The Social Work Dissertation: Using Small-Scale Qualitative Methodology

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Theory and Practice, 1st Edition

Have you read this? Please log in to set a read status Setting a reading intention helps you organise your reading. Read the guide. Your reading intentions are private to you and will not be shown to other users. What are reading intentions? Here's an example of what they look like: Your reading intentions are also stored in your profile for future reference. How do I set a reading intention To set a reading intention, click through to any list item, and look for the panel on the left hand side:. The methodology section in an arts or humanities dissertation is likely to be much more closely linked to the literature review than a scientific or social sciences study; even the most innovative dissertation in the arts or humanities typically involves applying X's theories in a new context, or combining X and Y's insights to yield a new theoretical framework.

For this reason it can be tempting to gloss over the methodology section in an arts or humanities dissertation, and move more or less seamlessly from literature review into analysis. But it's crucial that you provide a detailed justification of your chosen frameworks and how they relate to your research question here too; without this justification a critical reader may very well take issue with your entire analysis because you've failed to convince them of the appropriateness of your theoretical underpinnings to the material you're analysing.

In particular, it's vitally important that your dissertation methodology shows an appreciation of the historical and cultural contexts of the theoretical frameworks you use, especially where there's fundamental disagreement between theorists. If you use the work of theorists from differing or even opposing schools of thought to support your readings, your methodology section should show a clear understanding of how these schools of thought disagree and a justification of why there are nevertheless aspects of each approach that you've decided to use in your own work.

A creative arts dissertation Many programmes in the arts offer the option of completing a creative rather than critical dissertation; that is, of submitting a piece of creative writing or a portfolio of artworks, rather than an extended critical project, for the dissertation component of the programme.

However, in virtually all cases, your creative project must be accompanied by a substantial critical essay or introduction, or commentary that theorises your creative practice. Critically engaging with one's own work is a notoriously difficult thing to do, which makes the development and adherence to a rigorous methodology especially important in this context. You need to not only show that you're capable of detaching yourself from your own creative work and viewing it through an objective lens, but that you are able to see your own creative practice as methodology — as a method of creating work that is grounded in theory and research and that can be evaluated against clear target goals.

No part of your dissertation should be hermetically sealed off from the others, and there will undoubtedly be some overlap between your methodology and literature review section, for example. You might even find yourself moving material back and forth between sections during edits. But you should resist the temptation to include the following in your dissertation methodology, even if they seem to belong there quite naturally:.

The social work dissertation: using small-scale qualitative methodology - Social Care Online

It's likely you'll want to refer to precedents for your dissertation methodology, and to the theorists or practitioners upon whose work it is based, as you describe your own methodology. However, this is not the place for an exhaustive review of methodologies you're not using — that work belongs in your literature review chapter , and you should refer back to that chapter for context on why you're taking or not taking a particular approach. Your methodology section should equip a reader to reproduce your research, but it should also be a readable chapter of your dissertation and should retain the interest of somebody who doesn't necessarily want to reproduce your experiment from start to finish.

If it's possible to convey all the information another scholar would need in order to recreate your work in the body of your dissertation, do so; however if your methodology section starts to look like a shopping list, you should move some very detailed content into an appendix and refer to that.

Writing the Methodology Chapter of a Qualitative Study by Philip Adu, Ph.D.

The methodology section is not the place to reproduce any data, even if you're illustrating how a questionnaire or other data-gathering mechanic works. Again, you can place such information in an appendix and refer to it.


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When you start your dissertation project, you may already have some broad ideas about the methodology you want to use. You'll refine these ideas in conversation with your supervisor and develop them further as you read about the previous work that has been done in your field, and other scholars' approach to your subject area. If you're completing a postgraduate dissertation , the chances are you already have a broad awareness of the different theoretical positions and schools of thought in your field, and you may well have a good idea of the schools of thought with which you most closely identify and, just as importantly, those you don't identify with.

If you're writing an undergraduate dissertation , this may very well be the first time you've been asked to engage with such a broad field of literature, and categorising this into distinct approaches and schools of thought may seem like an overwhelming task at first. Regardless of your level, your dissertation methodology will develop as you review the literature in your field and refine your initial research questions.

Your literature review and methodology will therefore develop in tandem with each other. Your response to the literature will help you decide on the approach you want to take to your research question, but your methodology will probably already be decided by the time you actually write up your literature review, meaning that you can frame it so as to position the methodology as a clear, organic and natural progression from your survey of the field.

It should be noted, of course, that your methodology won't only be determined by the modes of inquiry or schools of thought that appeal to you most; there are likely to be practical considerations that determine how you approach your problem.

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Unless you happen to have access to a particle accelerator at your university, the chances are your quantum physics project will be based on theoretical projections rather than physical experimental data. The answer to this question depends in part upon whether you're writing an undergraduate or postgraduate dissertation. For most students, an undergraduate dissertation is their first opportunity to engage in detail with scholarship in their fields and to design and conduct a rigorous research project.

In an undergraduate dissertation, you therefore need to show a capacity to engage with a broad field of research, to synthesise diverse and even opposing approaches to a problem, and to distil this down into a design for a research project that will address your research questions with the appropriate level of scholarly level. The ability to synthesise what you've learned from scholars in your discipline, and to shape that into a methodology that you can use to shed light on your research question, is, therefore, key to a successful undergraduate dissertation.

The best undergraduate dissertations will of course show originality of thought and may even be able to make an original contribution to their field — but the focus will generally be on demonstrating that you have the fundamental research skills to undertake investigative work in your field. A postgraduate dissertation , by contrast, can be expected to make a substantial contribution of high-quality, original research to its field. The best postgraduate dissertations will be publishable by leading journals, or even as scholarly monographs. As you build your career as an early career researcher, the impact of your dissertation on its field — as measured by citations in the work of other scholars — will be crucial to enhancing your academic reputation.

It's important to remember that the dissertation's value to other scholars won't just be its findings or conclusions, and that your research's emerging importance to the field will be measured by the number of scholars who engage with it, not those who agree with it.

Although some scholars may well cite your conclusions as a basis for their own work, a far greater number of citations is likely to result regardless of discipline from your development of a framework that other scholars can use as a point of departure for their own work. If you've come up with a methodology that is both original and grounded in the research, this will probably be the aspect of your work that other scholars value the most.

Their own work might build upon, develop or modify your methodology in some way; they might apply your methodology to a different data set in order to contest your findings, or they might even take it and apply it in a new context that hadn't even occurred to you! The best postgraduate dissertations are those that convince at every level — that are based on a rigorous engagement with the field, that develop reproducible frameworks for engaging with that field, and that supply high-quality and convincing results and conclusions. But the methodology is the central point around which the dissertation — and its potential impact to the field — pivots.

When developing and presenting your dissertation methodology, you should therefore think not just about how well it can answer your particular question, but also about how transferable it is — whether it can be used by other scholars to answer related questions, or whether it can be made more adaptable with just a few tweaks without compromising your own use of it, of course.

And when presenting your dissertation, don't forget to emphasise the value of the methodological framework you develop, if it is indeed adaptable to other related contexts. You're underselling your research if you suggest its only value lies in its conclusions, when the approach it takes to your data or source material in arriving at those conclusions is potentially of equal if not greater value. Your dissertation methodology, as we've now discussed in some detail, is the engine that drives your dissertation, and as such it needs to be grounded, theoretically rigorous, and, where possible, sufficiently adaptable to be used in other contexts to answer different research questions within your field.

However, in focusing on all this it's easy to forget that all dissertations — even the seemingly driest, most scientific of them — are fundamentally pieces of persuasive writing: their primary purpose is to convince readers of the quality of your research, the validity of your methods, and the merit of your conclusions. A crucial but often neglected component of this persuasive function is the role of rhetoric in persuading your audience of the merits of your work.

This kind of commentary allows you to control the agenda for discussion of your work, and to head off potential objections to your arguments and methods at the pass. Sound rhetorical presentation of your methodology is not just "decoration" — it forms an integral part of its overall rigour and structural soundness, and can make the difference between a and a First, or between a merit and a Distinction.

Here are some of the ways in which you can use metacommentary to shape your audience's response to your methodology. The roads not taken It's very likely that the approach you've taken to your research question is one of many approaches you could have taken — and in your literature review you probably engaged with or read about lots of approaches that, for one reason or another, you decided not to take.

The Social Work Dissertation: A Practical Guide

Your methodology chapter is not the place to go into detail about these methodologies hopefully your literature review does this , but you should remind your reader that you actively considered these other methodologies before deciding on your own. Even if you decided on your methodology early on in your research process, it should appear rhetorically as the result of a careful weighing of competing factors, before you decided on the most logical choice.

http://kinun-mobile.com/wp-content/map4.php A little reassurance goes a long way Judicious use of metacommentary can also help to make up for any shortcomings in your methodology section, or simply create a sense of balance between scholarly groundedness and innovation if your methodology might seem to veer a little too much in one direction or another. If your methodology takes a bold new step that some may find off-putting, you can acknowledge this whilst taking extra care to emphasise its grounded relationship to established work in the field.

You might, for instance, ensure that you refer back to your literature review frequently and use phrases like, "This approach may seem like a significant departure from established approaches to this field, but it combines the proven data-gathering techniques of X with the statistical analysis model of Y, along with the following innovations". Signposting Flagging what each section of an argument is doing is vital throughout the dissertation, but nowhere more so than in the methodology section.

You can significantly strengthen the justification you provide for your dissertation methodology by referring back to your literature review and reminding your reader of conclusions you've drawn — and if you're feeling really confident you can gently hint to your readers that they agreed with you, using a formulation like, "As we have seen, method X is extremely useful for approaching questions related to Y, but less applicable to problem Z".

You should be careful with this approach, of course — claiming you've proved something when this transparently isn't the case isn't going to bring your readers onside — but if your argumentation is already strong, rhetorical techniques like this can help underline the structural coherence of your work.

Defining your own terms If you don't define your own measures for success and failure, readers can infer from the overall structure of your argument the terms on which it was trying to succeed, and judge it accordingly.


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On the other hand, defining your own set of success criteria and help within reason helps to ensure that your readers evaluate your work on these terms.