3rd year research report

How do I pick a topic?

  • 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).
Possible areas for research diagram. See the questions below for more details.
  • Gap: What area is missing or limited in current research?
  • Topical: Which issue(s) are of concern/interest within industry?
  • Genre: Which genre or branch of your discipline interests you?
  • Process: Which materials or techniques do you utilise in your practice?
  • Theory: Which theories or principles have you learnt about?
  • Case study: Who or what inspires you?
  • Past learning: What lecture topics have interested you? Do you wish to explore a previous area of research further?


Avoid picking a topic that is too wide. See ways to focus research below.

Managing your time

  • It can help to break extended writing into steps.
  • A weekly Gantt chart (see below) is one way of planning time. 
  • Plot how long each activity might take with colour coding.
  • See the study skills time management pages for more tips.
Gantt Chart Example.
Figure 2: Example of an 8 week Gantt Chart

Conducting primary research

  • Primary research involves gathering information firsthand via methods such as visits, interviews, questionnaires or focus groups.
  • Consider the type of data that you wish to collect: quantitative (figures, statistics) or qualitative (words, opinions).
  • As part of primary research, you may have to write questions; avoid confusing, leading or word language. See the guide to question design below to aid you.
  • Additionally, watch the video to learn more about qualitative research methods.

Being ethical:

  • Being ethical relates to ‘moral behaviour in research contexts’ (Wiles, 2013, p.4). It includes following good practices for data collection, storage and use of information. Read NUA’s Code of Ethics.
  • Complete the NUA Ethics Checklist to uncover any issues. If you answer ‘Yes’ to any of the questions, you will need to complete the University’s Ethics Approval Form.
  • When approaching participants, inform them 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).
  • Outline your research with a participant information sheet or introductory letter/email.
  • You should also obtain written consent from participants where appropriate.
  • Participants’ identities should not be revealed unless written permission is obtained prior to the work being carried out. Instead, use anonymised names such as ‘Participant A’.
  • See below for templates to outline your research and gain consent.

Structuring the writing

Cover page
Contents page
  • Cover page: features title, report type, your name, course, year of completion and word count.
  • Abstract: a summary of the whole report. It covers the topic, methods and results. It is roughly 250 words in length. See the guide below.
  • Introduction and conclusion: these cover the same aspects as smaller reports. However, as they will be around 500 words each they can be split into multiple paragraphs.
  • Appendix (singular) or Appendices (plural): features 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. Refer to these in your writing as (See Appendix …).

Ordering chapters

  • Your chapters should cover different aspects of your research.
  • Aim for roughly 3 main chapters.
  • 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.
1. Analytical: Situation – Problem – Solution
2. Chronological: Past – Present – Future
3. Comparison: Similar – Different
4. Discussion: For – Against; Pros – Cons
5. General to specific: e.g. context or history – case studies
6. Phrased: Short – Medium – Long Term Aspects
7. Thematic: Theme a – Theme b – Theme c
Adapted from Macmillan and Weyers (2007, p. 96)

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.
  • Oxford University (no date) Informed consent. Available at: https://researchsupport.admin.ox.ac.uk/governance/ethics/resources/consent (Accessed: 16 June 2020).
  • Wiles, R. (2013) What are qualitative research ethics? London: Bloomsbury group.


Find our more about research and dissertations here: https://tinyurl.com/yx3s3cwf