If you want to know how to write a research project, then you have come to the right place! Having taught around 1000 students how to write a research project over the past decade, I take all of my best tips and advice and share them with you below. Are you ready to learn how to write a research project? Read on…
- How to write a research project
- How to write a research project- selecting a suitable topic
- How to write a research project- Research project proposal
- How to write a research project- format and structure
- How to write a research project- aims and objectives
- The difference between a research question and a hypothesis
- How to write a research project- Literature review
- How to write a research project- Methodology
- 1- Start by discussing the broad philosophical approaches of your research
- 2- Discuss your choice of research approach (qualitative or quantitative or both)
- 3- Analyse your chosen research method
- 4- Be critical about your sampling techniques
- 5- Be an ethical researcher
- 6- Don’t be afraid to be critical!
- 7- Use references, lots and lots of references
- How to write a research project- results and discussion
- Why do most people get the lowest marks for their research and discussion chapter?
- Tip #1- Think of your research project as one piece of work
- Tip #2- Label graphs/charts/tables correctly
- Tip #3- Pay attention to formatting
- Tip #4- Don’t just identify- ANALYSE!
- Tip #5- Link your results back to the literature
- Tip #6- Don’t be afraid to critically assess your own research
- 6 tips to write your research project FAST
- How to write a research project- planning your time
- How to write a research project- To conclude
How to write a research project
When planning how to write a research project you will need to carefully plan out the different chapters of your work. You need to plan when you will undertake your desk research, your data collection and your final write up. In this guide I talk you through how to write a research project, so what are you waiting for? Keep reading!
How to write a research project- selecting a suitable topic
Whether you’re studying for a degree, a Master’s, a Ph.D., or a work-based qualification, it is likely that you will be required to undertake a research project as part of your studies and therefore will need to know how to write a research project.
What is a research project?
If you want to know how to write a research project effectively, you will first need to know what a research project is!
A research project is an individual piece of work where you are given the flexibility to undertake original research of your choice. They are also commonly referred to as a dissertation or thesis!
It is a substantial piece of work that generally ranges from around 10,000 to 100,000 words and takes a considerable amount of time and effort to complete. As such, it is important that you select a suitable research project topic and know how to write a research project.
A research project will involve a critical review of existing literature, a methodology, and an analysis and discussion of data.
Usually, the project will involve collecting your own primary data, but you can also complete a research project based on secondary data- check with your institution about the specific requirements that they may have.
A research project is valuable because it generally has the potential for real-world application, particularly within areas such as aviation.
Why is the research project topic important?
Having a suitable research topic is imperative to the success of your research! I have supervised and graded hundreds of research projects over the past few years – trust me, I know. Having a clear and suitable topic from the beginning will help with the following:
- Organising the project
- Giving the project direction and coherence
- Setting limits for the project and showing its boundaries
- Keeping the researcher focused during the project
- Providing a framework for writing the research project
- Understanding what data will be needed
Criteria for a suitable research project topic
If you want to know how to write a research project effectively, you will need to understand what makes for a suitable research project topic.
1- Relevance – The topic must clearly lie within your chosen course of study: for example, aviation management.
2- Specificity – There must be a clearly developed/defined issue, problem or hypothesis proposed.
3- Analysis – your topic CANNOT be a purely descriptive work – there should be elements of interpretation, critical awareness, and evaluation.
4- Originality – your project should attempt to build upon existing knowledge in your chosen field. This may be accomplished in an area in which there is little research, or a new insight into an area where there is a significant amount of research.
5- Feasibility – your project objectives must be realistic in terms of time and resources: money, contacts, and access to respondents.
6- Scale- Consider the scale of the project. It is important that you are not over-ambitious. 10,000 words might seem like a lot at the beginning but you’ll quickly find yourself exceeding the word count!
7- Quality– This is more important than scale. For example, choose to conduct a local or regional study rather than national or international.
8- Methods– Consider how you might collect data relevant to your project. Is it feasible and realistic?
How to write a research project- Research project proposal
When asking how to write a research project, it is important that you are familiar with the proposal stage.
Your research proposal comes at the beginning of your research project. Whilst you obviously won’t now all of the answers at this point, you do need to demonstrate that you have thought about all of the key areas of your research, that your ideas are valid and that they are feasible.
How to write an awesome research proposal
Tip #1: Be able to justify your choice of topic
If you want to know how to write a research project effectively, you will need to justify your choice of research.
Whether you are presenting your research proposal in written, verbal or graphical format, you need to be able to provide strong justifications for your choice of topic.
Your topic should be academically suitable (i.e. at the appropriate level, related to literature etc), but it should also have some ‘real-world’ value. In other words, you need to show that your research project can be useful in the world of business. You will need to clearly demonstrate this using references, statistics, figures etc.
For example, if I was to propose a research project focussing on the receptiveness of pilot automation amongst airline passengers, I would support this by demonstrated the increased use of automation in other context such as cars or trains. I would also describe the level of automation already in practice by specific airlines. For more on what makes a research project suitable and why visit this post- ‘How to select a suitable research project topic’.
Tip #2: Know the background of your topic
If you want to know how to write a research project effectively, you will need to have some background knowledge.
Whilst you do not need to provide a comprehensive literature review at the research proposal stage, you should have a clearly organised conceptual framework. I recommend that you do some preliminary reading and start to keep an annotated bibliography to help organise your reading.
Knowing the background of your topic will help you to better justify why it is important and to provide a comprehensive rationale. It will also help you to make better decisions regarding the angle that your research may take and your methodological decisions.
Tip #3: Have a well thought-through methodology
If you want to know how to write a research project effectively, you will need to have an understanding of methodology.
Everything that you will cover in your final methods chapter should be briefly touched upon in your research proposal. This demonstrates that you have considered all of the methodological options available to you as a researcher and that you can justify your decisions.
Things to include here are: research philosophy; ontology and epistemology; research approach (qualitative or quantitative); methods (interviews, surveys etc), sampling and ethics. Make sure that you include references here too- I also recommend that you use some of the excellent research methods books available to you- I recommend Social Research Methods by Bryman and Research Methodology: A Step by Step Guide for Beginners by Kumar.
Tip #4: Have a strong theoretical and conceptual underpinning
If you want to know how to write a research project effectively, you will need to have a good knowledge of relevant academic theories and related concepts.
Many students will submit their research proposal with lots of great ideas, but it will lack theoretical and conceptual underpinning- because they may not thoroughly know how to write a research project successfully.
To give your research proposal credibility (and to get the highest grades!) you will need to include lots of relevant theory.
Think about the main concepts that you will address in your literature and outline these in your proposal. Demonstrate that you can think analytically about the literature sources and content that you will use. Make sure that you have justified your methodological decisions with the appropriate citations and references.
Tip #5: Be analytical
If you want to know how to write a research project effectively, you will need have well developed analytical skills.
Remember that this is a degree level piece of work or higher. As such you need to demonstrate critical thinking and analysis throughout your proposal. Think about the limitations that your research might have (in terms of size, scope, money?).
Make sure that you are analytical at all stages of your proposal, from your literature review through to your methods. Weight up the benefits and limitations along with any risks.
How to write a research project- format and structure
Many students will find themselves asking how to write a research project. And one of the major considerations is how to structure a research project, dissertation or thesis whilst undertaking their degree.
In many aspects of life, we are encouraged to be individual and unique. We are encouraged to develop our own style and personality. In academia, however, this is often not the case. Formats to be used for student work are generally pretty standard and structuring a research project is no different.
How to structure a research project
Most universities will require you to structure a research project in a way similar to the one I am about to outline. I do, however, recommend that you check with your institution for any specific guidelines and requirements that they may have. If you want to know how to write a research project effectively, you will need to check the guidance and make sure that you follow it.
This is the first page that readers of your research project will see and it will influence their first impressions. First impressions are very difficult to change so make sure that this page looks professional. Your university might require you to place the institution logo or include a particular phrasing- this is something you should check.
Whilst you won’t get any direct marks for the acknowledgments section, it is a good idea to put some thought into this. Traditionally, this is the place where you will pay reference to anybody who has been involved in your research project. This will usually include paying homage to your research project supervisor(s), any relevant lecturers, your research respondents and anybody else who has supported you (academically or otherwise) including friends and family.
This should be a concise overview of your research project. It will include the key elements such as the conceptual framework, the research methods employed and the key findings.
Your contents page should be clear and well organised. Don’t rush this at the end or there might be mistakes.
It should list each chapter, headings and subheadings with pages. It should also include a list of tables and figures.
The introduction chapter will set the scene for your research project. This should provide some context and rationale for the research project (i.e. why are you doing it). It should also demonstrate clear aims and objectives.
These aims and objectives are the foundations of your research project and should be well developed, giving specific details. You should pay reference to these throughout the various chapter and then demonstrate how they were addressed at the end of the research project in the conclusion chapter.
You will also need to demonstrate a clear research question or hypothesis for your research in the introduction chapter.
If you want to know how to write a research project effectively, you will need to have a strong literature review.
This should be a review of all of the relevant literature in your subject area. You need to demonstrate a clear conceptual framework. You also need to ensure that you are analytical throughout the chapter. EVERYTHING must be referenced appropriately.
A literature review requires a lot of reading so you need to ensure that you develop some effective reading strategies. You might also want to do an annotated bibliography.
Your methods chapter provides the theoretical underpinning to your research project methodology. It gives (or doesn’t give) your research credibility. In this chapter you need to demonstrate that your findings are based on a well-developed and scientifically credible methodology.
Things that should be included in this chapter are: research philosophy; ontology and epistemology; research approach (qualitative or quantitative); methods (interviews, surveys etc), sampling and ethics. Many people recommend using the research onion to help organise this, I’ve written a simple explanation of it here- ‘The research onion for beginners’.
I also recommend that you use some of the excellent research methods books available to you- I recommend Social Research Methods by Bryman and Research Methodology: A Step by Step Guide for Beginners by Kumar.
If you want to know how to write a research project successfully you will need to master this section!
This is where you will present and analyse your results. Most students lose marks here because they simply do not know what to do with the data once they have it. It is also common that students have not planned their time very well and are rushing this chapter (which is usually worth a fair chunk of their marks!).
The way that you present your results will differ depending on the type of data that you have collected. Generally, qualitative data lends itself to the use of diagrams, charts and quotes. Quantitative data lends itself to the use of tables and graphs.
You will need to develop a method of analysis. This might be a coding system if you are analysisng qualitative data. It could be the use of descriptive statistics, bivariate analysis or multivariate analysis for quantitative data.
This is the most important section of a research project, dissertation or thesis, yet it will typically receive the least attention. This is largely due to students running out of time or having a poorly integrated project (i.e. the literature does not link with the research findings).
This section needs to bring the whole project together. It should discuss your findings in relation to the literature. It should analyse these points. You might also develop models or new theories.
Conclusions and Suggestions for Further Work
Lastly, you will need to conclude your research project. Don’t rush this, this will be the last bit that your supervisors will read and you want to leave them with a good impression!
In this chapter you need to re-visit your aims and objectives, clearly stating how these have been achieved. You should summarise the key findings and demonstrate how your research has contributed to knowledge. If you want to know how to write a research project effectively, you will need to clearly conclude all of your work here.
You will also need to reflect on what aspects of your research was subject to limitations. Don’t make yourself look bad here, just acknowledge that your research isn’t perfect and that there is scope for improvement. You might, for example, discuss limitations in terms of resources such as money or time. You might also state the areas that the research project did not investigate due to the size and scope of the project.
Everything that is cited in the text should be referenced and visa-versa. Make sure that you use your institution’s chosen referencing style.
If you want to know how to write a research project effectively, you will need to learn how to reference correctly, if you don’t already know.
Use this section to include any content that is relevant to your project but that you did not feel should be included in the main text. This often includes examples of consent forms, survey questions and supplementary diagrams or images.
If you want to know how to write a research project effectively, you might use additional material that doesn’t fit in the main body of your project. If so, put it here.
Lastly, you will need to make sure that your project is suitably formatted. Alongside being pretty strict on how to structure a research project, many universities will ask you to provide a bound copy of you research, so make sure that you allow time for this. They might also have specific requirements for font size and style, word count, margin size etc.
How to write a research project– aims and objectives
Once you’ve decided on suitable research project topic and developed an appropriate research question or hypothesis, you need to begin to organise your research project.
In order to do this effectively, it is important that you have good aims and objectives for your research.
This not only tells the reader what your project is about and how it will be undertaken, but it also helps to keep you on track. I suggest that you refer back to these aims and objectives at the beginning and at the end of each chapter to help focus your project, as I did with my PhD research.
You probably won’t be graded directly on your aims and objectives in your overall research project, but they do form an integral part of the overall layout and integration on the research. Some institutions will assess good your aims and objectives are as part of a research project proposal.
What is a research aim?
If you want to know how to write a research project, you must first understand what an aim is.
An aim sets out the intentions of the work, i.e. the overall purpose of the study.
Aims are broad statements of desired outcomes, or the general intentions of the research, which ‘paint a picture’ of your research project.
They emphasise what is to be accomplished but do not go into the level of detail explain how it is to be accomplished.
Aims address the long-term project outcomes, i.e. they should reflect the aspirations and expectations of the research topic.
What are research objectives?
The next thing that will help you understand how to write a research project is understand what objectives are.
Once aims have been established, the next task is to formulate the objectives. Generally, a project should have no more than two or three aims statements, while it may include a number of objectives consistent with them.
Objectives are subsidiary to aims and are the steps you are going to take to answer your research questions or a specific list of tasks needed to accomplish the goals of the project. A good set of aims should do the following:
- Emphasise how aims are to be accomplished
- Must be highly focused and feasible
- Address the more immediate project outcomes
- Make accurate use of concepts
- Must be sensible and precisely described
- Should read as an ‘individual’ statement to convey your intentions
Aims and objectives examples
Here is an example from a recent student project that I supervised at undergraduate level:
- To critically assess the collection and disposal of waste products by UK airlines.
- To critically assess waste operations by airlines based at London Heathrow Airport,
- To investigate volumes/types of materials arising and current disposal/recovery routes
- To make recommendations to improve the operational effectiveness of, and to maximise recovery opportunities of waste collection by airlines
How to write good aims and objectives
If you want to know how to write a research project that is successful, you must first identify good aims and objectives.
Here are some general guidelines to ensure that you write good aims and objectives for your research project:
- Be concise and brief
- Be interrelated; the aim is what you want to achieve, and the objective describes how you are going to achieve that aim
- Be realistic about what you can accomplish in the duration of the project and the other commitments you have
- Be specific and provide you and your supervisor(s) with indicators of how you intend to:
-approach the literature and theoretical issues related to your project
-access your chosen subjects, respondents, units, goods or services
-develop a sampling frame and strategy or a rationale for their selection
-develop a strategy and design for data collection and analysis
-deal with ethical and practical problems in your research
What to avoid when writing aims and objectives
Here are some things to avoid when considering how to write a research project-
- Being vague, overly ambitious or broad in scope
- Being repetitive
- Simply listing things related to your research topic
- Contradicting your methods – i.e. they should not imply methodological goals or standards of measurement, proof or generalisability of findings that the methods cannot sustain
In the conclusion chapter of your research project you will be required to assess whether or not you have met your objectives and if not, why not.
It is important to note that you may not always meet your aims in full, since your research may reveal that your questions were inappropriate, that there are intervening variables you could not account for or that the circumstances of the study have changed, etc. This should all be clearly explained.
The difference between a research question and a hypothesis
Once you have selected a suitable research project topic, you need to decide on whether you want to use a research question or a hypothesis. If you want to know how to write a research project effectively, you will need to understand this thoroughly.
The difference between a research question and a hypothesis is actually very simple. However, it is something that my students will often be unsure of. For most research projects, using either a hypothesis or a research question is fine. Although, in some circumstances you may feel that one is more appropriate than the other.
What is a research question?
A research question is quite simply a question that your research intends to address. Your research does not necessarily need to answer the question in black or white, but it should explore the question, providing detailed and analytical justifications of how and why it is or isn’t answered.
Good research questions must be:
- Clear and easy to understand
- Specific, with a definite focus
- Answerable – it must be possible to collect the necessary data
- Substantively relevant to your area of study
What is a hypothesis?
Unlike a research question, a hypothesis is a statement. A hypothesis is essentially a proposition (suggestion) about how something might work or behave. The researcher can develop their own hypothesis on the grounds of informal observation or their own experience if they wish to do so. They may also develop it from an examination of the existing literature.
The intention of your research is to prove or disprove your hypothesis. Similar to research which is based upon a research question, you do not necessarily need to provide a black and white answer. But you must ensure that you have covered the issue at length, and provided a critical analysis of the outcomes.
Just like a research question, good hypotheses must be:
- Clear and easy to understand
- Specific, with a definite focus
- Answerable – it must be possible to collect the necessary data
- Substantively relevant to your area of study
The difference between a research question and a hypothesis
If you want to know how to write a research project effectively, you will need to you will need to understand the difference.
The difference is quite clear. One is a question that you, as a researcher, intend to answer. The other is a statement that you will either prove or disprove.
Many topics lend themselves equally well to either a research question or a hypothesis. Here are some examples:
Hypothesis: ‘While people may use the internet to search for flights, they prefer to make their reservations or purchases via a travel agent’
Research question: ‘Do people use the internet to collect information about flights but still prefer to use travel agents to make their reservations?’
Hypothesis- ‘young people are motivated to become pilots because they perceive it as a glamorous job’
Research question- ‘Are young people motivated to join airlines as pilots because they perceive it to be a glamorous job?’
The relevance of your research question or hypothesis
Linking each section together is one of the most important things that you need to understand when considering how to write a research project.
Your research question or hypothesis should be clearly stated in the introduction and referred to again in the conclusion. It should enable you to bring your research together, demonstrating that you have achieved what you set out to and that you have not lost focus throughout the process of your research.
Some people tend to go off on a tangent and lose sight of their research project focus, if this is you then I suggest that you put your research question or hypothesis as a header on your document as you are working through your research project, this way you will have a constant reminder!
You should also refer back to your research question or hypothesis throughout your research project. This is especially important if you are undertaking a large piece of work, such as a PhD.
In my research on TEFL Tourism, for example, I started and ended every chapter by explaining how the hypothesis would be addressed/was addressed, along with the project aims and objectives. This reminds the reader of the importance of what they are reading and demonstrates a continued focus on the subject at hand.
How to write a research project- Literature review
When doing a research project, dissertation or thesis, it is important that you know how to write an awesome literature review. This will help you to understand how to write a research project overall. If you want to know how to write a research project effectively, you will need to have a strong understanding of how to write a literature review.
What is a literature review?
The literature review forms the basis of your research. It provides theoretical and conceptual underpinning and will often support the research rationale. The literature review is one of the first chapters that your supervisor will read and sets the scene for the data collection and analysis to come.
The literature review is an examination of background knowledge in relation to your research topic. You will need to read widely – textbooks and journal articles are particularly important but you may also use appropriate electronic sources too.
How do I write an awesome literature review?
If you want to know how to write a research project, then you must also understand how to conduct an effective literature review.
In order to get top marks for your research project, dissertation or thesis, your literature review must be strong. There are several things that you can do to ensure that it is awesome.
#1 Define key or new terminology
At the beginning of your literature review, it is a good idea to include definitions of any new or key terms. For an example of how this can be done, visit my post ‘What is Airline Ancillary Revenue Management?’. Don’t use dictionaries, use academic or industry-based definitions from credible sources.
If you want to know how to write a research project effectively, you will need to know the key terms related to your research.
#2 Have a clear conceptual framework
Identify the main concepts that you will be looking at in your literature review. “A conceptual framework explains, either graphically or in narrative form, the main things to be studied – the key factors, constructs or variables – and the presumed relationships among them.” (Miles and Huberman, 1994, p.18).
Your conceptual framework might be based around broad concepts or theories or it could look at areas that are more specific. For example, a student of mine chose to do his aviation management research project on the public acceptance of pilotless aircraft in commercial aviation. To do this, he looked at the broad concepts of perception (the way that passengers view pilotless aircraft) and motivation (whether passengers would buy a ticket for a flight operated by a pilotless aircraft). He was able to apply the general theory in this area to his specific research project. He also looked at the concept of automation in transport, allowing him to assess areas such as military drones, driverless cars and automated trains.
#3 Critique the sources used
It is important that you use credible sources throughout your literature review. You should also consult a wide range of sources. This might include academic papers, books, websites, Government reports, conference presentations and more.
Alongside reviewing what it said in the literature, you should also pay reference to the source that is used. Is it outdated? Is it from a reliable author? Could the author be biased in any way? Ideally, if it isn’t the most credible source, you don’t use it. But there are times when there is no alternative. If this is the case then you should critically reflect on why the source might not be perfect, justifying why it should be included in your literature review nonetheless.
If you want to know how to write a research project effectively, you will need to know how to write critically.
#4 Develop an analytical and critical argument
Many students fall down because they provide a descriptive account of the issue at hand in their literature review. This is not correct.
You need to produce an analytical and critical argument. Talk about the way that different authors might say different things. Maybe things have changed over time. Maybe some data is more credible than others. And maybe you look at some case-study examples with have contradictory findings. Think critically throughout. This is how you get the most marks for your literature review.
#5 Acknowledge gaps in research
It is likely that you have chosen your research project topic based on the fact that there is little existing research in the area. If there is a gap in knowledge then you should address this.
For example, when examining public acceptance of pilotless aircraft my student found that there were very few studies in this area. There were, however several critical studies on driverless cars. He used this literature to address the wider issue in his literature review and was then able to apply this to his own results to produce a strong discussion chapter.
#6 Keep it relevant
If you want to know how to write a research project effectively, you will need to keep it relevant. One of the biggest mistakes that you can make is to write the literature review in isolation.
Right from the start, think about what your expected research outcomes and findings are. In order to be able to bring the literature and the findings together in the discussion chapter, there needs to be some correlation between the two. Therefore, the content of your literature review should inform your data collection (survey or interview script). This will enable you to collect data that marries up with your literature.
I often suggest to students that they keep a copy of the research project title in the header in a bright colour or large font. You will obviously delete this before you submit your work, but it acts as a constant reminder of what the focus of your research should be. This can be a very useful way to help you to stay on topic and prevent you from drifting off….
Presenting your literature review
When examining how to write a research project you must consider the way that you present your work.
Your literature review should be a systematic, up-to-date and fully referenced survey of available and relevant information. There is probably a great amount of literature on your topic; you must communicate relevant material from this into a coherent argument. But you should try to summarise points in your own words – paraphrase – and avoid excessive use of quotations.
You should proceed from the general to the specific, starting first with core texts in your subject area and moving from these to specialist subject texts written by experts in the field, and concluding with the most up-to-date information you can find. If appropriate, you may wish to include material such as diagrams of theoretical models or other relevant illustrations that relate to issues that you discuss.
If you want to know how to write a research project effectively, you will need to know the following:
- What is the specific question, topic or focus?
- What kind of material do I need? Theory? Methodology? Policy? Empirical data?
- Has my search been wide enough to ensure I have identified all relevant material?
- What type of literature is available (e.g. journals, books, government documents?)
- Has the search been narrow enough to exclude irrelevant material?
- Is there a good enough sample of literature for an MSc research project?
- Have I considered as many alternative points of view as possible?
- Will the reader find my literature review relevant, appropriate and useful?
Remember that your findings are intended to build on what is already known – you are not expected to research into areas that have never previously been investigated. This means no personal opinions or content that is not backed up by a reference!
How to write a research project- Methodology
Many students sigh when they hear the term research methods. They think it’s dull or boring. Perhaps I am just a strange human being (probably so), but I really enjoy research methods! (and I guess that is why I teach how to write a research project).
But regardless of whether you enjoy it or not, you need to know how to write a research project to be successful.
Your research methods or methodology chapter is fundamental to your research project. This is your opportunity to demonstrate that your research is credible. That the data collection method is valid. That you haven’t just made the whole thing up!!!
Here are my top tips on how to write a research project to help you receive that 1st class grade for this section of your dissertation or research project:
1- Start by discussing the broad philosophical approaches of your research
If you want to know how to write a research project effectively, you will need to gain a knowledge of research philosophy.
Your research methods chapter ideally wants to start broad, focusing in on the more specific details as you go through. An ideal way to do this is to use the research onion approach, which I’ve written about here- The research onion for beginners.
To begin, you should outline the philosophical approaches that you take to your research, i.e. will your research be aligned with the scientific approach of things being black and white or true or false that tends to sit with quantitative research? Or will it take a more social approach taking into considerations aspects such as how and why? This is generally aligned with a qualitative approach.
This part of research methods can sound quite complicated and can put students off even attempting to address it! But the truth is that it doesn’t need to be… academics just love to make things more complicated than they need to be! I recommend that you invest in some of the introduction to research methods type texts to help you with this (and to give you those all-important references).
2- Discuss your choice of research approach (qualitative or quantitative or both)
If you want to know how to write a research project effectively, you will need to learn about qualitative and quantitative research approaches.
You must have a detailed section in your research methods chapter outlining whether you intend to base you research on qualitative or quantitative research. This demonstrates that you know how to write a research project from a methodological perspective.
Quantitative research tends to focus on numbers and is often undertaken in the form of data collection through surveys. This approach is popular amongst scientists and is great for proving/disproving things. It is beneficial because it can allow you to collect large amounts of data, in turn making your research more valid and quantifiable. It is limited in that is does not account for aspects such as why or how.
Qualitative research, on the other hand, is all about the whys or hows. Generally associated with words, rather than numbers, qualitative data collection tends to provide a smaller sample size than quantitative research (one of the limitations of this research approach), however the data that it does yield is generally rich and meaningful. Qualitative research is great at providing understanding of social situations that are not easily measured using quantitative means.
There are lots of ways of collecting qualitative data including interviews, focus groups, observations and my favourite- netnography. (netnography is a contemporary research method involving analysing data collected from Internet sources such as social media platforms or online forums. You can see how I used netnography in my PhD research here).
Some researchers will choose to use both a combination of qualitative research and quantitative research. This is known as mixed methods. Generally the justification for using both approaches is so that the limitations of one can be offset by the other. i.e. the survey might not provide detailed explanations but does provide a large sample size so it is followed with interviews which provide details but the sample size is small.
Which ever approach you use, you need to clearly explain and justify it. It is the justification that is particularly important and this MUST be supported with academic references.]
3- Analyse your chosen research method
If you want to know how to write a research project effectively, you will need to be able to analyse!
Once you have explained your choice of qualitative or quantitative research, with references to relevant literature, you need to focus on the specific research methods that you intend to employ.
You should begin by explaining the research method broadly.
For example, if I explain that I will be using netnography in my research methods chapter I would begin by including a definition as prescribed by Kozinet (the seminal author on this topic- click here for a link to his book).
I would then explain the benefts and limitations of netnography according to various scholars e.g. Seale, Kozinet, Robson etc). I would then apply what said scholars state to my own research i.e. Robson says…. this is good for my research because….).
In other words, I would not only describe what research methods I plan to use, but I would provide a critical analysis of these methods, supported by academic literature.
Next is to focus on the finer details. If we take my example of netnography, now is when I would identify whether I plan to analyse blogs (as I did in my PhD research), tweets, Instagram photos, comments made in online forums, or any other approach that is suitable for my research.
If you are doing interviews you will explain whether these are structured or semi-structured, where they will be undertaken and why, how long they will be and why etc.
If you are doing surveys you will likely discuss whether these will be paper-based or online, what types of questions will be included (i.e. closed, scale etc) and what platform will be used to design them (e.g. Google Forms or Survey Monkey).
In this section of your research methods chapter you need to explicitly describe the details of your chosen method of data collection. You also need to discuss the benefits and limitations of using this method, supported by relevant academic references.
Note- Don’t be afraid to comment on the limitations (no method is perfect!), all you need to do is state why this limitation isn’t a huge deal for your research i.e. a limitation of qualitative blog analysis is that my sample size will be small… however as this is a relatively small research project (10,000 words), so this is not deemed to be a problem…
Lastly, you need to think about what you will do with the data once you have it. You should provide an explanation of analysis techniques and any software that you intend to use. This might include thematic coding using NVIVO for qualitative research for example, or descriptive statistics and tests for correlation using SPSS for quantitative data.
4- Be critical about your sampling techniques
If you want to know how to write a research project effectively, you will need to have an understanding of sample techniques.
The next thing that needs to be covered in your research methods chapter of your dissertation or research project is sampling.
In this section you need to clearly explain and justify who your research respondents will be and why.
Lets say, for example, I am doing an aviation research project on how noise pollution impacts local residents near Heathrow. I would need to describe which residents I will be using as my respondents and why.
Perhaps, in this case, I choose to select people who live within 5 miles of the airport. I would need to explain why I think this is appropriate. Lets say I plan on doing interviews with these respondents, I would need to state how many interviews would be appropriate and why.
All of this, of course, needs to be supported by theory! There are different sampling strategies available to you as a researcher and you need to identify which is most appropriate, along with the benefits and limitations.
Lets say, for arguments sake, I decide to knock on the doors of residents on a particular street because it is close to the airport. Many students would make the mistake of claiming that this is random sampling, when in fact it is not! For sampling to be random, there must be an equal chance of each possible respondent being selected i.e. every person who lives within a 5 mile radius of Heathrow has a chance of being selected for the research. But if I only ask people who live on one street, then this is not the case!
Instead, this would be an example on non-probability sampling; in other words- it is non-random.
This could be seen as an example of convenience sampling (because it is convenient to me- the researcher). There is a lot of literature around convenience sampling and so I would need to consult this in order to write this section of my research methods chapter. Here I would outline the benefits (i.e. it is less time consuming) and the limitations (i.e. I may only have access to a certain social demographic group who live on that particular street, which is therefore not representative of all people who live within 5 miles of Heathrow).
Once you have completed your research and collected all of your primary data you should revisit this section and update it with details of the response rate (how many people actually took part in the research) and any other relevant observations.
5- Be an ethical researcher
Lastly, it is important that your research is ethical. This demonstrates that you understand how to write a research project ethically.
Most universities/colleges will require you to obtain ethical approval before commencing any data collection. This is to ensure that you are complying with relevant university regulations and that your research is ‘fair’ and ‘just’.
In your research methods chapter you should provide a paragraph or so stating why ethical research is important (with academic references) and detail how your research is indeed ethical.
Things that you should do to ensure that your research is ethical include:
- Storing data in a secure place
- Changing the names of respondents
- Obtaining consent from respondents
- Not addressing any topics/issues that are deemed to be unfair, illegal, discriminatory etc
6- Don’t be afraid to be critical!
I can not emphasise strongly enough how important it is to be critical throughout your research methods chapter! If you want to know how to write a research project well- don’t forget to be critical!
For every decision that you make you must consider both the positive and negative aspects, clearly identifying how you will overcome any negative parts. And all of this MUST be supported by relevant academic literature!
7- Use references, lots and lots of references
Another way to write an awesome research methodology is to master referencing! In fact, this is one of my biggest tips when discussing how to write a research project.
Your research methods chapter is based around a combination of stating your methodological decisions and justifying them based on academic research. Therefore, you should have lots of references throughout!
If you want to know how to write a research project effectively, you will need to have a strong understanding of how to reference.
There are many areas of research methods that are black and white, true or false. For example, qualitative research is great for finding our the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of a topic area. This is a statement that is pretty much undisputed. Where this is the case, you can be pretty confident that a number of academics are in agreement and so this is your perfect opportunity to use lots of cross referencing. This demonstrates that you have undertaken wider reading and that you are confident about the statements you are making.
One common mistake that I see students make is that they use lots of Internet-based sources for their research methods chapter. From a marking perspective, this just looks lazy! Most of said Internet-based sources are not credible sources and therefore should not be used. There are hundreds (possibly thousands) of research methods books available (of which I have recommended a couple to you in this blog post), so use these- they are credible and reliable sources!
You can also use journal articles, although these are often pitched at quite a high level and may provide more depth than you need for your research project. If you are studying at Masters or PhD level then dive straight in with the journal papers, but for undergraduate students I would advise sticking to the introductory research methods texts unless you are confident to look at these issues in further complexity.
How to write a research project- results and discussion
Knowing how to write an awesome results and discussion chapter is a super important part of your research project, dissertation or thesis. However, this is the chapter(s) that most people lose marks on! If you want to know how to write a research project well, it is essential that you master this chapter.
Why do most people get the lowest marks for their research and discussion chapter?
In my several years’ experience of supervising and grading dissertations and research projects, I have found that on average, it is the results and discussion chapter(s) (I have pluralised this because you can choose to combine the results and discussion into one chapter or you can keep it in two separate chapters) which gets the lowest marks.
This is very frustrating for me to mark as often this chapter is worth the most marks and so students can really lose out!
If you want to know how to write a research project effectively, you will need to avoid:
• Work being rushed (click here for more on how to manage your time for a research project)
• Work is not planned properly (i.e. the literature does not naturally link to the actual research undertaken)
• Students don’t really understand what is expected here
• Students fail to analyse any data. Instead they simply state what is the response was for each question
• Students think that by writing a written summary of the results that are visually depicted is adequate ‘discussion’ (shock- it’s not!!)
So, in order to help you avoid some of these common mistakes and to help you to get the best marks possible for this ever-so-important chapter of your research project, dissertation or thesis, I have put together 6 top tips.
Tip #1- Think of your research project as one piece of work
One of the major problems that I see amongst undergraduate students is that they view each chapter of their research project as separate. The reality is, however, that this is absolutely not the case and this does not demonstrate that you know how to write a research project.
You should not lose touch with your aims and objectives, for example, and should keep reminding the reader of how your are addressing these throughout the various chapters of your research project.
You also need to ensure that the literature review informs the design of your research instrument (i.e. survey, interview) and that this allows the research to logically flow from literature to results to discussion. Sometimes I see students send out surveys with questions that they appear to have just plucked out of the air- this is one of the worst things that you can do as it is likely to this will make analysis and discussion VERY difficult!
Tip #2- Label graphs/charts/tables correctly
Students will often fail to correctly label graphs/charts/tables etc. This is a silly error and is so easy to fix- just pay attention! Seriously, you probably learnt how to label graphs in primary school… if you get this wrong you are just wasting marks!
Typically you will need to ensure that every axis has a label and that there is a legend if necessary. You will also need a table/figure number and title. These should all be listed at the beginning of your research project following the contents page titled ‘list of figures’ and ‘list of graphs’.
Tip #3- Pay attention to formatting
You will also want to make sure that all of your graphs/charts/tables etc are correctly formatted.
I have seen students who directly copy output from SPSS into a table. Whilst this is fine to do, if you have no intention of using all of the output (SPSS often gives you way more than you actually need), then don’t put it in! Unless you explain what the table shows it indicates that you do not understand the output, which is never a good thing. My advice, therefore, is to only include what is necessary!
If you choose to copy and paste parts and to input other parts yourself, make sure that the fonts all match. It sounds simple, but I see it all the time. You will usually be awarded marks for presentation, so don’t lose these marks!
If your research project or dissertation needs to be submitted as a hard copy, make sure that all of the tables/graphs etc in your results and discussion chapter print correctly and the colours come out as you had anticipated. This might mean printing more than one copy if things don’t look quite right on the first attempt.
Tip #4- Don’t just identify- ANALYSE!
Often students collect all of their data and then they don’t know what to do with it!
This is when you should lean on your supervisor for guidance, although sadly many students will leave it too late for this. Last year I had a student who actually complained to my manager because he received my out of office automatic response during the Easter break (2 weeks before submission) stating that I was currently climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and had no access to Internet. Seriously, Lecturers are entitled to a holiday and he had had the past EIGHT MONTHS of my supervision time whenever he wanted it. This is a typical example of poor time management.
If you do not adequately plan your method of data collection and what types of questions/observations etc you will undertake, then writing up your results and discussion chapter is likely to be difficult. Sadly, many students do not think ahead to this stage and realise only when it is too late, demonstrating that they do not effectively know how to write a research project.
If you have asked the right questions to your respondents (in a survey, interview, focus group etc), then you should have a wealth of data to play with. If not, then don’t count on getting good grades for your results and discussion chapter.
How old were you when you were able to produce a bar graph and state what it shows? 7? 8 maybe? So if this is all that you do for your results chapter then you can’t really expect to get the best grades, can you?
How old were you when you learnt how to do simple statistics such as calculating the mean, medium and mode? Year 7 maybe? If you do only this in your research project, you can’t really expect to get the highest marks….
Remember that you are doing a DEGREE and that your level of analysis needs to be DEGREE level!!
I appreciate that many research methods modules focus on the theoretical aspects of research philosophy, research paradigms (e.g. qualitative and quantitative), methods of data collection (e.g. surveys, interviews, focus groups, netnography), sampling and ethics, and generally students have a reasonable grasp on these aspects.
Any good research methods training will also include sessions on how to analyse the data. As this logically tends to come at the end of a research methods module, when attendance often begins to dwindle, many students unfortunately miss out on this super important training. This is often reflected in the level of data analysis presented in their research and subsequently in the grades that they are awarded.
It would be impossible for me to guide you on exactly how to analyse your data here, as every research project is different and there are so many different techniques available to researchers. Here are a few things that you might want to think about as a starting point, however:
For quantitative research-
• Descriptive statistics
• Tests of correlation/relationship
• Bivariate statistics
• Multivariate statistics
• Analysis of patterns, trends etc
For qualitative research-
• Thematic coding
• Content analysis
• Use of diagrams e.g. Venn diagrams, flow charts, mind maps, vision boards
I know, I know, if you haven’t had any training in this area all of this might sound a bit scary and daunting! Don’t fret though! If you haven’t already invested in some good quality research methods textbooks then I strongly recommend that you do. You can buy them super cheap on Amazon and it’s worth spending a few pennies if it means getting a higher grade! You can always sell the books on after you’ve finished with them too…
Tip #5- Link your results back to the literature
It is imperative that the literature that you have discussed in some way links to your results! This is an error I see all too often and one that indicates that a student does not effectively know how to write a research project.
In the discussion section of your research project or dissertation you must discuss your findings in relation to the literature.
Discussion Chapter Examples
Here is an idea of the types of things that you might write in your discussion chapter:
The results in this study support author x, y and z because…
The data presented in this research is interesting because is differs from the viewpoints of author x…
This research is important because it presents results that have not been identified in other research to date…
This research largely replicates data found in similar case study examples…
In support of author y…
In contradiction to author z…
Whilst author z x found…. to be true, this study was relatively small in size, thus warranting the need for further research. This study has succeeded in doing this by demonstrating that…
Ideally you should be able to relate the majority of the literature addressed in your literature review chapter to the data that you have collected as part of your research.
If you are unable to do this then it means that you have not included the right type of literature.
Take this example, that I see every year- A student studying aviation management chooses to investigate public perception of security at airports. He/she writes a thorough literature review giving good analysis of 9/11 and subsequent terrorist attacks involving aviation.
They collect data from a survey asking questions such as ‘how do you feel about the queues at security’ and ‘does being searched make you feel uncomfortable’. They can not discuss the results that they collected in relation to the literature because there is no link.
They did not ask their respondents about 9/11 and they did not write any literature about queues at security. This is an example of a poorly written research project that is not well thought-through and offers little integration between chapters.
Does this look familiar to you? Don’t worry, many of us do this to an extent. This is why you must plan time into your schedule to allow for your literature review to be amended once you have all of your data collection completed.
You should NEVER write a chapter and think that ‘it is finished’. Nothing is finished until the whole project is complete!
When I did my PhD, I re-wrote 20,000 words of my literature review after collecting my data. It’s not because I didn’t think ahead- I had lots of planning time! But actually as I collected my data my research changed direction slightly, meaning that my literature review was no longer in sync with the rest o the project. So I amended it.
I know it can be frustrating, but if the flow isn’t there, go back and re-write parts of your literature review. It’s important and will be reflected in your final grade- I promise! If you know how to write a research project effectively, this won’t come as a surprise.
Tip #6- Don’t be afraid to critically assess your own research
If you want to know how to write a research project well- be critical.
Critical analysis is what will yield you the highest grades. Be critical of your literature, of your methods of data collection and of your results and findings.
Don’t be afraid to state that your research isn’t perfect- no supervisor/Lecturer will expect it to be! I don’t even think ‘perfect’ exists!!
So state what your limitations are and why they are applicable. For example your sample size is small because you were limited in scope due to the required size of your dissertation/research project.
You can also make suggestions for improvement. You might, for instance, suggest that larger studies need to be undertaken to investigate the issue further.
6 tips to write your research project FAST
Now that you know how to write a research project, you might want to know how to write a research project FAST!
There may be times when you need to write your research project fast. Whilst this is not something that I advocate, I understand that there may be times when you need to get the work done as quickly as possible. Below I outline how to write a research project fast.
#1 Manage your time well
If you want to know how to write a research project fast, you need to know how to manage your time.
You might not have a lot of time, but if you want to write your research project quickly then you need to manage what time you have as best as possible!
Work out how many weeks/days/hours you have any how much time should be dedicated to each chapter of your research project. DO NOT spend most of your time on the literature review, only to find out you are out of time for the rest. Handing in unfinished work or a research project with sub-standard chapters will likely lead to a fail, or at least a low grade.
#2 Motivate yourself
If you want to know how to write a research project fast, you need to know how to motivate yourself.
Give yourself a reason to finish your research project fast. It might be a well-deserved glass of wine at the end of the day, a midday treat for lunch or a Netflix binge on the weekend. Have something to look forward to and to motivate you to finish your research project fast!
#3 Don’t underestimate down-time
If you want to know how to write a research project fast, you need to know how to relax!
None of us are robots. We all need some down time. It is important that you don’t work too hard as this will only result in burn-out. Plan your time so that evenings are free or so that you have a couple of hours break away from your research project in the day.
#4 Only do what matters
If you want to know how to write a research project fast, you need to know how to prioritise.
It might be ideal to read everything and anything in the area of your research project, but the reality is that you need to write your research project as quickly as possible. You simply don’t have time. Use some of my skimming and scanning techniques to select what is relevant to read and what isn’t. Don’t waste your time working on this that won’t make the final cut.
#5 Use technology
If you want to know how to write a research project fast, you need to know how to use technology to your advantage.
Research projects can take a long time to complete, especially when there is a lot of data to analyse. There are various technologies that you can use to help write your research project fast. I recommend Excel or SPSS for quantitative data analysis and NVIVO for qualitative data analysis.
#6 Get paid help
If you want to know how to write a research project fast, you need to know when to ask for help.
If all else fails, pay somebody to help you. No, I do not mean pay somebody to write your research project for you- this is academic misconduct and could lead to you being kicked off of your course! What I mean is pay somebody to help with transcribing interviews, proofreading or formatting. The research project must be created and written by you.
How to write a research project- planning your time
When doing a big piece of work like a dissertation, thesis or research project, it is important that you plan ahead. As a serial planner, this is something that I am pretty good at- I did complete my PhD part-time in three years, after all.
How to plan your time for a research project
Have a schedule
If you want to know how to write a research project effectively, you will need to have an organised work schedule.
You will probably be given a reasonable time-frame within which to complete your research project. Many universities will give you the entire year. The problem is, however, that the majority of students do not use this time wisely!
In fact, once they have submitted their research proposal (a common dissertation element amongst most universities), they tend to give themselves several months off before starting to do any serious work on their research project.
The most dedicated students, who are often also the ones who achieve the best grades, will be able to advise you on how to plan your time for a research project. Chances are that they worked to a schedule, whether this was formally organised or not.
If you want to know how to write a research project effectively, I recommend that you plan your time right from the start.
Consider each chapter of your research project and plan when you should complete a draft of each section. Work backwards from your submission date to now- this will help you to plan your time for a research project. I have developed a handy research project plan template that you can download for free to help you, just sign up below.
Plan regular meetings with your supervisor
If you want to know how to write a research project effectively, you will need to plan regular meetings and get feedback.
Your supervisor is there to help you and they can also help to plan your time for a research project. They may offer guidance on meeting length and when you should submit drafts. They will also let you know of any times that they will be unavailable, for example if they are or leave.
I’m a realist and I know that you won’t always get on with your supervisor, or agree with what they say. BUT sometimes you need to play the game… they will most likely be marking your work so I advise you to grit your teeth and go with it, I doubt it will do your grade any harm, whereas not getting their feedback potentially could do!
Work around other commitments
If you want to know how to write a research project effectively, you will need to be able to organise your time.
You will have other things going on in your life during the time that you undertake your research project. It is therefore important that you know how to plan your time for a research project taking these things into consideration. Think about:
- Assignment deadlines for other modules
- Holidays that you have planned
- Special events e.g. birthdays, weddings etc
- Work commitments if you have a job alongside your studies
- Times that your supervisor will be unavailable
- Times that the university will be closed (especially if you require use of equipment/resources on campus)
Allow time at the end for formatting and final edits
If you want to know how to write a research project effectively, you will need to allow time for final edits.
Too many students will rush their research project towards the end, resulting in silly formatting errors, typos and grammatical mistakes. This will cost you marks and it is unnecessary. When you plan your time for a research project it is important that you allow extra time for formatting and final edits.
Writing a contents page (and getting all of the page, figure and table numbers correct) can take time- don’t underestimate this. Making sure the margins are the correct size and printing and binding your project can also take time.
You might find that you need to amend parts of your project too. Perhaps some of your findings that you discuss do not relate to the literature, in this case you might need to amend the literature review to allow for the new findings to be appropriately discussed. Perhaps your supervisor has given you major edits to undertake. Or perhaps you were ill and fell behind schedule. All of these eventualities should be accounted for.
How to write a research project- To conclude
Now that you know how to write a research project you should be in a good position to complete your work! Go do it!
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