Writing up your Research (The Quick Guide)

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For post-graduate research papers, identifying research gaps and formulating research questions that can address these gaps form the very essence of a research paper. Identifying research gaps does not have to be a difficult endeavour and there are several ways to overcome this difficulty:. Start by reading A simple approach will be to read important parts of key articles in your research area.

Writing up your research

A quick search using keywords on Google Scholar will often give you a quick overview of the available literature. Abstracts and recommendations Whichever avenue you choose, reading the abstract is often a good starting point to get a sense of what the articles entails. Another route would be to simply read as much as you can on your research subject while considering which research areas still need addressing in the literature — this is usually an indication of research gaps.

Use sample literature reviews Have a look at sample dissertation literature reviews in your subject area and read them thoroughly to familiarise yourself with existing key debates and themes. This can be a good starting point for framing and structuring your own review. If you are not familiar with academic writing, going through samples will help you to get a sense of what is expected in this regard. Pay attention to the academic language and formal style used. Also, remember that the bibliography or reference section of your selected texts will help you to snowball further references if you need any.

Keep it simple Keep your topic as narrowed down as possible. Remember that there are hundreds — or in some instances, thousands — of sources or perspectives concerning any subject area or topic. Researchers investigate research problems in many divergent ways and the literature available on any given subject is extremely broad. In your review, ensure that you clearly state what the focus of your work will be. In the social sciences this rule may not apply, as many theoretical works are classics and you will be expected to be familiar with these perspectives.

You might have to the review the work of Marx, or Hobbes, or any other classic scholar. You still need to balance theory with current approaches, as you will need to demonstrate the ways in which perspectives in the literature have changed over the years, or you may even want to demonstrate how scholars have used classic theories to inform their work.

Consider the organisation of your work In a dissertation literature review, organising your work goes beyond having an introduction, body and conclusion. Below is a detailed guide on how to do this:. Like any other academic paper, a dissertation literature review will comprise a basic introduction, body, and conclusion. The introduction of a literature review should be clear, short and focused. It should outline the focus of the review — in other words, it should clearly state the main topics to be covered. A good literature review will also state the arguments to be made, as well as underlying rationale that underpins these arguments.

The body of your literature review will include an in-depth discussion of the academic sources you have chosen to review. You may choose to organise your sources according to themes, methodology or even based on a chronological order. In the body of your review, ensure that your arguments are presented clearly and that you link these arguments with the literature.


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Is there a scholar that agrees with your view? Say so, in a way that the reader will understand easily.

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This demonstrates that you are very familiar with the academic research in your field. Remember to also make note of any views that do not agree with your position; excluding these arguments will reduce the methodological robustness of your piece. Instead, try to paraphrase quotations and only use direct quotes if it really helps to illustrate your argument.

If your literature review forms part of a broader research proposal, reiterate the gaps in the literature here, and clearly state how your proposed research will fill these gaps. Make recommendations for future research in this section too, which demonstrates your analytical skills and will score you some extra points. You have options here — you can choose to organise the content of your work based on a chronological method, based on themes, trends or methodology, or based on arguments.

To structure the body of work chronologically, you will have to organise your sources based on when they were published. A limitation of this approach is that it inhibits continuity in your arguments and in some instances, can undermine the coherence of your work. Use with caution. Say you were trying to convey the debates on European migration policy, you might want to start by writing something along these lines:.

They specifically espouse a perspective based on a human rights approach…". This approach also leaves room for you to insert your voice into the literature. Consider this statement:. Using this technique also allows you to introduce additional literature that supports your position. Another way of organising your content is according to theme; or sub-themes, if your review focuses on one overarching topic. This method of organisation still allows you to present an overview of any polemical debates within these sub-themes.

A thematic review can easily shift between chronological periods within each sub-section too. This method is particularly evident in introductory sections whereby researchers may simply want to state that a particular subject has been mostly studied from a qualitative or quantitative perspective they will often then cite a number of scholars or studies to support this claim.

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In scientific reviews however, a methodological approach may form the basis of the discussions in the body. If this is the case for you, focus on the methods used by various researchers. How did they go about answering a particular research question? Were there any limitations to this method? If so, what method s would have been better? The body of your research may also include additional sections that do not necessarily form a part of its organisational structure.

It may also focus on historical considerations. You could include a short methodology section that details the approach you used in selecting and analysing your sources. Write the paragraphs of the body Once you have settled on the approach to writing your body, you must now write each of its paragraphs in a way that is in keeping with academic conventions.


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Consider this paragraph from a literature review about stakeholder participation for environmental management, to clarify the discussion that follows:. Despite the rhetoric and the concerns that have been expressed, there have been few attempts to investigate the validity of the many claims that have been made for stake-holder participation Webler, ; Beierle, ; Brody, ; Blackstock et al. The few attempts that have been made have tended to focus on evaluating the process rather than the outcomes e.

Beierle, ; Renn et al. This may be partly due to the challenge of selecting appropriate evaluation criteria and data collection methods. Blackstock et al.

However, this is not straightforward. Webler and Tuler found strong differences of opinion between participants that they selected from ten case studies, about what constituted a "good" participatory process. Source: Reed, M. Stakeholder participation for environmental management: a literature review. Biological conservation, 10 , pp. As the example above suggests, a dissertation literature review must be written using a formal and academic style. Also, note how sources have been grouped according to both arguments and themes. Remember we noted that the process of grouping sources in the body of your literature review is never a linear one?

You will often use a combination of the approaches that we have discussed.

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Ensure that your writing is concise, coherent and devoid of any personal or strong language. There are exceptions at post-graduate level or generally — like when you have conducted your own primary research or published your work widely — which give you the academic authority to boldly make claims. Remember also to generally use present tense when referring to opinions and theories although in the context of specific research experiments, the use of the past tense is better.

Useful linking words and phrases include: similarly, there are parallels, in convergence with…. When there is disagreement, you may want to use any of the following: However, conversely, on the other hand, diverges from, antithetical to, differential from…. Write the conclusion The conclusion of a dissertation literature review should always include a summary of the implications of the literature, which you should then link to your argument or general research question.

The overall structure of your literature review will be largely based on your research area and the academic conventions that are in line with it. Nevertheless, there are some essential steps that apply across all disciplines and that you should ensure you follow:. Do not simply describe the opinions of writers Analyse, analyse, analyse, and ensure that your analysis is critical what have the writers missed; where does your opinion sit with theirs, etc. Structure the body of your argument using various techniques Your structure should be organised based on thematic areas, key debates or controversial issues, and according to methodological approaches.

Keep your review dynamic, but coherent. It is certainly an academic exercise, but perhaps not too different from the concise explanations of your research you may have had to give to relatives and neighbours over the last few years, in terms of its brevity, accessibility, and comprehensiveness.

This is your opportunity to mention individuals who have been particularly helpful. Reading the acknowledgements in other dissertations in your field will give you an idea of the ways in which different kinds of help have been appreciated and mentioned. The contents pages will show up the structure of the dissertation.

This is a useful check on whether amalgamation of sections, or creation of further sections or sub-sections is needed. Although this is the first piece of writing the reader comes to, it is often best to leave its preparation to last as, until then, you will not be absolutely sure what you are introducing. The introduction has two main roles:.

The purpose of this chapter is to show that you are aware of where your own piece of research fits into the overall context of research in your field. To do this you need to:. This can lead logically into a clear statement of the research question s or problem s you will be addressing. In addition to the research context, there may be other relevant contexts to present for example:. It can be difficult to identify the best order for sections in this chapter because the rationale for your choice of specific research question can be complicated, and there may be several inter-linked reasons why the research is needed.

It is worth taking time to develop a logical structure as this will help to convince examiners of the relevance of your research, and that you understand its relevance. It will also provide you with a framework to refer back to in your discussion chapter, when you reflect on the extent to which your research has achieved what it set out to do.

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