Home » Research project and Dissertation Guide for American Universities and Colleges

Research project and Dissertation Guide for American Universities and Colleges

Using the scientific method the researcher seeks to build an accurate representation of the world. In this respect the researcher needs to follow the following principles:

  • Direct observation of events
  • Clearly defined variables, methods, and procedures
  • Empirically testable hypotheses
  • Ability to rule out rival hypotheses
  • Statistical justification of conclusions
  • Self-correcting process

The researcher will seek to approve or disapprove conceptions by use of empirical evidence. In essence research, thesis and/or dissertations will involve the following stages:

Step 1: Observe some events in the universe.

Step 2: The researcher will invent a tentative description, called a hypothesis which is consistent with what is observed.

Step 3: Use the hypothesis to make predictions.

Step 4: Test those predictions by experiments or further observations and modify the hypothesis in the light of your results.

Step 5: Repeat steps 3 and 4 until there are no discrepancies between hypothesis and experiment /observation

Hypothesis becomes theory when experiment holds out.

  1. Define the problem
  2. Literature review
  3. Plan a research design
  4. Decide on  sampling procedure
  5. Collect data
  6. Analyze data
  7. Formulate conclusions and prepare report

Define the Problem

This section requires the researcher to point out the area of concern, a difficulty to be purged, a situation that needs improvement either in practice or theory.

Literature review

Involves systematic identification, location and analysis of documents/material containing information related to the research problem being investigated

Literature review will point to techniques and procedures that have been proven reliable in conducting the research.

Existent information will offer other strategies that could be explored in investigating the problem.

Literature review will help in avoiding duplication and instead enhance value addition in the field of knowledge.

How to do a literature review

If using the library then collect the books and journals that are relevant to the research topic

Make a list of Keywords that are relevant to the research

Use this list to conduct searches on online database Google scholar becomes important here

Once collected, the literature should be analyzed, organized and reported in an orderly manner.

  • Make an outline of the main topics or themes in order of presentation.
  • Studies contrary to received wisdom should not be ignored when reviewing literature. Such studies should be analyzed and possible explanation for the differences given.  They should be analyzed with a view to accounting for differences of opinion.
  • The literature should be organized in such a way that the more general is covered first before the researcher narrows down to that which is more specific to the research problem. Organizing the literature in this way leads to testable hypotheses.

Conceptual Framework

A conceptual framework is a narrative or graphical representation (diagrams are preferred) of the variables in the research and the relationship between them. The variables mainly the independent, dependent and moderating variables will be found in the research topic. If the research topic was formulated properly it should not be difficult to determine the research variables and develop the diagram that shows their relationship.

Research design

Research design can be termed as the guide or blueprint of the data collection and sampling process. The research design determines the instrument to be used in data collection and the preparation process.

What design to use? Although there is no simple classification the following pointers should guide you an understanding of what research design to use.

  1. The purpose of the study (Descriptive or causal Designs);
  2. The time dimension (research may be cross-sectional or longitudinal); For American degrees it is rare to do a longitudinal study.
  3. Degree to which the research problem has been crystallized (the study may be either exploratory or formal);
  4. The research environment (field setting or laboratory research).
  5. The power of the researcher to affect the variables under study (Experimental or the ex-post facto designs);
  6. The method of data collection (studies may be survey or observational);
  7. The topical scope – breadth and depth of the study (a case study or statistical study); and


Step 1:  Define the population (universe)

  • To be complete, a population must be defined in terms of elements, sampling units, extent, and

Step 2:  Specify the sampling frame

  • A sampling frame is a means of representing the elements of the population.
  • A perfect sampling frame is one in which every element of population is represented once but only once.
  • Perfect frames are, however, rare!

Step 3:  Specify Sampling Unit

  • The sampling unit is the basic unit containing the elements of the population to be sampled.
  • It may of course be the element itself or a unit in which the element is contained.

Step 4:  Selection of Sampling Method

  • The sampling method is the way the sampling units are to be selected.
  • The 5 basic choices that must be made in deciding on a sampling method are whether to use:
  • Probability versus non-probability sampling process.
  • Single unit versus cluster units.
  • Un-stratified versus stratified.
  • Equal unit probability versus equal probability sampling.
  • Single stage versus multistage sampling.

Step 5:  Determination of the sample size

Three kinds of specifications have to be made before the sample size necessary to estimate the population parameter can be determined.

Step 6:  Specify Sampling Plan

  • The sampling plan involves specification of how each of the decisions made thus far is to be implemented.

Step 7:  Select the Sample

  • The final step in the sampling process is the actual selection of the sample elements.
  • This requires a substantial amount of office and fieldwork, particularly if personal interviews are involved.


Troubleshooting errors with the survey

Errors may originate from measurement questions, the interviewer or participant.

Surveys can be done through the self administered questionnaire, conducted over the phone or personal one-on-one interviews.

The Questionnaire

  • Phase 1: Developing the instrument design strategy
  • Phase 2: Constructing and refining the measurement questions
  • Phase 3: Drafting and refining the instrument

What determines the questions to ask?

  • Characteristics of respondents
  • Nature of the topic(s) being studied
  • Type of data needed
  • Your analysis plan

Attitude Measurement scales

Attitude comprises 3 aspects which are behavioral, affective and cognitive. Most researches or dissertations are going to involve collection of data that is based on these components. There is need to design the research instrument appropriately in order to ensure that the data analysis can provide accurate information this is where the measurement scales come into play. Techniques used to measure attitude are defined as follows.

Physiological techniques

These involve measuring responses that can be determined physiologically from the respondent’s reaction. For example Pupil dilation measurement, Galvanic skin response, blood pressure among other techniques can be used to measure attitude as it is exhibited physiologically by the respondent.

Some gadgets that have been used to achieve this objective include

  • eye-tracking monitors
  • Pupil meters
  • Psycho galvanometers
  • voice pitch analyzers

Attitude measurement

These include rating scales that are used to measure responses for example if they agree or disagree. They include simple rating scales such as “Agree” “Disagree”, category scales which include more that 2 responses.

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Summated rating scales

These include Likert scales, semantic differential, staples and numeric rating scale they show how strongly a respondent agrees or disagrees with the question.

Behavioral intention measurement

This involves the intentions of the respondent towards an attitude object. This type of measurement scale will seek to establish the respondent’s expectations. They seek to establish the likelihood of an individual’s likelihood to perform a certain action in future example

  • How likely is it that you will seek dissertation services from getanessay.wordpress?
  • I definitely will
  • I probably will
  • I might
  • I probably will not
  • I definitely will not

Data analysis

Data analysis will involve tabulation and cleaning up of the data collected from the questionnaires, checklists, observations or other instruments used. This data needs to be arranged appropriately for purposes of analysis. The data should then be checked for consistency to ensure no double entries or wrong entries are made and that the respondents answered the questions accordingly.

There are a variety of softwares that can be used to perform data analysis such as Microsoft Excel, Epi-info, SPSS among others. A researcher needs to understand what information is required as determined by the research question in order to perform the correct statistical measure. It is also important at this stage to be simple and concise. This is because most new researchers believe the more complex the analysis the better or the more complex the tools being used the better but this is a misconception. This is because the research project or dissertation is not for you but for the public or the stakeholders who have commissioned the research project so don’t make it complex.

Some of the statistical measures that are mostly used include means, modes, medians, standard deviation, variance, correlation, regression, covariance among others. Your statistics class becomes important in this section. Two tailed test, chi square tests, T test are among other measures that can be used to confirm or dispute hypothesis set out by the research project. In most dissertations not all these measures will be used and they must be selected depending on the findings the researcher is pursuing.

Presentation and interpretation of findings

It is important to present the data in an appealing way using graphs, pie charts and so on. People respond well to images and that is the reason that most research projects and dissertations use graphical items to represent the information. Graphical objects also make it simpler for the findings to be well understood and at times even “speak for themselves”. The researcher should also write out his findings and explain the conclusions. The results of the data analysis come with some meaning this meaning will need to be deciphered for purposes of understanding and appreciating the results presented. In this case you will need to explain the variances, standard deviation and what they mean according to the research


The researcher should suggest solutions to the problems confirmed by the research. Most of this information can be arrived at through creativity and intuition. The researcher will come across some of these solutions through the research process and as they actively interact with the environment in the context of the thesis.

The researcher should also point out further gaps in the topic of study so that other interested parties can pursue those angles to build more knowledge around the topic of study.

Generic dissertation and research project outline formats

It is advisable to check your university manual for guidelines on how to write your dissertation. Seek further clarifications from your supervisor as some of these guidelines are at the discretion of the dissertation board.

Quantitative Dissertation Outline

Chapter 1: Introduction

  • Background of the Problem
  • Statement of the Problem
  • Purpose of the Study
  • Theoretical Framework
  • Research Hypotheses
  • Importance of the Study
  • Scope of the Study
  • Definition of Terms
  • Summary

Chapter 2: Review of the Literature

Chapter 3: Research Methods

  • Research Design
  • Participants
  • Instrumentation
  • Research Procedures and Pilot Testing
  • Data Analysis
  • Assumptions of the Study
  • Limitations of the Study
  • Summary

Chapter 4: Research Findings

Chapter 5: Conclusions, Discussion, and Suggestions for Future Research

  • Summary
  • Conclusions
  • Discussion
  • Suggestions for Future Research

Qualitative Dissertation Outline

Chapter 1: Introduction

  • Background of the Problem
  • Statement of the Problem
  • Purpose of the Study
  • Research Questions
  • Importance of the Study
  • Scope of the Study
  • Definition of Terms
  • Delimitations and Limitations

Chapter 2: Review of the Literature (in qualitative studies, often reviewed after rather than before data collection)

Chapter 3: Research Methods

  • The Qualitative Paradigm
  • Qualitative Methods
  • The Researcher’s Role
  • Data Sources
  • Data Collection
  • Data Analysis
  • Verification
  • Ethical Considerations
  • Plan for Narrative OR Pilot Study Results

Chapter 4: Research Findings

Chapter 5: Conclusions, Discussion, and Suggestions for Future Research

  • Summary
  • Conclusions
  • Discussion
  • Suggestions for Future Research

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