Project MGMT: Dissertation Proposal
1. Module Handbook
This module handbook contains information and advice in relation to the dissertation or work-related project which you are required to undertake as a core part of your MSc degree. This is a double module worth 40 credits and as such it represents over one fifth of the total credits you need to complete your course.
The handbook will provide you with essential information about what you need to do to satisfy the assessment requirements for the module and provides guidance on how to approach the dissertation or work-related project. Further guidance will be provided through the Research Methods programme.
2. Module Aim
The validated module description for this module sets out the following module aim:
- provide the students with the opportunity to engage in an in-depth study of personal interest in the field of construction management.
- develop the student’s capacity to undertake rigorous and theoretically informed research
- develop the student’s understanding of the linkages between conceptual issues, subject area and research methods.
- provide the student with experience in the planning and implementation of a research project and the subsequent writing up of research findings in a dissertation or project report.
3. Learning Outcomes
On successful completion of the module the learner, operating autonomously and creatively, should be able to:
- LO1: demonstrate an ability to initialise the selection of the research filed using a wide range of information sources and manage the retrieval and organisation of information efficiently and effectively.
- LO2: undertake a systematic enquiry into an identified research problem through the identification of aim and objectives, application of appropriate research methodology with a well-argued justification for the method employed and use of Harvard referencing
- LO3: critically evaluate evidence from both academic research and professional practice, combine information and ideas from a variety of sources, and develop a theoretical framework relevant to the research problem.
- LO4: demonstrate a critical awareness of research design and it is application to a chosen research aim.
- LO5: analyse and interpret research data (ethical sourced) and present the results in an appropriate format.
- LO6: communicate research findings in writing clearly, coherently and in accordance with academic conventions.
4. Overview of the module
The module is likely to be the most challenging piece of work which students undertake in their course, yet if it is approached in the right way it can also be the most rewarding. It provides an opportunity for students to undertake a theoretically informed and rigorously researched investigation of a topic within their subject area. It represents a significant piece of self-directed research in which students are expected to demonstrate their ability to perceive, analyse and comprehend a relevant issue in order to reach informed and well-supported conclusions to the arguments advanced.
In most other modules on the course the assessed work relates directly to the content of the module and the coursework brief is provided to students. The module is different. It is a major piece of self- directed research. Responsibility for undertaking the work for the module lies with the student. Indeed, a major aspect of the learning which takes place involves the development by students of skills in self- management, independent learning and research. The module will equip students with the basic skills and knowledge to embark on this process, including the learning skills and research methods appropriate to undertake research.
5. Structure of this handbook
This handbook is divided into three parts:
- Part 1 (this section) provides a general introduction to the module and its aim and learning outcomes.
- Part 2 sets out the formal assessment requirements which students must satisfy in order to complete the module.
- Part 3 provides guidance on how to approach the module.
6. Outline Proposal
The first formal requirement of the module is for students to submit an outline proposal which must be related to an aspect of construction management. The purpose of the outline proposal is simply to identify the broad topic area in which you are intending to carry out research. The areas which should be covered by the outline proposal are as follow:
- The aim of the dissertation, work-related project or the research hypothesis
- The objectives of the dissertation, work-related project or hypothesis
- Explain specifically how the topic relates to your degree
- What do you think will be gained by undertaking the research, in terms of the benefits gained or the contribution your findings might make?
- How do you anticipate the research will be carried out?
- What could be your main sources of information or data?
- What are the likely difficulties or challenges?
7 Interim Submission (Weight 20%)
The interim submission represents the most important ‘staging post’ in the process. It will provide an opportunity for you to receive detailed feedback on your progress and further guidance on what you need to do to complete the module output.
The interim submission is a formal submission which will be assessed in accordance with the criteria outlined below. The mark allocated for your interim submission will have a weighting of 20% of the overall module mark. You must not view the interim submission as being work which is separate to the requirements of the module output itself. Provided your interim submission is appropriate, then it will be perfectly acceptable to include most of the content of your interim submission in your final submission.
The interim submission will be expected to be around 3000 words in length (though this is just a guideline) and should incorporate the following elements:
- a clear title for your dissertation or work-related project
- a rationale for the selection of the topic
- your research aim and objectives expressed in terms of:
- either proposition(s) or key question(s) if only required
- a literature review (i.e. a first draft of the literature review which you expect to include in your final submission)
- an outline of your proposed research method(s), explaining the design and anticipated approach to your primary data collection (this is essential as it will indicate whether you have chosen appropriately and will also provide sufficient time for your Supervisor to advise you)
- comprehensive bibliography and reference sections
- a proposed chapters’ structure
- a timetable for the remaining work required to complete your dissertation.
8 Final Submission (Weight 80%)
Your completed dissertation or work-related project represents the culmination of many months’ work. The mark awarded for the work carries a weighting of 80% of the overall module mark, and since the module is a 40-credits module this one piece of work accounts for almost 18% of the total credits available on your entire MSc course. It therefore goes without saying that it is important to get it right.
Aside from the intellectual challenge of undertaking a serious piece of research and producing a well- crafted dissertation or work-related project, there are various formal requirements with which you must also comply. Failure to adhere to these requirements may result in your output not being accepted for assessment. The key requirements are detailed below:
Digital and on-line Copy
A digital copy of the complete document must be submitted in either Microsoft Word or PDF format. This must be submitted on-line into Blackboard, clearly labelled with your name, student number, module number and date.
There is no specific word limit for the final submission. However, for guidance purposes, a word count of around 15,000 words (+/– 10%) is considered appropriate for a dissertation at Masters’ level. You will not be specifically penalised for exceeding this, though you should note that unnecessarily excessive wordage is considered to be evidence of a poor writing style and may therefore be marked accordingly under other assessment criteria.
If appropriate, you may incorporate appendices within your final document. Appendices must try be be limited to a maximum of 20 pages (it is a guidance) should only be used if you feel it is essential to submit supplementary information which cannot realistically be included in the main body of the work. Appendices will not be formally marked and will only be reviewed if assessors feel it necessary to refer to them, so your appendices should not contain any information essential to the output.
The first printed page inside the cover of the document should be the title sheet, which must include the following information:
- title of the dissertation or work-related project in full, including any subtitle.
- student’s name
- course title
- date of publication (year and month)
- name of University of Westminster of Westminster
- name of Department of the University
Style of the document
The dissertation or work-related project is to be word processed and printed on white A4 paper, on one side only.
The font for the document is not specified. You are therefore free to choose a suitable font for your work. Bear in mind that you are seeking to achieve a professional level of presentation so ornate or florid fonts should be avoided. Suitable fonts for normal text include Times New Roman, Calibri, Arial and Tahoma. The minimum font size is 10 point, and the maximum size is 12 point. The colour of the text must be black. There should be a line spacing of 1.5 lines. Full justification (left and right) should be used.
Headings and sub-headings should be in bold and typically will have a font size 14 point or 12 point depending on the font size adopted for general text. Headings should not be underlined.
Headings, sub-headings and paragraphs should not be numbered.
There should be margins of 30mm to the top, bottom and right-hand edges, and a margin of 40mm to the left hand (bound) edge.
Pages should be numbered from the start of the main body of the document consecutively to the end of the document using Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3). Pages preceding the general text (i.e. abstract, table of contents etc.) do not need to be numbered.
Structure of the document
A typical dissertation or work-related project will have the following structure
- coursework Cover Sheet
- title page
- table of contents (in Chapters)
- list of tables and illustrations
- main body of the work (in Chapters):
- Literature Review
- Research Design and Methodology
- Conclusions and Recommendations
NB: Depending on the precise nature of the topic and the method adopted, there may be circumstances in which either some of the sections are not required, or other additional sections may be required. You should consult your dissertation or work-related project Supervisor for more guidance.
You MUST include in your dissertation or work-related project document a formal declaration using the wording detailed below:
I hereby certify that all material in this dissertation/work-related project (delete which is not applicable) which is not my own work has been identified through the proper use of citations and references. I also confirm that I have fully acknowledged by name all of those individuals and organisations that have contributed to the research for this dissertation/work-related project.
I further declare that this dissertation/work-related project has not been accepted in part or in full for any other degree, nor is it being submitted currently for any other degree.
The dissertation/work-related project contains XXXXX words, exclusive of diagrams, tables, bibliography and appendices.
I confirm that a digital copy of this dissertation/work-related project may be made available to future students of the University of Westminster.
Student’s name……………………………………………………………… Student’s signature………………………………………………………… Date of declaration…………………………………………………………
Dissertations/work-related projects submitted without a signed declaration might not be accepted for assessment.Furthermore, students must note that if any of the statements made in the declaration prove to be false or inaccurate then a mark of zero may be awarded for your dissertation/work-related project.
It is essential that you acknowledge the source of all material in your work which is not your own. This is achieved through comprehensive referencing. The method of referencing which must be adopted in the dissertation/work-related project is the Harvard system. This requires you to indicate the author’s surname and the year of publication at the appropriate point in the text. It should contain the access dates and website links accordingly.
The final submission will be assessed in accordance with the following assessment criteria in the following pages:
- Are the research aim and objectives clearly expressed in terms of aim, objectives and either proposition(s) or key question(s)?
- Does the literature review provide a thorough and comprehensive critique of the subject area? Is the review rigorous and critical? Is the review based on literature from a wide range of sources? Does the review highlight the theoretical issues associated with the topic, in order to provide a conceptual framework for the primary research?
- Is the method appropriate and is there a clear linkage between the method and the research aim and objectives? Has the method been clearly explained and justified? Has the data collection process been clearly described? Has the method of data analysis been explained?
- Have the research findings been clearly presented? Have the findings been rigorously analysed and interpreted in a coherent manner? Have the findings been clearly linked to the conceptual framework identified in the literature review?
- Are conclusions clearly presented? Do the conclusions arise directly from the findings presented? Do the conclusions relate directly to the stated research aim and objectives? Have research aim and objectives been achieved? Is there a clear line of argument? Is the significance of the conclusions identified? Are recommendations (if provided) relevant and appropriate? Is there recognition of the limitations of the research?
- Is the dissertation/work-related project thoroughly referenced in accordance with the Harvard system? Is the bibliography set out clearly and in accordance with the Harvard system?
- Is the dissertation/work-related project well written? Is the writing style clear and appropriate? Are there spelling and grammatical errors?
- Is the document well-presented? Have all requirements of the brief been complied with in terms of style, layout, structure, etc.?
- Your submitted dissertation/work-related project will be read by your Supervisor and by a second assessor who will be another member of academic staff within the Department. The second assessor will read the dissertation /work-related project “cold”, i.e. with no prior knowledge of your work. The Supervisor and second assessor mark the work independently, then come together to agree a final mark. If the Supervisor and second assessor cannot agree a final mark then a third assessor will act as an adjudicator.
- NB: If the assessors have any doubts about the originality or veracity of your submission then you may be required to attend a viva voce The viva voce will be conducted as a face-to-face examination before a panel of academic staff typically comprising your Supervisor, the second assessor and the Module Leader.
Return of dissertations
- In most circumstances, both paper copies of the work will be available for students to collect following the final approval of assessment marks. Exceptions to this include situations where the work is the subject of an appeal or where the work is being considered for an award. The work must be collected on or before the end of the semester of submission after which it will be scrapped.
- The digital copy will be retained, and the University may make this copy available as a reference for future students.
The overall process
- Many students on MSc courses will have experience of undertaking some form of personal research project as part of the requirements for their first degree. However, for some students this module might be the first time they have had to produce formal output. Furthermore, even for those students who have previously produced dissertations, there is a strong likelihood that the specific requirements will have been quite different from those on this module.
- Hart (2004: 17) in his book about Masters’ dissertations distinguishes between the research features of a Bachelors degree and a Masters degree. He suggests that research at undergraduate level is usually based on a “small-scale independent project” whereas at Masters’ level the emphasis is on “an independent piece of research focusing on the selection and analysis of a topic, design of the research, its execution and presentation as a dissertation”. These comments also apply to a work-related project.
- Clearly then, a Masters level dissertation or work-related project is intended to be something more substantial than a simple research project. Indeed, one of the underlying objectives of Masters’ courses is to develop skills such as analysis, evaluation and synthesis. This module, more than any other module on your course, provides an opportunity for you to demonstrate the attainment of these skills.
- A dissertation is viewed primarily as an academic exercise. It is certainly the case that you are required to comply with various academic procedures and conventions but just for a moment consider the activities that you undertake in connection with this module in its expanded and optional form as a work-related project. In effect, you have to identify a problem, investigate it in detail, work out how you can find out more about the problem, design a method of finding out the information, implement the method, analyse the resultant information and reach conclusions to enable you to better understand the problem. Such skills are highly transferable in industry and the professions and this is why successful Masters’ students are valued by employers.
It is therefore important to view this module process in context. The purpose of the module is not for you to become an expert in your chosen topic, though that may well be a by-product of the exercise. The primary purpose of the module is for you to develop the ability to investigate something systematically, to be able to rigorously analyse and critically evaluate information from a wide range of sources and to design methods of data retrieval which will be appropriate and enable you to find solutions to problems.
Levin (2005: 46) suggests that producing a dissertation involves two parallel activities, both of which need to be given adequate attention. Firstly he suggests that it is necessary to undertake a project. In other words it is necessary to carry out the work involved in conducting the research. Secondly, it is necessary to write up your work to present your findings. Levin argues that if we view the process as a single task (i.e. either undertaking the project or writing up the dissertation) then it is very easy to lose sight of the importance of the other task. Furthermore, we need to recognise that the two tasks are not entirely sequential. It is much more likely that both aspects will develop together so there will periods of undertaking research, then writing up, which in turn will highlight the need for more research to be done, and so on.
As you work your way through the research process you will tend (quite understandably) to concentrate on one particular aspect of the process at a time e.g. literature review, research design, data collection etc. Nevertheless, it is important that you retain a clear view of how each part of the process fits into the ‘whole’. With this in mind, the following list sets out the main activities and considerations involved in the overall process of the module. The list has been adapted loosely from a flow chart in a book by Walliman (2005: 21):
- review your subject area and identify a broad topic
- investigate the topic in detail (by reading and talking to people) and focus on a specific aspect or problem. Consider the theoretical background to the topic. Consider how primary data in relation to the topic might be obtained (i.e. research method).
- define your research aim and objectives
- write an outline proposal and gain approval to proceed
- carry out a comprehensive review of the literature associated with the topic, and establish a conceptual framework based on the theoretical background
- refine your research aim and objectives as necessary
- consider in detail the research methodology from which your method will evolve
- write up interim submission, incorporating first draft of literature review and outline of research methodology section
- obtain feedback on interim submission and act on it, including any necessary adjustments to literature review and research methodology
- finalise research methods for primary data acquisition
- conduct the primary research
- analyse the data you have acquired
- write up findings and draw conclusions
- produce draft dissertation or workplace-project output
- proof read, edit and adjust as necessary
- produce final dissertation document
- submit dissertation or work-place project
It should be pointed out that, whilst the list of activities appears to be sequential, this will not necessarily be the case in practice. Many of the activities will overlap with each other or even run in parallel with each other. Furthermore, there will inevitably be some ‘looping’ backwards as earlier work has to be refined and adjusted to suit circumstances.
Choosing a topic
In almost every other module on your course the coursework requirements are normally prescribed by the module tutors. In other words you will have been given an assessment brief and your coursework has to directly address that brief. The dissertation or work-related project is different because it is up to you to identify the topic. This makes the output potentially quite exciting because, within certain constraints, you have the opportunity to work on a topic which is of personal interest to you. However, this has a downside because choosing an appropriate topic is a very difficult thing to do. In fact, poor performance on the module can often be traced back to the topic selection. Usually the problem will be caused by one or more of the following factors:
- topic was vague or ill defined – the boundaries were not clear
- topic was too ambitious and the student was trying to take on too much
- topic was too narrow and lacked sufficient scope to produce a meaningful piece of work
- student had limited enthusiasm for the topic and quickly became bored with it
- it was difficult or perhaps even impossible to obtain primary data in relation to the topic.
It is therefore worth devoting adequate time to the selection of your topic. The one constraint imposed by the module is that the topic must relate directly to the course on which the student is registered. It is the student’s responsibility to demonstrate in their submission how the topic relates to their course. Even with this constraint, it will be apparent that there is still a vast range of topics which would be suitable for the dissertation or work-related project, so how should a topic be selected?
Here are some of the issues which you might wish to consider in selecting your topic:
- What interests you? Which modules on your course have you found most interesting? Are there any aspects of your studies which you would like to explore in greater detail?
- Have you come across anything in your working life which you have thought worthy of more detailed investigation?
- What are the hot topics in your field at the moment? Are there any new working practices or new technologies which could be examined? Will new legislation (either recent or imminent) have a significant impact?
- Has research recently been carried out in a different field which could provide the basis of a study in your own area?
- Are there any sociological issues which have an influence on, or are influenced by, your field?
Inevitably a consideration of these issues will lead to several potential topic areas. Having identified broad topic areas you then need to narrow the topic down. You can only do this by reading around the topic area. You must not confine your reading to books, but should try to identify literature from a wide range of sources. This will include online resources, press and journal articles. The latter source (journal articles) is particularly important because you will discover what other research has recently been conducted in the field.
By reading widely you should be able to focus in on a specific aspect of the topic to provide the basis for your research. In doing so, it is important to bear in mind the following points:
- Are you genuinely interested in the topic? (You will be spending a lot of time on it so you really need to be committed to it.)
- Will the topic allow you to exploit your strengths, or will it perhaps expose your weaknesses?
- Where will your primary data come from? Can you realistically expect to acquire data of sufficient quality and in sufficient quantity?
- Will you be able to develop a realistic set of research aim and objectives?
One final comment on choosing a topic: whilst your Masters dissertation/work-related project is expected to be an original piece of work, it is not a PhD thesis. There is no expectation that you will make a major contribution to knowledge. It is therefore perfectly acceptable to choose a topic which has been researched previously, but which you will perhaps approach from a different angle.
This module is an academic piece of work. Academic convention requires that the work should be objective and dispassionate, rather than advisory (as might be the case with a professional report). The writing style must generally reflect this. Normally the dissertation should be written in an impersonal style, avoiding the use of ‘I’, ‘one’, or ‘you’. Use of “the author” should also be avoided.
Many students struggle with this concept. They may view the output as something which is personal to them and therefore find it difficult to avoid writing in the first person singular. For example, in describing the research method, students may drift into a personal style: “I interviewed the Managing Directors of five construction companies…..”. It is easy to write the same thing in an impersonal style: “The Managing Directors of five construction companies were interviewed….”
There are two exceptions to the use of the first person singular. Firstly, you may write the preface as a personal statement which explains your interest in the subject and your background in the area. The preface may also be used to acknowledge your indebtedness to others who have assisted in the work or provided you with support. The second exception applies if the method/s adopted is/are based on action research. In such circumstances the researcher may in effect be part of the field of study, and as such the use of the first person might be justified, even in the main body of the work.
In keeping with the requirement for objectivity, the writing style of the output should not be too ‘chatty’ or journalistic. Exaggerated claim or unsubstantiated personal opinions must be avoided. For each piece of information you present in your dissertation it is good practice to ask yourself: “Where is the evidence for this?” The evidence could be in the form of a citation (i.e. a reference), or it could be derived from your primary data.
You need to pay careful attention to the tense in which you write your dissertation or work-related project and you should try to ensure consistency. In the literature review, if you are giving an historical account of something you are likely to write in the past tense. However, when you are citing sources you should use the present tense, e.g. “Bennett (2004) states that …”. In your final submission, when you describe the research method you are referring to something which took place in the past, so the tense must reflect this, so it should read, “… interviews were conducted…” rather than “…interviews will be conducted…”. (NB: For the avoidance of confusion it is worth mentioning that the use of the future tense is acceptable in the interim submission, when the student will be writing about the method they intend to adopt.) Finally, if you are referring to a condition or situation which may come about in the future, then obviously the future tense will be necessary.
Cheating and plagiarism
If carried out knowingly, cheating and plagiarism have the objectives of deceiving examiners and this threatens the integrity of the assessment procedures and the value of the University’s awards. Your academic performance is assessed on the basis of your own work. Students who cheat are trying to gain an unfair advantage over other students. This is a serious offence within the University, and anyone caught cheating will be prosecuted in accordance with Section 10 of the University Academic Regulations.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you are not vulnerable to any alleged breaches of the assessment regulations. Serious penalties are imposed on those who cheat. These may include failure in a module, suspension or exclusion from your course and withdrawal of academic credits awarded previously for modules which have been passed.
Plagiarism is a particular form of cheating. Plagiarism is defined as submission for assessment of material (written, visual or oral) originally produced by another person or persons, without acknowledgement, in such a way that the work could be assumed to be the student’s own. Plagiarism may involve the unattributed use of another person’s work, ideas, opinions, theory, facts, statistics, graphs, models, paintings, performance, computer code, drawings, quotations of another person’s actual spoken or written words, or paraphrases of another person’s spoken or written words.
Plagiarism covers both direct copying and copying or paraphrasing with only minor adjustments. Direct quotations from a text must be indicated by the use of quotation marks and the source of the quote. A paraphrased summary must be indicated by attribution of the author, date and source of the material.
Plagiarism must be avoided at all costs and students who break the rules, however innocently, will be penalised. You must keep a careful record of all the sources you use, including all internet material. It is your responsibility to ensure that you understand correct referencing practices.
Allegations of plagiarism can be easily avoided by making absolutely clear the sources of information you have used (e.g. books, articles, interviews, reports, WWW reference, government publications, etc.). This is achieved by the correct use of referencing, both in the text itself and in a bibliography. As previously stated, the method of referencing which must be adopted in the output is the Harvard system. This requires you to indicate the author’s surname and the year of publication at the appropriate point in the text.
When research of any kind is conducted there will always be an ethical dimension which needs to be considered. Where the outcomes of research are to be published the ethical responsibility is significant, since there is a strong likelihood that the findings of the research could influence decision making processes. However, even in research which is carried out solely as part of a course of study there is an expectation that the researcher should understand their responsibilities in term of honesty and
integrity, and other ethical considerations. As such, when you write up your work you should demonstrate how you have taken research ethics into account in your work.
Examples of ethical considerations include:
- honesty in respect of the intellectual ownership of the work (see Section 17 above on cheating and plagiarism)
- honesty in the way you present and interpret data, e.g. it would be patently dishonest to fabricate data or to ignore evidence
- sensitivity in the use of privileged information, particularly if the information is confidential
- making your initial standpoint clear from the outset. This is particularly important in qualitative research which is inevitably influenced by the values and the theoretical perspective of the researcher. This issue is central in considering the epistemology of the research.
- ensuring that the language you use in your writing is not offensive or discriminatory
- objectively selecting research participants (interviewees, questionnaire respondents or case study subjects): for example, if participants are personally known to you they could be viewed as ‘compliant’, and therefore not neutral
- ensuring that participants in the research give their consent to their involvement.
- avoiding harm, both to participants in the research (e.g. harm to their reputation) and to yourself (e.g. by placing yourself in danger through the conduct of the research).
Guidance on research is extensively available through a wide range of text books. A search of the Library catalogue will produce dozens of results relating to various research methods and the writing of academic work. It is difficult to recommend one single text book because most books are founded in a particular academic discipline and therefore may not be particularly relevant to the subject matter or method for your topic. The following list (in alphabetical order by author rather than any priority order) is provided as a general guide to some of the best sources of information in relation to your work:
- Bell, Judith (2005), Doing Your Research Project, Open University Press
- Brett Davies, M (2007), Doing a Successful Research Project, Palgrave
- Cohen, L., Manion, L., and Morrison, K. (2007), Research Methods in Education, (6th Ed) Routledge
- Fellows, R. and Liu, A. (2008); Research Methods for Construction, (3rd Ed) Blackwell
- Hart, Christopher (2004), Doing Your Masters Dissertation, Sage Publications
- Stokes, P (2011) Key concepts in business and management research methods, London, Palgrave MacMillan
- Walliman, Nicholas (2005), Your Research Project, Sage Publications .