research design, research methods and sampling strategy, your supervisor should be able to tell you, often from experience, whether the research you plan to carry out is sufficient for a good grade. There is nothing worse than meeting your supervisor too late when you are getting close to the end of the dissertation process, and finding out that you have not done enough. It is often too late to recover at this stage because you simply run out of time to analyse your data and write up your dissertation.

Get advice on whether your research strategy is likely to be achievable in the time you have available

Just as you don't want your research strategy to be insufficient, you also have to be careful that you don't take on too much, especially when it comes to the data collection phase. There are a number of factors that can affect the achievability of your dissertation, including issues of access (i.e., to people, organisations, data, facilities, and information), the size of the sample that you want, the length of the data collection process, whether you can receive help collecting your data, and what skills you may have to learn. If you are an undergraduate student, some of these factors can be difficult to judge because this will be your first dissertation, but even amongst master's students, this can be difficult. When you explain the research strategy you are using, it's a good idea to ask your supervisor whether they think it will be achievable in the time you have available.

Check that your research strategy meets your dissertation and university's ethical guidelines

Having worked through STEP SIX: Research ethics of STAGE SEVEN: Setting the research strategy, you should understand the ethical requirements arising from your choice of research strategy. However, if you do not know whether your choice of research strategy means that you need to write an Ethics Proposal, complete an Ethics Consent Form, or get permission from an Ethics Committee, we would suggest that you pass your ethical design by your supervisor. By ethical design, we simply mean those components of your research strategy that could undermine the five basic ethical principles you should abide by (i.e., minimising the risk of harm, obtaining informed consent, protecting anonymity and confidentiality, avoiding deceptive practices, and providing the right to withdraw). For example, if the research design involves exposing some participants to situations that may be psychological challenging or invasive, if the research methods involve some form of covert or deceptive aspect, or if the population that you are studying involves collecting data from minors or vulnerable groups, these are the kinds of things you should discuss with your supervisor. Since there is a danger that such ethical designs could undermine one or more of the five basic ethical principles, your dissertation may have to receive either informal or formal ethical approval. If your supervisor feels that you will not be able to get ethical approval, or that such ethical approval could severely delay your dissertation (i.e., since you cannot start collecting data until you have it), your supervisor may be able to advise you how to make small changes to your research strategy and ethical design to reduce the potential problems you could face.

Present your measurement procedure, if you have time

You'll not always have enough time to discuss your measurement procedure, but if there's one thing of detail that's worth asking your supervisor to look over, it's the measurement procedure you've used. This is important because the quality of your data is highly contingent on the quality of your measurement procedure (i.e., the reliability and construct validity of your measurement procedure).

If you've followed Route A: Duplication or Route B: Generalisation, this is not so much of an issue because (a) the measurement procedure you are drawing on in the main journal article should have been shown to be reliable and (b) you will not have made many (if any) changes. However, if you have followed Route C: Extension, especially a method or measurement-based extension, there may have been many changes to the measurement procedure used in the main journal article. Therefore, it is worth asking your supervisor to look over these changes. Unless your supervisor is a subject matter expert, they may only be able to help you with the face validity of the measurement procedure, but this can still be useful to avoid glaring mistakes. Your supervisor may be able to give you advice on things like the statement you read out to research participants to tell them what the research it about, what their ethical rights are, and so forth. They may also be able to offer advice on things like survey length or the number of data points you are trying to record in a structured observation, but for the most part, you should look to the main journal article and literature to determine such things.

Defend the choices that you have made

You don't want to defend your choices for the sake of it. If your supervisor strongly suggests that you change a major component of your research strategy, it would be advisable to seriously consider this. At the same time, unless your supervisor is an expert in your area of interest, you will know the contents of your dissertation far better than your supervisor: the research hypotheses you want to answer, the background literature to your dissertation, the research strategy that you plan to follow, and the justifications for all these choices. Making major changes to the theoretical case or research strategy you have set could require a lot of work, and you don't want to make these changes without being sure they are correct. it's worth remembering that you may have only spent 20 minutes with your supervisor, so some of the judgements your supervisor is making may be based solely of the main points you've put across in a short space of time, rather than a detailed assessment of the theoretical case or research strategy you have built. Therefore, if your supervisor does strongly suggest that you make any major changes, it is worth taking the time to defend the choices you have made in case these changes are unnecessary.

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