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Guide to writing a thesis or dissertation

A dissertation or thesis is ideally driven by intellectual curiosity about a particular problem/issue/state of affairs.

What is expected of you:

  1. You are likely to find the process of writing a Dissertation or Thesis quite different to carrying out coursework. You are more in control of the process and you have significantly more independence than when carrying out coursework, therefore self-motivation is really important.
  2. Do not expect to be able to rely upon coursework readings – you will need to read much more widely and you are likely to need to borrow some material via the University Library in Dunedin.
  3. The time commitment for a Thesis is twelve months of full-time study, and for a Dissertation six months of full-time study – or the part-time equivalent thereof. This is a serious time commitment. These regulations regarding times may sound generous at the beginning of your research, but it really does take that long!
  4. You will be expected to write from the beginning of your research and regularly throughout. The days of ‘writing up at the end’ are gone!
  5. You may be referred to Carole Acheson if you need help with writing. Contact carole.acheson@otago.ac.nz to make an appointment. Carole also runs regular courses for writers of dissertations and theses.
  6. You may need to meet with a biostatistician. If your supervisor suggests this, contact stephen.sharp@otago.ac.nz for an appointment.

What to expect from your supervisor:

  1. Assistance with clarifying the core research question(s).
  2. Advice on research methods and literature that relates to methodology.
  3. Assistance with identifying the ethical issues relevant to your research and making an application to the appropriate ethics committee.
  4. Assistance with Māori and biostatistics consultation.
  5. Timely feedback on writing.
  6. Suggestions regarding literature, theory and concepts that need to be considered in the context of the research.
  7. Discussion, critique and encouragement.

The goal is to help you to produce the best piece of work that you can.

The following should be read in conjunction with the University of Otago Guidelines for the Master of Public Health by Thesis or Dissertation

Getting Started

Aside from the obvious need to review the literature about your topic, the following is a list of core general references that will help you to clarify your research approach. The approach that you take is governed by the research question(s) that you aim to address – therefore it is really important to clarify exactly what it is that you want to find out. Doing this will lead you to the most appropriate research approach to address your research question(s) or hypotheses. All of the books below are available in the Department or in the Medical Library.

General research design books for qualitative and quantitative research projects

Creswell, J. (2009) Research design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches (Sage: California).

Saks, M and Allsop, J. (eds) (2007) Research health: Qualitative, Quantitative and Mixed Methods (Sage: London).

Qualitative projects

Crotty, M. (1998) The Foundations of Social Research: Meaning and Perspective in the Research Process (Allen and Unwin: Australia).

Green, J. and Thorogood, N. (2004) Qualitative Methods for Health Research (Sage: London).

Hansen, E. (2006) Successful Qualitative Health Research: A Practical Introduction (Allen and Unwin: Australia).

The above are general references. If you are dealing with vulnerable populations, or want to use participatory methods for example, then there are more specific books that you will also need to consult.

Quantitative projects

Abramson, J.H. and Abrahamson, Z.H. (2008) Research Methods in Community Medicine (6th ed) (Wiley: England).

De Vaus, D. (2002) Surveys in Social Research (5th ed) (Allen and Unwin: Australia)

Pallant, J. (2007) SPSS Survival Manual (3rd edition) (Allen & Unwin: Australia).

Research with Māori

Denzin, N., Lincoln, Y. and Tuhiwai Smith, L. (2008) Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies (Sage: London).