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Finding and Managing Information for Your Dissertation: 2. The dissertation process

Getting started

You've reached the dissertation stage! You may now be starting to think about the following: 

  • the format of the dissertation
  • word count
  • picking a topic of special interest to you
  • creating your plan
  • searching effectively for material
  • primary research / secondary research / literature review
  • ethics
  • deadline
  • writing up
  • submission

Take a look through the different tabs below to familiarise yourself with the steps involved in planning and developing your dissertation or research project. 

The process

Dissertations based on qualitative or quantitative research will usually include the following sections:
  • Title page, declarations and statements, acknowledgements (see your departmental handbook for details)
  • Abstract
    • This is a brief summary of your dissertation which describes and gives an overview of the content. 
  • Introduction
    • This includes the aims and objectives; an overview of literature; Why are you researching this topic?
  • Literature review
    • key points, background and context to the work
  • Methodology
    •  what methods you have used to collect the data? Why did you choose to use a particular method instead of another? 
  • Results
    • This section will involve analysis and critical appraisal of the data collected
  • Discussion
    • Here you should interpret your findings. What is your evidence? Discuss the strengths and weaknesses
  • Conclusion
    • What did you learn from your research? Did you find out something new? Discuss future recommendations.
  • Bibliography
    • ​​​​​​​This is your reference list, and will include all of the books, articles and other sources that you have cited and read for your dissertation.
  • Appendices
    • ​​​​​​​This section will include the supporting evidence used for your research. For example, questionnaires, graphs, surveys, interview transcripts. 

Before moving forward, you need to decide what you want to find out. This is known as your research topic, and should be something that you can answer through the research you've performed and then presented in your dissertation.

If you're unsure what you want to concentrate on, do some exploratory and background reading and find out what has already been written on your area of interest.

When deciding on a topic, choosing what not to include is just as important! Consider how you will limit your research.

Once you have a topic in mind, you are now ready to move forward to formulate and develop potential research questions. This concentrates on exactly what you want to find out and should be something that you can answer through your dissertation.

Don't put too much pressure on yourself at this point to formulate the exact question. Remember nothing, and not even your question is set in stone at this stage – it can be amended and modified over the course of your research to suit what you end up investigating.

You can use techniques such as:

  • writing key points on post-it notes/whiteboard
  • brain-storming
  • mind-mapping

to think of different ways to describe the most important words involved in your research, also known as key concepts or keywords. 


Researching your dissertation



Need help?


For support with literature searching, using Primo and other library databases, referencing, and more, please contact your Subject Librarian. Email  with questions, or to book a one-to-one appointment with your Subject Librarian go to the booking page at:

Using a framework can help to refine your exact research question with tools such as PICO, SPIDER and SPICE. The style of your study will help to determine which is the most relevant. 

You might find that your topic does not always fall into one of the models listed below. You can always modify a model to make it work for your topic, and either remove or adjust additional elements.



PICO is a popular model or framework which is used most commonly for quantitative clinical and healthcare related questions. 

  • P - Population - who  is my question focused on? This could be the general population, or a specific group defined (e.g. infants, elderly)
  • I  -  Intervention - what intervention is being considered? This refers to the test to be investigated
  • C - Comparison (optional element) -what intervention is being considered? This is a measure you will use to compare results against. 
  • O - Outcome - what are you trying to achieve/accomplish/improve?


PICO has been adapted to include additional variations:

  • PICOT where T = Timeframe - how long after the intervention will the outcomes be assessed? You can use this framework if your outcomes need to be measured in a certain amount of time.
  • PICOS where S = Study Design - which specific design, e.g. randomised controlled trial, is included?
  • PIO or PEO - a more open set of variants potentially more compatible with qualitative studies.
    • Population - who is affected?
    • Interest or Environment - which circumstances or settings apply?
    • Outcome - what are you trying to achieve?



This framework is an alternative tool compatible with both qualitative subjective and quantitative objective style studies.

  • S - Sample - a sample or people involved / the group you are focusing on
  • PI - Phenomenon of Interest  -  the behaviour or experience your research is examining
  • D - Design - how the research will be carried out/ the form of research used
  • E - Evaluation -  What are the outcomes you are measuring
  • R - Research - What is the research style undertaken / used



This is a tool for qualitative questions and is often preferred for social science research. This is another variant of PICO but this time including the setting  - the where  the context of the study

  • S - Setting - this is the where/location or context of the study
  • P - Population or Perspective  - which population or perspective will the research be conducted for (the users, potential users or stakeholders) 
  • I - Intervention  - or the action taken 
  • C - Comparison - is there a comparison/alternative
  • E - Evaluation -  did the intervention work and if so, how well? What were the results?

A literature review is a piece of writing that collates, links and evaluates key sources related to a chosen topic or research question. These key sources could be scholarly articles, books, dissertations, conference proceedings and other resources which are relevant to a particular issue, theme, theory or area of research.

The guiding ethical principles governing all research within Aberystwyth University are the following:

• Respect for the rights, safety and well-being of all human participants and animals

• Respect for other cultures, values, traditions and the environment around us

• Honesty, integrity and professionalism at all times

We encourage all researchers to refer to the Research Ethics Framework as a starting point. The framework contains operational guidance in relation to research ethics and its associated processes. Please familiarise yourself with the relevant sections of this guidance in the first instance. If you require any advice or support, please contact us.

Research Ethics Framework

However, if you still have unanswered questions, please contact the Research Ethics team ( who will be pleased to help. We can also able to provide advice on the correct approvals process for you to follow, advice on the drafting of applications and to discuss any potential research topics or ideas that you may have.

A sequence of steps which you can follow for selecting terms/phrases and building them into your search strategy is given below:

  1. Break down your dissertation topic into a small number of related concepts.
  2. Identify terms and phrases related to each individual concept which you think may be useful search terms.
  3. Start with broad terms and then move towards more specific terms for each of the concept groups.
  4. Run an initial search in a general database, combining the terms and phrases you have chosen for each concept. It is usually best to enter each group of terms in a separate search box if possible.
  5. Add more key terms to each of your groups, such as alternative terminology, synonyms, varied spellings, as you come across them in your initial search results.
  6. Introduce truncation symbols (often *) to cover different endings for your terms in your search (e.g. to cover singular and plural forms)
  7. Enclose any phrases in your search term groups in quotes (e.g. “climate change”).
  8. Use filters offered by your database to cut down the number of results by date, language, method, geography etc.
  9. Filtering out the review papers can be very useful for getting a broad view of recent developments in your topic and also for finding more search terms.
  10. Output the references which you wish to save from this initial search either as an e-mail to yourself, as a saved file or download to a reference management package such as EndNote.

Repeat this procedure from steps 3-10 in a more specialist database, again adding any further useful terms which you find to the relevant group of concepts, until you are contented with the search. Use the same output method as used with the general database to output your results.

The research process for a dissertation or project is substantial and takes time. Research methods are the tools used to help you find, collect, analyse and interpret information in order to answer your research question. 

You will need to think about what you have to find out in order to answer your research question, and where and when you can find this information. As you gather your research, keep returning to your research question to ensure you are keeping in line with what you aim to find out and what you are doing is relevant.

When starting your search procedure, it is often useful to pick out a few review articles on your topic to read in detail as these will cite a large number of primary papers which may also be relevant to your specific study. Many databases have a specific filter to pick out the review papers from the references which your search has initially retrieved.

Examples of types of methods

The choice of method used depends on your research question. 

  • Experiments 
  • Observations
  • Questionnaries and surveys
  • Interviews
  • Focus Groups
  • Case studies

You’ve done your research, you've analysed the data – now you have to present it!

Make sure you read your module handbook - this will give you the rules to follow and how to structure the work correctly. Your lecturer can also give you guidance on what is expected. 

Before you submit your work: 

  • plan your time before submission date arrives - set out your 'to-do's' 
  • make sure you proof read it and  remove any typos. You may find it helpful to print it out and highlight any necessary amendments/corrections
  • make use of the Read & Write software that will enable the computer to read anything on your computer screen aloud. You may find this useful in proof-reading your own dissertation. It is available via the Software Centre and on Library computers.
  • check your references  - ensure they match and contain all the information 
  • follow your department's advice on how to format your citations and bibliography
  • check the referencing style and that it is done correctly and consistently throughout your dissertation
  • ask a friend to read through your work - a fresh pair of eyes may notice things you may have missed
Binding your dissertation


This service is available to Aberystwyth University Staff and Students in support of the academic aims of the University.

Further information on binding options is available at 


If you're an undergraduate, you can attend optional free writing, communication and information skills classes. More information available at: Free Undergraduate Courses : Student Learning Support, Aberystwyth University


If you're a postgraduate, you can attend optional free classes in writing and advanced information skills. More informationavailable at: Free Postgraduate Courses : Student Learning Support, Aberystwyth University

Examples of dissertations

Print Copies

It's a good idea to take a look at example of dissertations to familiarise yourself with the layout and format.

Currently AU libraries, the National Library of Wales and the Aberystwyth Research Portal, receive from AU academic departments:

  • All successful research theses

and also stock pre 2013 Taught Master’s:

  • theses on a Welsh subject
  • theses achieving a distinction

Further information is available by visiting:


Aberystwyth Research Portal

The Aberystwyth Research Portal makes the very best of Aberystwyth University's staff and postgraduate research openly available online, free of charge.

Content in the portal includes published outputs, postgraduate theses, project details, as well as records for other esteem activities. 

You can search the Aberystwyth Research Portal for theses either in the general search box or by browsing the postgraduate publications community. 


National Library of Wales

Other theses from Welsh universities are deposited at the National Library of Wales, National Library of Wales

Other Electronic Theses

Online availability of theses via the British Library.

Search over 500,000 doctoral theses using EThOS, the online theses service via the British Library. Download instantly for your research, or order a scanned copy quickly and easily.

Books to help