Picking a topic & title
- Pick a topic based on a development within your discipline, a subject from a lecture, an area that raises debate or your experience/practice (Levin, 2011, p. 36).
- Titles often feature the following parts:
- Instruction: this may be an instruction verb such as discuss, compare or evaluate. See more examples and definitions of instruction words (University of Leicester, 2009). Alternatively, you may have a question word such as ‘how’ or ‘why’.
- Topic: this is the main area of research.
- Focus/aspect: this narrows down your general topic. For example, you could consider specific practitioners, genres, locations, aspects or time periods. Watch the video below for ideas on how to focus your research.
Tip: keep revisiting your title. Have you incorporated key words? Can you add further focus?
Use our guide to picking a topic and writing a title to help with the process.
Managing your time
- When approaching extended writing, it can help to break it into steps.
- Steps can include initial thinking, research and note-taking, collating notes, planning, drafting, reviewing, editing and finalising.
- A weekly or monthly Gantt chart (see below) is one way of planning time. Plot how long each activity might take with colour coding. Use this Excel Gantt Chart to get started.
Conducting primary research
- Primary research involves gathering information firsthand through methods such as visits, interviews, questionnaires or focus groups.
- When approaching participants, include who you are, what the project is about, why you are doing the research, what will be involved and what is happening to the information (Alderson, 1995, cited in Arksey and Knight, 1999, p. 69). Look at an example letter/email to a participant in our contacting participants guide
- You should also gain informed consent. This is where a participant is asked to agree to be involved in your research. See the University of Oxford’s guidance and example templates: https://researchsupport.admin.ox.ac.uk/governance/ethics/resources/consent
- Try piloting questions to avoid being confusing, leading or wordy. See the guide to question design to aid this.
- Additionally, consider the type of data that you wish to collect. This could be quantitative (figures, statistics) or qualitative (words, opinions).
- Watch the video below to learn more about qualitative research methods.
Organising the structure
- The cover page needs the title, report type, your name, course, year of completion and word count.
- An abstract is a summary of the whole report. It covers the topic, methods and results. It is roughly 250 words in length.
- The introduction and conclusion cover the same aspects as in smaller reports. However, they are around 10 % of the word count, so they can be split into multiple paragraphs.
- An Appendix (singular) or Appendices (plural) feature additional information such as email correspondence, survey questions or transcripts of interviews. Each new item takes an alphabetical letter such as Appendix A: Email to Design Studio. You can refer to these in your writing as follows (See Appendix …).
- Your chapters are like miniature essays that cover different aspects of your research.
- Chapter titles can be written as statements such as Chapter One: An Introduction to Colour Theory. Another approach is to word them as questions such as Chapter Two: How Do Contemporary Designers Utilise Colour?
- Make the order of your chapters logical. Some common ways of structuring are shown below.
Tip: View past examples of high quality Research Reports.
Look at the Research Report Guidelines to see information on structure and formatting.
The following sources were consulted:
Arksey, H. and Knight, P. (1999) Interviewing for social scientists. London: SAGE.
Gillet, A. (2019) Understanding the task. Available at: www.uefap.net/preparing/preparing-task/preparing-understanding-the-task-introduction (Accessed: 10 June 2019).
Levin, P. (2011) Excellent Dissertations! Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill Education.
Macmillan, K. and Weyers, J. (2007) How to write dissertations and project reports. London: Pearson Education.