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Dissertation Handbook
Note this guide is ONLY for those students who have completed the
separate module in Research Methods. (BSM577)

Sarah Harper
PG Dissertation Coordinator
The Robert Gordon University
Aberdeen Business School

This dissertation guidance has benefited from the input of a number of academics. Thank

Module Descriptor.
A copy of this can be found on Moodle.


1.1 General
The dissertation is the largest single piece of work that you will undertake on your
postgraduate course and it provides the greatest test of your ability to achieve Masters
level status. Therefore, this work marks the final stage of your intellectual development as
a postgraduate student. Indeed, the process in which you are about to embark, provides
you with a challenge in applying: knowledge, skills, experience, wisdom and a variety of
other analytical techniques, which you will have acquired throughout your period of study.
This Masters stage therefore allows you the freedom to employ these attributes in an
independent piece of work.
Completing a dissertation requires the collection, analysis, interpretation and presentation
of information and observations. It is an orderly intellectual and practical exercise for which
there are common criteria for evaluation. Students are therefore advised to proceed
according to an intellectual and practical plan in a systematic manner.
Remember a dissertation is NOT a big essay. it is a different kind of work, more elaborate
and systematic. If you think of your dissertation as an essay, it will almost certainly be well
below what you are capable of producing.
Many students find that the most difficult part about their dissertation is getting started.
This guidance will help you produce your dissertation by developing a clear understanding
of expectations from the outset. It provides information on the style of presentation; an
expected generic structure; an explanation of the assessment criteria; and some examples
of good practice. In addition to this guidance, you will also be able to:
obtain advice from your dissertation tutor (this is likely to be more specific about the
actual content and logic of your own dissertation);
seek general guidance from the dissertation co-ordinator;
consult relevant research textbooks; and possibly more importantly research journals

Clearly the base materials for writing up will be your own notes, records and analysis of
your research data. You will also find it helpful to refer to your proposal (and the feedback
that you received on it). It is always good practice to remind yourself about what you set

out to achieve.

The various sections in the proposal can be used to develop the

introduction to the corresponding chapters in your dissertation.

This relationship will be

explained in more detail later in this guidance.

It is critical to note that the dissertation is produced for the purposes of an academic
audience. In assessing your work we are trying to determine if:
you are competent in conducting subject related research;
your research methods, findings and analysis are credible and justifiable;
you can demonstrate the use and understanding of higher level cognitive skills through
the analysis and synthesis of your research findings;
you can communicate your research appropriately so that others can have confidence in
your work;
you have considered and justified any practical implications for change given the context
of your investigation.
Essential ingredients of a dissertation, as distinct from a client or consultancy report, will
be academic underpinning through a critical review of the literature and a rigorous
discussion of research methodology and design. If this academic underpinning and critical
evaluation is lacking in rigour then this will have a detrimental impact on your grade and
could result in failure.

1.2 Purpose of the Handbook

Since the dissertation process is a challenging exercise, this handbook has been produced
to help provide you with some of the basic information on key issues associated with the
approaches you should consider in terms of: - carrying out the study and writing the
completed dissertation.


Purpose of the Dissertation

The main purposes in researching and writing your dissertation are threefold:1. to provide you with an opportunity to develop and apply analytical, critical, evaluative,
communication and investigative skills appropriate to a major piece of advanced and
independent research;
2. to demonstrate a higher level of understanding and knowledge in relation to


implicit within the chosen subject area;

3. to develop an understanding of research methodology and research processes involved
in Masters Level study, and to apply these to primary/secondary data sets.


The Aims and Learning Outcomes of the Dissertation Module

To provide students with the opportunity to undertake supervised, independent research on
a topic on an area related to your subject discipline, applying the associated research skills
acquired in the Research Methods module, to produce a dissertation, which sheds new light
on the selected topic and which may be able to create new knowledge and understanding.

Learning Outcomes

Critically evaluate a range of qualitative and quantitative research methods and to

select data collection and analysis techniques appropriate to their dissertation.

Apply information retrieval techniques to access relevant published material and

prepare a literature review.

Undertake a major piece of independent research in an area related to your

subject discipline, involving the design and implementation of an appropriate
methodology and present and discuss the findings critically and coherently in

Synthesise and apply in a practical context, the knowledge, understanding and

skills developed in the taught elements of the programme.


The Nature of the Dissertation

A dissertation has TWO basic features that distinguish it from other pieces of work which
you have already undertaken and therefore it is important that there is a clear
understanding that: 1. The subject material of the dissertation is solely your (the student's) responsibility.
2. The role of your dissertation supervisor is solely advisory, whereby the supervisors role
is to guide the student through the dissertation process and advise on key issues and
aspects of the students research. Additionally, it should be borne in mind that all
decisions made on both - the content/structure of the dissertation proposal and the final
dissertation, are the responsibility of the student.
With this in mind, the following flowchart gives an outline of the important stages involved
in the dissertation process.

Outline of the Dissertation Process

Research Methods Module (BSM577)

Provides you with guidance for the study necessary to obtain the knowledge and skills to choose
and justify your research methodology and be able to submit a coherent Research Proposal.

Research Proposal This is written as part of your Research Methods module and should provide a
coherent outline of your proposed research and your chosen methodology. The supervisor for your
Research Proposal will be your supervisor for your Dissertation.


20,000 words

The supervisor will guide the student towards completing their research. Please make sure you
make regular contact with them

Protocol for extensions etc.

See Moodle for protocol regarding extensions etc. Any request MUST be submitted with
evidence prior to your submission date.

Dissertation Submitted: For all students who are FT or PT.

2 spiral bound copies along with a named electronic disc copy of the dissertation are
required to be submitted by the submission deadline. It will be marked by your supervisor along
with a second independent marker. Spiral binding is available in the RGU library. Double sided
printing is acceptable but MUST be spiral bound. Glue binding tends to allow pages to fall out and
get lost! DL students only submit to the dropbox on Moodle. Nothing else is required.

Assessment Board and Graduation

Your assessment grades will be confirmed by the PG Assessment Board and if successful you will
graduate at the next ceremony. If you fail the dissertation, you will have only one further
opportunity to submit (this may be an amended or a completely new project).

This information is provided for guidance only and does not replace the
requirements of the Universitys Academic Regulations, which are available
for consultation on the University


You will be expected to meet all fees and expenses incurred on the Masters Degree
Dissertation programme.



Successful production of a Dissertation is mostly about organisation rather than inspiration.

As part of your Research Proposal, you should have produced an outline schedule of work.
It is now your responsibility to manage your time within that schedule or to adapt it as
circumstances make necessary. Above all, you should be aiming to have the main parts of
your Dissertation nearing completion about a month before the submission deadline.
It is sensible to discuss work on a regular basis with your Supervisor, rather than waiting
until you have almost completed your Dissertation. Your Supervisor will then be able to












suggestions/recommendations of particular issues, concepts, theories, etc., in the process

of discussing your work, it is your responsibility to ensure that you fully understand the
potential consequences - if you decide not to take cognisance of their comments.
The submitted thesis must be your own work and you have responsibility for its eventual
success or failure. The Supervisors role at this time is to offer guidance and constructive
criticism, suggest solutions, and give encouragement. Your Supervisor should also advise
you on the presentation and layout of the Dissertation, but you must take ultimate
responsibility for both the content and presentation by carefully following the presentation
instructions in this handbook. The supervisor is not an editor!
You should seek Supervisory contact/discussion on a regular basis. Exactly how frequently
these should take place is impossible to determine in advance, and it is therefore your
responsibility to make contact with your Supervisor when you feel that a discussion would
be helpful. Some Supervisors establish a pattern of regular meetings, if they feel that it
would be beneficial for a particular student, or is required by the subject being
investigated, but such arrangements should not be taken to be the norm.
Your Supervisor will normally expect to see ONE draft of each individual section or a full
draft before submission, and will provide feedback on drafts. In exceptional circumstances,
at the Supervisors discretion, further drafts may be required.

The latest date on which your Supervisor will normally be able to look at a final
draft is two weeks prior to the submission deadline.

However, this very much

depends on the workload of the individual Supervisor and you should discuss and adhere to
deadlines for drafts set by your Supervisor.
Confidentiality Issues: Please refer to the information on Moodle

Please remember that your dissertation supervisor has other responsibilities and
commitments. They are also entitled to take holidays and you must seek
advice regarding their availability and plan your interactions with them
For your assistance there is always a duty member of staff over the summer
vacation period. (Contact ABS reception who have information on the duty
staff) They should be able to help with general dissertation issues; any
specific subject related problems should be referred to your supervisor.


Students are expected to demonstrate in the Dissertation that they

have understood the conceptual range and complexity of the chosen topic;

are aware of the literature available on the topic;

are able to analyse and assess the issues and facts, opinions and procedures involved in
the area of investigation;

can bring an independent viewpoint to bear upon the evidence and its practical

can present this viewpoint in succinct conclusions, giving a balanced discussion of the

Students are also expected

to organise and display their findings in a clear and coherent manner

to give particular emphasis to cogency of argument, appropriate use of evidence, clarity

of layout, and synthesis of the constituent aspects of the topic

to attain high editorial standards in presentation

Generally the content and structure of the Dissertation is similar to the Research Proposal,
but there are a number of significant additional sections.

Title page:

Please use the standard specimen title pages at Appendix A:

the full title of the thesis

the full name of the author

the name of the supervisor
the award for which the Dissertation is submitted in partial fulfilment of its
that the degree is awarded by The Robert Gordon University
the year of submission
the word count (excluding acknowledgements ,diagrams, references,
bibliography and appendices)

Confidentiality statement normally students should expect that their dissertation will
be available for inspection. If there are genuine reasons why your work could be
considered confidential then you should discuss this matter with your supervisor at an early
stage in your work.
Abstract - a brief (c.250-300 words) summary of the aim, methodology, contents, and
conclusions of the dissertation.
Acknowledgements - a list of people who provided help to the author during the research
and writing of the dissertation. It is normal practice to acknowledge those who have
supported your work.
List of contents showing the breakdown of the dissertation into its constituent parts and
locating them by page number. It is good practice to also include list of figures, tables and
Introduction presenting and justifying the research problem/issue and introducing the
approach taken to investigating and presenting the problem.
Glossary a list of abbreviations and technical terms used and their definitions.
Literature Review.
Methodology presenting, as appropriate, details of the research approach and design,
methods and techniques used to collect and analyse data and any problems encountered.
Main text organised in a way appropriate to the topic presenting a review of relevant
literature, results and discussions and synthesis of findings, critical analysis of facts and/or
ideas, using chapter headings, and paragraphed and spaced for ease of reading and crossreference.

Conclusion(s) (and recommendations) - an assessment of the findings along with any

recommendations; this section should, explicitly or implicitly, establish the validity of the
work in relation to its field.
References provide essential theoretical support for the research. Referencing should
follow the standard ABS/RGU format, details of which can be found on the library website.
Bibliography - a separate list of the other relevant and useful works in the field that you
have consulted.
Appendices - optional; useful for relevant but supplementary information (e.g. copies of
any questionnaires used in the research), or for some kinds of statistical information
material which exemplifies discussion in the main text.
Detailed guidance on each of the main sections for your dissertation is provided at
Appendix B.


The completed dissertation must provide proof of the ability to think, analyse, criticise,
organise, synthesise, evaluate and assess. These qualities will maximise the potential
opportunity for students to achieve a sound score in the assessment.
In assessing dissertations, supervisors are primarily looking for evidence of a student's
ability to work independently on a research topic with the minimum of supervision. The
assessment of the dissertation is as follows: -

Completed Dissertation : 100%

The feedback criteria used in assessing the dissertation are provided for consultation on
Moodle. Students should familiarise themselves with this prior to writing the dissertation.
A descriptive dissertation will generally not receive a favourable grade. In assessing the
completed dissertation a number of elements are taken into account including:



Use of literature


Analytical depth

Criticality and success in meeting stated objectives

Relevance of conclusions and their relation to the stated objectives

Creativity and originality





The dissertation will normally be 20,000 words MAXIMUM in length (excluding

acknowledgements, diagrams, references, bibliography and appendices) with a
tolerance of +/- 10%.

Dissertations will be subject to the usual penalty for incorrect

wordage .A dissertation is judged on its intellectual rigour and the insight it provides to
your understanding of the topic.
For your information, Appendix C gives guidance on the evaluation of post
graduate dissertations, and you should fully understand the details identified
here, prior to writing your completed dissertation.
Normally, your supervisor will mark the dissertation. It will be marked by two
lecturers who will agree a final overall grade and feedback. Where there is a failure to
agree a grade, the dissertation will be assessed by the dissertation co-ordinator (or an
appropriate designate) and this grade will be the actual grade that is awarded subject to
ratification by the Assessment Board. Selections of dissertations are always sent to the
external examiner/s for verification.
Additionally, for those students submitting a dissertation that is on the borderline of a
pass/fail, or indeed, if there is some question concerning the authenticity of the










examination/presentation on their submitted work, before their final grade is awarded.

Hussey and Hussey (1998 p.18) provide a useful table to illustrate the differences between
a good and a poor dissertation. This has been reproduced below for convenience.
Good dissertation
Poor dissertation
Good literature review
Poor/uncritical literature review
Sound primary research
Poor/little primary research
Logical structure
Haphazard structure
Theory integrated
Theory tacked on
conceptual Little/no conceptual framework
Integration between methodology, Little/no
literature, analysis, conclusions, etc. elements
Table 1 Characteristics of good and poor dissertations



The dissertation must be submitted in printed format unless along with an electronic
version. There are templates on Moodle for the first few pages of your dissertation.It
should be presented in a permanent and legible form in accordance with the following:
1. Printed in A4 size paper, can be double sided with 1.5 or double spacing. The font
should be Verdana 11 point.
2. Pages should be numbered consecutively throughout, beginning with the first page of
chapter 1 as 1. Preceding pages can be numbered i, ii, etc.
3. A margin of at least 40mm should be left on the left hand side of the page and at
least 20mm on all other sides.
4. The cover page (Appendix A) should be completed.
5. There should be a separate abstract (see template Appendix A) not exceeding one
page, bound into the dissertation outlining the nature and scope of the work and key


You will be informed of the final deadline for the submission of the Dissertation in a
separate letter sent to you individually at the start of your dissertation. If you are
in any way unsure please contact the post graduate office.
The submission of the Dissertation for assessment is solely at your discretion.

While you

would be unwise to submit the Dissertation for assessment against the advice of your
Supervisor, it is your right to do so. Equally, you should not assume that your Supervisors
agreement to the submission of the Dissertation guarantees the award of the degree.
If you are unable to submit your dissertation by the submission date you must contact your
Course Leader as soon as possible before the final hand in date. Please find further
details regarding the protocol for extensions etc on Moodle. Remember if you do request
an extension/mitigating circumstances and it is approved there may be a
possibility that your submission will be too late to go forward at the next

assessment board. Subject to passing all requirements this could delay your
possible graduation by several months.
You are expected to submit 2 spiral-bound printed copies, and one digital copy to
the appropriate section on Moodle. Please DO NOT glue bind as pages tend to fall out
and get lost. Spiral binding is available in the library.
Only DL students submit electronically to the dropbox on Moodle.
All items should be placed in an envelope carrying the student's name, student number and
course and should be submitted to the Coursework box on Level 4.
Dissertations should NOT be submitted to Reception NOR direct to the Supervisor.
In the event that the package is too bulky to post in the Coursework box it may,
exceptionally be submitted to level 4 reception.
Please note: No receipts will be issued for dissertations submitted.
Dissertations including non-written material such as computer programmes or audio-visual
items may be submitted. These must, however, be accompanied by written introductory
and explanatory material. Students must ensure that the non-print items are firmly fixed
in place.
The electronic version of the Dissertation of those Masters students who successfully
complete and achieve 70% or more in the Dissertation will be placed on Campus Moodle
and any PHD dissertations (subject to any restrictions on confidentiality) will be placed on
the Universitys Open Access Repository and become freely available on the Web.
Copyright of the Dissertation will remain vested in the candidate.


5.1 General
It is important to communicate your ideas clearly. However good you may think your ideas
to be, if you fail to communicate them clearly to your supervisor, the grade that you will
obtain will generally be poor. Remember that others will read your work and they will not
have had the benefit of working with you and hence the clarity of your written
communication is paramount. A good start would be to look at the dissertations lodged in
the RGU library; they will give you a good idea of the level and style of work you will need
to achieve.
There is a significant difference between ones own opinion and material drawn from a body
of academic writing and evidence in the chosen field of study. A clear distinction should be
drawn between what you think and what is accepted fact or reason. If all materials are
sourced including tables of data, diagrams etc., then it will be assumed that the rest of the
dissertation is your work and your view alone. In science, all experiments should be
repeatable. In business and the social sciences, all primary research should at least be
capable of being repeated even if there are practical difficulties. Therefore, it is convention
to write in the passive tense i.e. a questionnaire was undertaken rather than I undertook
a questionnaire even though you did undertake it - on the grounds that it could have been
undertaken by anyone. The fact that you did - should not have any effect on the results.
Avoid terms such as in the authors opinion. What you really need to do is consider what
that opinion is based on - evidence, accepted academic judgement or blind prejudice.

5.2 Quotations, References and Bibliography

Correct referencing in full - using a standard referencing system is absolutely
essential. The recommended system is: - the ABS version of the Harvard System. The
examiners also need to see the extent of the reading undertaken which should be indicated
in the bibliography. Contact the University Library and they will be able to assist you
in using this Referencing System. A copy of the ABS Harvard referencing system





web .



Some Referencing Examples for you to consider:

Referencing exercise
After completing the following exercise successfully you will be able to: cite references
within a text construct a reference list and construct a bibliography.
1. Details in original publication
... According to Clanchy and Ballard students find academic writing difficult. ...
(From: page 9 in How to Write Essays: a Practical Guide for Students, by Clanchy,
J. & Ballard, B., 1998. London: Longman.)
Type of reference: whole book
Relevant page(s) in Harvard guide: 3 & 4
Quote this within your text
According to Clanchy and Ballard (1998 p. 9) students find academic writing
Tip: regardless of format (paper, electronic, book or journal or web site), your reference
within the text will always indicate the authors name and publication year. If it is a direct
quote from a book, journal article or newspaper, include the page number for the quote as
well. In this case, the authors names are already included in the quote above, so it is only
necessary to add the publication year and page number in brackets.
Quote this in your reference list
CLANCHY, J. and BALLARD, B., 1998. How to write essays: a practical guide for
students. London: Longman.
Tip; Do not include the page numbers of any quotes in your references list; these only
appear in the text.
The authors names are always typed in capital letters. The first letter of the book title and
any proper nouns start with capital letters, otherwise all letters are lower case. Note that
book titles are given in italics.

2. Details in original publication

... Professional communication courses can help students become more aware of the
highly charged and changing occupational and social contexts that define professional
(This quote is from p. 331 of an article by Brenton Faber in the Journal of Business and
Technical Communication, July 2002, vol. 16 No 3, on pages 306 337, entitled:
Professional Identities: What IS Professional about Professional Communication?)
Type of reference: journal article
Relevant page(s) in Harvard guide: 3 & 5
Quote this within your text

Professional communication courses can help students become more aware of

the highly charged and changing occupational and social contexts that define
professional work. (Faber 2002 p.331)
Tip: regardless of format (paper, electronic, book or journal or web site), your reference
within the text will always indicate the authors name and publication year; in this case, the
authors names arent mentioned in the quote so include authors name with the year of
publication in brackets and add the page number for that particular quote..
Quote this in your reference list
FABER, B., 2002. Professional identities: what IS professional about professional
communication? Journal of Business and Technical Communication . 16 (3), pp.
306 337
Tip: note that for journal articles, the name of the journal itself is given in italics, rather
than the title of the article.
Note that the page numbers given are for the whole article, and not the single page from
which the quote is taken. Use p. for a single page, and pp. for multiple pages
Journals usually have a volume and issue number; include these rather than the month of
3. Details in original publication
The article Money: How to choose . . . what are the real differences between the
funds? in the Guardian newspaper on Saturday February 24 2007 on page 8.
Type of reference: newspaper article
Relevant page(s) in Harvard guide: 5 & 7
Quote this within your text
(Guardian 2007 p. 8)
Tip; there is no author named in the article, so use the name of the newspaper (or journal)

Quote this in your reference list

GUARDIAN, 2007. Money: how to choose... what are the real differences between
the funds? Guardian, 24 February, p.8
Tip: as there is no named author, use the name of the newspaper instead of the author.
Newspapers dont give a volume and issue number, so use the date of publication instead.
4. Details in original publication (look at this reference in conjunction with number
The whole book by Michael E Porter called Competitive strategy: techniques for analyzing
industries and competitors. Published in New York by the Free Press in 1998.
Quote this within your text
(Porter 1998a)
Quote this in your reference list
PORTER, M.E., 1998a. Competitive strategy: techniques for analyzing industries
and competitors. New York : Free Press

5. Details in original publication (look at this reference in conjunction with number 4)

An article by Michael E. Porter called Clusters and the new economics of competition in
Harvard Business Review published November/December 1998 in volume 76, issue 6, p.
Notes on references 4 & 5
Types of reference; book and journal article and referring to more than one source by
the same author
Relevant pages in Harvard guide; 4 & 5 & 18
Quote this within your text
(Porter 1998b)
Quote this in your reference list
PORTER, M.E., 1998b. Clusters and the new economics of competition. Harvard
Business Review, 76 (6), pp. 77-90
Notes on references 4 & 5
Tip: if you include more than one item by the same author, they are filed in order of year
of publication, earliest first. Where items by the same author are published in the same
year, add a letter to the year of publication to identify particular items; the letters are also
included in the text citation.

6. Details in original publication

... If you use someone else's work without acknowledgement you risk facing
charges of plagiarism, which could damage your progress through
(This quote was taken from the following website on 16 October 2006: The webpage was last
updated in 2007.
Type of reference: web page
Relevant page in Harvard guide: 16
Quote this within your text
If you use someone else's work without acknowledgement you risk facing
charges of plagiarism, which could damage your progress through University .
(RGU Library 2006)
Tip: the date given in the text is the year of publication of the webpage; if no publication
date can be established use n.d. (short for no date) e.g. (RGU Library n.d.)
Quote this in your reference list
RGU LIBRARY, 2006, How to cite references. [online] Aberdeen: RGU. Available
from [Accessed on
16 October 2006]
Tip ; the title of the web page is given in italics. You need to add [online] to indicate an
electronic source and give the url and the date accessed i.e. the date you looked at it.

7. Details in original publication

Online recruitment services are among the most popular applications on the Internet.
However, their usability is compromised by the information overload problem, as users
must frequently search through hundreds or thousands of job advertisements for given
SERVICES. By: Smyth, Barry; Bradley, Keith; Rafter, Rachael. Communications of the
ACM, May2002, Vol. 45 Issue 5, p39-40, 2p; (AN 11872575)
Cited References (4) Times Cited in this Database(1)
PDF Full Text (774K) )
Found on the Business Source Premier database
Type of reference: Journal article
Relevant page in Harvard guide: 5

Quote this within your text

Online recruitment services are among the most popular applications on the
Internet. However, their usability is compromised by the information overload
problem, as users must frequently search through hundreds or thousands of job
advertisements for given query.
(Smyth, Bradley and Rafter 2002 p. 39)
Quote this in your reference list
SMYTH, B., BRADLEY, K. and RAFTER, R., 2002. Personalization techniques for
online recruitment. Communications of the ACM. 45 (5), pp. 39-40

8. Details in original publication

This quote from Michael Porter
"The worst thing you can do is compete with your rival on the same
things," advised Porter. "If you do, the competition almost always
becomes a destructive `arms race'."
(From The me-too trap. By: Streeter, William W.. ABA Banking Journal, Jan2006, Vol.
98 Issue 1, p4-4, 2/3p; (AN 19356539)
HTML Full Text PDF Full Text (581K)
Found on the Business Source Premier database
Type of reference: secondary referencing and journal article
Relevant page in Harvard guide: 19 & 5
Quote this within your text
In Streeters article, "The worst thing you can do is compete with your rival on the same
things," advised Porter. "If you do, the competition almost always becomes a destructive
`arms race'." (Streeter 2006)

Quote this in your reference list

STREETER, W.W., 2006. The me-too trap. ABA Banking Journal. 98(1), p. 4
Tip: when you use a quote from one author included in another authors work, you need to
make it clear you havent read the original work (e.g. by Porter), so your reference would
be to the article you HAVE read i.e. the one by Streeter.
9. Details in original publication
Cite this website
Type of reference; web page
Relevant page in Harvard guide: 16
Quote this within your text
(CIPD 2008)
Tip: when looking for the authors name, it is by far the most preferred option to note the
name of the person or individual who wrote the piece. However, many web sites do not
give personal authors names on their pages, so instead, use the name of the organisation
who produced the information, in capital letters. This dies mean that the organisation
name will be repeated as a publisher as well in your reference; that is correct.
If using the name of the organisation as an author, it is preferable to spell out the
complete name rather than use the initials, unless the organisation is officially known by
its initials. If in doubt, check the home page to see what they are officially calling
themselves, and if still in doubt, spell out the complete name.
Quote this in your reference list
CIPD, 2008. Flexible working. [online] London: CIPD. Available from: xwkgfst.htm?
IsSrchRes=1 [Accessed 1 December 2009]
Tip: even if it is on the internet, this is a one-off publication (like a book) rather than something that is repeated on a regular basis (like a journal article)
so quote it in the format of a book and add the necessary notations to indicate you found it online eg [online], Available from: and the date
The place of publication is the town where the organisation is based. If it is not indicated on this page, in your web browser, shorten the url from eg xwkgfst.htm?IsSrchRes=1 to which should take you to the organisations home page, then use the
Contact us option to find the address.
10. Details in original publication
Cite the table Meeting the fiscal rules on page 4 of the budget 2007 document on HM Treasury
web site at
Type of reference; figures, tables & illustrations AND web page

Relevant pages in Harvard guide: 12 & 16

Tip; the crucial thing to remember is that you must quote the entire document as you would normally, then indicate to the reader the place within the
document that you will find the table. This report is document is part of a series of reports published annually, and is not published daily, weekly,
quarterly, six monthly, so quote it in the same format as a book.

Quote this within your text

(HM Treasury 2007 p.4 Table 1.1)
Tip: quote the usual reference in the text i.e. the name of the author of the entire report (HM
Treasury) and the year of publication, then follow it with the number of the page containing the

table and the table number. This is the only place you need to indicate the details of the table within
the document.
Quote this in your reference list
HM TREASURY, 2007. Budget 2007: building Britains long term future: prosperity and
fairness for families. [online] London: HM Treasury. Available from: [Accessed 11 October
Tip; in your references, simply quote the entire document in the format of an online book, and do
not include the details of where to find the table, which should only appear in your text.

5.3 Before submission of the dissertation

Before submitting your completed Dissertation, review it to ensure that you have:

established an hypothesis or series of hypotheses (mainly used in quantitative

methodologies) or a research question or series of research questions (mainly used in
qualitative methodologies);
a research aim and a number of more specific research objectives;
established detailed research methods that will meet your aim and objectives:
undertaken thorough secondary research, and produced a suitably structured
literature review or use of other relevant secondary sources;
usually undertaken thorough primary research, i.e. a piece of empirical work
involving collection of data by you personally (in exceptional cases primary research
may be excluded if the student is performing substantial re-analysis of secondary
explained and justified your chosen methodology. This will include defining
population, sampling, etc;
demonstrated how your research instrument (questionnaire, interview or other
method) will answer the research questions or provide data to permit hypothesis
testing. Also demonstrated how your research instrument has been informed by
your literature review;
evaluated the success of your methodology in relation to your aims and objectives
(this may include response rates etc.);
undertaken a thorough analysis of your results in line with your research objectives and
in the light of your literature review;
drawn conclusions from the results of your research that either prove/disprove your
hypotheses or address your research questions.

Additional detailed guidance has been provided in the following appendices:

Appendix D contains tips on drafting and revising your work including guidance on writing
the abstract.
Appendix E provides guidance on conducting a critical review of the literature.

This is a form of cheating. This includes copying part or all of a dissertation or the unattributed quotation of even a single sentence belonging to another author. In such
instances, this will result in at least a FAIL being awarded for the dissertation and
possibly further penalties being imposed by the University. It is perfectly proper to
quote original authors and you are encouraged to do so - this may be an indication of the
depth of your reading. Quotations should however, be brief, relevant, to the point, and
discussed in appropriate context.
If there are doubts about authenticity of your work, for example the undertaking of a
questionnaire, you may be required to provide documentary evidence as proof. Any
materials which have been used in the production of the dissertation such as notes,
questionnaires, letters etc., should be retained by you (the student) as evidence until you
have received your final award. N.B. staff may wish to review and consider your data
set in the light of your Proposal/completed Dissertation.



Appendix A

Specimen Title Page

Appendix B

Detailed guidance on writing your chapters

Appendix C

What are markers looking for?

Appendix D

Tips on drafting and revising your work

Appendix E

Guidance on conducting a Critical Review of the Literature

APPENDIX A: Template Format for title-pages. These will form pages 1 & 2 of
your final dissertation submission.


Aberdeen Business School
Title: Write your dissertation title here
Name: Write your name here
Submission Date: Write your submission date here
Supervisor: Write their name here
Aim: Write your overall aim here
1. Write your objectives hereyou may need more or less than the 5 here.
Signed: Sign your name here
Total word count (excluding acknowledgements, diagrams, references, bibliography and
appendices) Fill in the word count here.
A Dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements
for the Postgraduate Certificate/Diploma/MSc Degree in fill in the full title of your course

Change the font to black and adjust to fit on one side. Only highlighted for ease in


Copyright Declaration Form
Email/contact tel no.:
Dissertation Title:

Before submitting confirm:

a) that the work undertaken for this assignment is entirely my own and that I have
not made use of any unauthorised assistance
b) that the sources of all reference material have been properly acknowledged
c) that, where necessary, I have obtained permission from the owners of third party
copyrighted material to include this material in my dissertation.
I have read and agree to comply with the requirements for submitting the dissertation as an
electronic document.
I agree:

That an electronic copy of the dissertation may be held and made available on
restricted access for a period of 3 or more years to students and staff of the
University through The Robert Gordon University Moodle.

That during the period that it is accessible on Moodle the work shall be licensed under
the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike 2.5 Licence to the
end-user -

Signed.............................................................. Date...................................................................


(Write your dissertation title here)

(Write your name here)
The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, UK
Aberdeen Business School
(Write your full name of your postgraduate course here)
Submission Date:

(Type text here)
This is to be typed in italics font size 11, Verdana.


APPENDIX B: Detailed guidance on writing the chapters

This chapter, although short, is a critical one. It should contain three main components:
contextualisation - setting the scene and providing sufficient background information to
enable to reader to understand the site of your investigation. You may also make
reference to prior work you have conducted and indicate why you are interested in the
area of investigation;
your aim and objectives - this should generate a reaction in the reader such that they
would regard what you are trying to do as important and worthwhile given the situation
you have described (it is important to get buy-in as this will have an impact on the
readers interest in your work);
sign-posting - you should provide a brief overview of the content of your dissertation
so that the reader will know what to expect. {This represents the tell them what you
are going to tell them stage - the body will be where you tell them and the conclusion
will be where you tell them what you have told them.}
You should not exceed 10% of overall word count in your introduction. There is no need to
refer extensively to the literature in the introduction - you will deal with this aspect in your
literature review. You only need to cite key prior (or seminal) work that will give the reader
an indication of the main underpinning theoretical domain of your investigation.

Literature review
Having set the scene in your introduction you will need to demonstrate your familiarity with
relevant literature and that you have based your dissertation on sound theory. In most, if
not all, investigations there will be a wealth of prior research. Do not ignore this earlier
work as you may spend a lot of time re-inventing the wheel. You are expected to conduct
a critical review of the literature.
This means not accepting concepts, ideas and
frameworks at face value. You should determine the relevance and applicability of the
earlier work to your area of research and identify richer questions. Do not include work
that is not relevant, as this will detract from your arguments. You may find previous
research that is relevant but not applicable. For example you may be conducting research
on, say, total quality management (TQM) in small businesses. Prior work conducted on
TQM in large businesses may be relevant but it is not necessarily applicable. In this
instance you would be expected to discuss the issues that the prior findings raise for your
own research by examining the conditions and assumptions that applied in the large
company research. You may well find that cited authors have conflicting views and
explanations for phenomena. It is your task to discuss why these views may differ and to
note the implications for your own work. This means that you need to be analytical (i.e.
attempt to identify cause and effect) rather than simply state that author A says X and
author B says Y. The literature review should culminate in the presentation of a
conceptual framework or model that will guide the conduct of your own research. The
conceptual model may be a single model e.g. SERVQUAL (Zeithaml, Parasuraman and
Berry 1990) or be derived as an adaptation or hybrid of a number of models (partially this
will depend on the complexity of the problem being investigated). You should note that if
no conceptual framework is produced (except when conducting exploratory research) then
you will seriously jeopardise your marks. A conceptual framework should help you to:

communicate the (hypothesised) interrelationship between factors involved in your

demonstrate that you have a set of questions that you will investigate to achieve your
aim and objectives;
avoid black-holes where key aspects are ignored;
form the basis for developing your own research design as it will determine the nature of
the data that you will need to collect and analyse to answer the identified questions; and
provide a summary of the key issues arising from your literature review.
The literature review is a key part of your dissertation in demonstrating academic rigour. A
balance needs to be struck between investigating prior research and conducting your own
investigation using primary data. You should aim for approximately 4000 words for your
literature review. As a rough guide you ought to include references to at least 30 to 40
prior works. Please use the ABS Harvard System for referencing (on Moodle). Failure to
properly acknowledge the work of others is a serious offence - plagiarism. All quotations
must be in inverted commas and preferably in italics. Page numbers should be given with
the full reference for the quotation. A bibliography can be included as well as a list of
references. References are those works that you have directly cited. A bibliography
contains background reading that you have found helpful in developing your ideas but have
not cited directly in your text.

Research Methodology/Design
In this chapter you will need to demonstrate your familiarity with the principles of research
(including the two main research paradigms) and justify the research design that you have
adopted. You should be able to make a clear linkage between your aim and objectives,
your conceptual framework and your research methods.
You must discuss validity, reliability, generalisability, and bias inherent in research methods.
You should also deal with practical issues such as the amount of resources and time
required conducting research using particular methods and how triangulation may help to
overcome the limitations of relying on one research method. Given the time constraint on
your work, sampling method and the actual choice and representativeness of your sample
will be an important facet to explain. The discussion should cover how you propose to
collect and analyse your data.
This chapter should be of the order of 3000 words.

Data Findings - presentation, analysis and synthesis

The most straightforward part of this chapter will be to present your findings. You may
include tabulations of data, graphical representations (charts, diagrams and graphs) and, if
appropriate, verbatim quotes from interviewees or accounts of observations. Findings are
purely factual and can take the form of qualitative or quantitative evidence. You are
expected to progress beyond presentation and, indeed, descriptive accounts of your
findings. You must interpret the findings through analysis and synthesis. Analysis may
involve the use of statistical tests but what you need to be able to develop is a managerial
sense of cause and effect. Synthesis involves generating new information from the

findings. The ability to derive new insights will result in higher forms of knowledge and will
generally be rewarded with higher marks in assessing your dissertation.
You should expect to produce 3000 words for this chapter.
determine whether you have answered your research questions.

A good self-check is to

Some students prefer to include this dimension of writing up their research within the
Findings chapter. There is a need to consider the purpose of the discussion before deciding
whether to merge the chapters. The discussion should cover the following:
a self critical review as to whether the research questions have been addressed;
a critical appraisal of the research design and any limitations that this may have placed
on the validity and reliability of the findings and what actions had been taken to reduce
the impact of bias (remember: it can be valuable to consider reasons for non-response);
a consideration of how the findings of this research relate to earlier work;
implications of the research/conclusions and including practical considerations of any
proposed implementation;
suggested improvements to the research design including additional questions raised
and recommendations for further research.
All of the above aspects involve standing back from the findings to take a wider and more
critical view. In most instances this perspective is most readily obtained by separating the
findings and discussion as suggested here. It will be observed that this chapter will contain
much of the material on conclusions and recommendations that will be summarised in the
final chapter. It is expected that this chapter will contain approximately 3000 words.

Summary - conclusions and recommendations

It is a fundamental error to introduce any new information in your summary. The reader
should be able to trace any conclusions and recommendations through logical arguments
developed in the preceding chapters. It is a useful device to cross-refer your conclusions
and recommendations to your original objectives that you set out in your introduction. If
you have been unable to achieve some of your objectives you should explain why and
propose ways in which the research design could have been improved. Your summary
should be in the word count range 1000 to 1500 words - any longer and it cannot be
considered to be a summary.

Appendix C
Feedback guidelines
When marking Dissertations, tutors should feedback on the questions posed below, and
also consider commenting along the lines suggested.


Is the context for the research well described and sufficiently critically analysed to
justify the investigation?
Does this lead naturally to the main aim of the research?

Statement of Research Problem, aims and objectives

Is there a clear statement of the research problem?

Is the research problem clearly justified?

Comment should be made on the general subject area and background of the research
problem, based on their being a clear statement of specific aspects of the topic to be
investigated in the proposal. Furthermore, there should be clarity in terms of the main
research aim and any associated research objectives. Additionally, the proposal should
demonstrate a clear understanding of the particular perspective from which the student is
approaching the topic.

Literature Search and Review

Has the literature been searched thoroughly?

Is the treatment of the literature appropriate in terms of relevance, breadth and depth,
and critical assessment?
Has the literature been reviewed thematically in relation to the research problem?

Comment should be made on the range and types of literature that the student has
considered for the proposal, in terms of the research problem. Hence, there should be a
demonstration of student knowledge and understanding of relevant extant research,
theory, and practice in the field. Comment should be made on the level of criticality of
reviewed materials, ideas and associated information.

Research Methodology and techniques for data analysis


Is the methodology clear, detailed and appropriate?

Has the student justified the approach taken by reference to the literature of research
methodology, and reflected critically on the strengths and weaknesses of their

Comment should be made on the procedures and methods outlined in the proposal that the
student has developed and plans to follow throughout the research process. Comment
should be made on the type of data to be collected (quantitative/qualitative data) with
specific information identifying the potential/initial techniques to be used in the collection of
Comment should also be made on identified data analysis techniques within the proposal
and in particular, the appropriateness of the proposed techniques to be used in analysing
and interpreting the data set.

Data analysis and discussion

Have the findings been presented clearly and with an appropriate balance between
factual reporting and analysis/interpretation of the findings/evidence?
Have the findings been placed within the context of the literature of the subject?

Comment also on the students use of graphs, diagrams, etc to clarify the presentation of
the results.

Critical analysis and conclusions

Are the conclusions relevant and soundly based on preceding discussion?

Do the conclusions point to the wider implications and possible further research as
Does the whole treatment show evidence of critical evaluation - i.e. does it go beyond a
purely descriptive treatment?

Creativity and originality

Is this a novel approach to the topic, or does it examine the relevant theory(ies) in a
unique and unusual context?
Does the work show independent and outstanding thought?
Do the literature review, discussion and conclusions reveal a critical engagement with
alternative and cogent views?

Comment on whether the student should seek to have an edited version of the Dissertation
published in an appropriate journal.

Organisation and presentation

Is the overall structuring and sequencing of the material logical and appropriate to the
topic and helpful in guiding the reader?
Is the standard of presentation appropriate - including high standard of proofreading,
adherence to conventions for the use of figures and tables, consistent and accurate
referencing and citation standards?
Are the terminology, syntax, spelling, references and citations correct?

Additional Comments
Any additional comments should be included, and in particular, comments that the
Supervisor sees as extremely important in assisting the student in moving the study
positively forward. For example, if the dissertation is awarded a pass mark you may still
want to draw attention to minor corrections which may be recommended before the
dissertation is edited for publication.

APPENDIX D: Tips on drafting and revising your work

Revising your draft

No one, however gifted, can produce a passable first draft. Writing means rewriting
(Barzun and Graff 1977 p31)
Blaxter, Hughes and Tight (1996) suggest the following reasons for rewriting in order to:

bring in new material, ideas and thinking;

reduce the length of what you have written;
revise old sections to refer to newly drafted material;
alter the structure of what you have written;
respond to the suggestions made by your readers; and
remove any inadvertent repetitions

Tips on proof reading/revising your draft

Robson (1993 p.427) provides the following guidelines for revising a first draft of a text:
1. Read the text through.
2. Read the text again and ask yourself:
What am I trying to say?
Who is the text for?
3. Read the text again and ask yourself:
What changes will make the text clearer and easier to follow?
4. To make these changes you may need:
to make global or big changes (e.g. rewriting sections); or
to make minor text changes.
5. Global changes you might like to consider in turn are:
reordering parts of the text;
rewriting sections;
adding examples;
changing the examples to better ones;
deleting parts that seem confusing.
6. Text changes you might like to consider in turn are:
using simpler wording;
using shorter paragraphs;
using active rather than passive tenses;
substituting positive constructions for negatives;
writing sequences in order;
spacing numbered sequences or lists down the page (as here).
7. Read the revised text through to see if you want to make any further global changes.
8. Finally repeat this whole procedure some time (say twenty four hours) after making the
original revisions, and do it without looking back at the original text.

Computers offer at least three main advantages in the process of revising your draft:
use of the spell checker should eradicate spelling errors;
many word processing packages also include a grammar checker - these are relatively
straightforward to use and can considerably improve the readability of your work;
clearly the ability to cut and paste is a bonus when you need to re-sequence text.
You should not expect your dissertation tutor to proof read your work to correct
typographical errors. Their main role is to provide you with feedback on the logic of your
argumentation and to advise on expected content. Tutors cannot review endless numbers
of drafts otherwise they will end up writing the dissertation for you. You should agree with
you tutor whether they wish to see copies of chapters as you produce them or whether
they prefer to review a complete draft.

Tips on Grammar and Punctuation

Blaxter, Hughes and Tight (1996 p227) offer the following guidance:
Try to avoid long sentences. If you dont, the sense of what you are saying gets lost,
whereas a series of shorter, punchy sentences can advance the argument m[ore
Avoid one-sentence paragraphs. Paragraphs should contain a number of sentences on
the same subject, and then lead on to the next paragraph, which will move the
discussion on.
Understand and make use of the full range of standard punctuation forms; including, in
particular, the colon (:), semi-colon (;), comma (,) and full stop (.).
Use quotation marks (and) consistently.
Views on what is acceptable and suitable to do, however, differ. Some authors would argue
that you should also:
Avoid beginning sentences with joining words, such as but, and or because. These
should normally be used to link clauses within sentences .
Avoid incorporating lengthy lists of material in your text. Your writing should read as a
flowing piece of text, not as a summary or prcis. If you need lists they are probably
better placed separately from the main text in tables or figures .

Checklist for the first draft of your dissertation

(Adapted from: Saunders, Lewis, P. and Thornhill 2000 p.387 and Cryer 1996 pp.177-189)

Is there a clear structure?

Is there a clear story-line (logical flow and purpose)
Does the abstract reflect the whole content of the dissertation?
Does your introduction state clearly the research question(s) and/or objectives? (Note aim and objectives are preferred for an MBA dissertation)
Does your literature review inform the later content of the dissertation?
Are your methods well explained?
Have you made a clear distinction between findings and conclusions in the two relevant
Is there any text material that should be in the appendices and vice versa?
Does your title accurately reflect your content?
Have you divided the text throughout with suitable headings?
Does each chapter have a suitable preview {introduction - sets the scene for what the
chapter; sets out the gap in knowledge that you seek to address in the chapter (often
identified in a previous chapter); describes how you intend to fill the gap; and provides a
brief overview of what is in the chapter} and summary {the concluding paragraph should
cover: what you have achieved; what new questions you have identified; and where
these questions are dealt with}?
Are you clear that the writing is clear, simple and direct?
Have you eliminated all jargon? {Or at least explained it adequately in the text and
provided a glossary entry}
Have you checked spelling and grammar?
Have you checked for assumptions about gender?
Is your dissertation in a format that will be acceptable to the assessing body?

Principles for writing an abstract

Smith and Dainty (1991) provide the following principles for writing a good abstract:
It should be short. Try to keep it to a maximum of 2 sides of A4. (Note we prefer 1
It must be self-contained. Since it may be the only part of your report that some people
see, it follows that it must summarise the complete content of your report.
It must satisfy your readers needs. Your reader must be told about the problem, or
central issue, which the research addressed and the method adopted to pursue the
issue. It must also contain a brief statement of the main results and conclusions.
It must convey the same emphasis as the report, with the consequence that the reader
should gain an accurate impression of the reports contents from the abstract.
It should be objective, precise and easy to read. The project report contents page
should give the outline structure for the abstract. Summarising each section should give
you an accurate rsum of the content of the report. The abstract is not the place for
elaborating any of your main themes. Be objective. You will need to write several drafts
before you eliminate every word that is not absolutely necessary. The purpose is to
convey the content of your report in as clear and brief a way as possible.
Note that whilst Smith and Dainty (1991) use the word report, their principles apply
equally to writing an abstract for a dissertation.

APPENDIX E: Guidance on Conducting a Critical Review of the Literature

This guidance note has been produced to assist students to engage with the literature in a
critical manner. The notes are equally relevant for assignments, as they are for the major
area that one would expect a critical review of the literature in the dissertation. The
guidance should also support your general approach to reading and writing in a critical

Literature search
Clearly a first port of call in any literature search will be the core textbook for the module
as well as directed reading provided by your module leader. Many books will contain
recommended further reading that will assist you in exploring an area further. Your library
induction will have familiarised you will the various on-line journal databases as well as
search strategies. The note on problem framing explained the use of a relevance tree.
This technique is also helpful in developing a structured key word search strategy.

What is a literature review?

Hart (1998 p.13) provides the following definition:
The selection of available documents (both published and unpublished) on the topic, which contain
information, ideas, data and evidence written from a particular standpoint to fulfil certain aims or
express views on the nature of the topic and how it is to be investigated, and the effective
evaluation of these documents in relation to the research being proposed.

Bruce (1994) developed a typology of six conceptions of a literature review:

1. The literature review as a list: a collection of discrete items on a particular subject,
possibly with keywords or a short description.
2. The literature review as a search: identifying information that is useful for a research
3. The literature review as a survey: investigating writings and research to discover the
knowledge base and the methods of investigation used.
4. The literature review as a vehicle for learning: using the literature as a sounding board
to check out the researchers ideas and perceptions of a subject; seeking to gain
understanding derived from reading the literature.
5. The literature review as a research facilitator: helping develop a particular stage of the
research process; for example, on a particular methodology, on refining the research
question, when something unexpected has happened and the research needs to take a
new direction.
6. The literature review as a report: a written discussion of previous investigations.

It can readily be seen that there is a strong relationship between conducting a literature
review and undertaking purposeful research, say, for a dissertation. Whilst acknowledging
the role of a literature review in conducting dissertation research, attempts have been
made here to clarify expectations regarding narrowly defined assignments. The next
section of this note is therefore an attempt to relate the above definition and typology to
assignment tasks and the criteria for assessment.

Decomposing the definition/typology relating it to assignment

tasks and dissertations
Regarding Bruces (1994) typology, a simple approach would be to consider your
assignment task as being most closely related to type 6 i.e. regarding the literature review
as a report. Given that we have distinguished the assignment from work on a dissertation
(type 5), there are elements of types 1-4 that are relevant to conducting a module
assignment task.
Type 1 (a list) is a preliminary stage and represents your collated notes from your searches
and will be regarded as unacceptable for assessment purposes. Clearly effort will have
been expended to produce a list and this is necessary but not sufficient to complete the
Type 2 (a search) introduces the concept of usefulness (for a research project). It will be
necessary to develop some criteria by which you can assess usefulness or relevance. It is
inevitable that you will find many references for your chosen topic and therefore you will
need to find ways of selecting documents that are the most useful. More guidance will be
provided on this aspect later in this document. For assessment purposes, you will need to
demonstrate why particular works are worthy of inclusion in your review.
Type 3 (a survey) identifies discovery of the knowledge base and the methods of
investigation used. A key aspect of many scholarly endeavours is avoiding re-inventing the
wheel. An essential part of your task is to ascertain what is already known and how that
knowledge was produced. Again further guidance will be presented to assist you in
producing a critical review. In terms of assessment it will be important to include seminal
work and to demonstrate recency of knowledge in the chosen topic.
Type 4 (a learning vehicle) can be considered in two senses here. Firstly you should
examine how the assignment task requires you to demonstrate your learning vis a vis the
learning outcomes for the module. The second dimension is developing a transferable skill.
For assessment purposes you will need to demonstrate that you can develop logical
arguments, synthesise new insights and evaluate prior work. Moving up Blooms taxonomy
(knowledge comprehension application analysis synthesis evaluation) will be
mirrored in higher marks. Part of this learning process will be analysing the arguments of
others. Guidance on argument analysis is also provided later in this note. The following
sections of this note provide guidance on how to:

Self-evaluate your literature review

Ensure that the works chosen are relevant
Analyse an argument
Produce a critical review
Follow recognised academic conventions for citation and referencing
Avoid pitfalls such as plagiarism

Evaluating your literature review

Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill (2000 p.47) present the following checklist for evaluating
your literature review:
1. Does your review start at a more general level before narrowing down?
2. Does the literature covered relate clearly to your research question and objectives?
3. Have you covered the key theories?
4. Have you covered the key literature or at least a representative sample?
5. Are those issues where your research will provide fresh insights highlighted?
6. Is the literature you have included up to date?
7. Have you been objective in your discussion and assessment of other peoples work?
8. Have you included references that are counter to your own opinion?
9. Have you justified clearly your own ideas?
Is your argument coherent and cohesive do the ideas link together?
Does your review lead the reader into subsequent sections of your project report?
The majority of these criteria are relevant to a module assignment and the following
paragraphs are intended to clarify issues for you.
Criteria 1 & 2 relate to context and focus. It is good writing style to start with more
general issues and then develop your analysis through exploring the detail. The relevance
component is discussed separately below.
Criteria 3, 4 & 6 relate to the effectiveness of your search strategy and these criteria can
be used to ensure that you are on track.
Criteria 7-10 relate to the arguments you construct .
Criteria 5 & 11 are more relevant to conducting a literature as part of a dissertation.

Ensuring that the works chosen are relevant

Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill (2000 p 73) provide the following checklist for evaluating the
relevance of literature:

How recent is the item?

Is the item likely to have been superseded?
Is the context sufficiently different to make it marginal to your research question(s) and
Have you seen references to this item (or its author) in other items that were useful?
Does the item support or contradict your arguments? For either it will be probably
worth reading!
Does the item appear to be biased? Even if it is it may still be relevant to your critical
What are the methodological omissions within the work? Even if there are many it still
may be of relevance!

Is the precision sufficient? Even if it is imprecise it may be the only item you can find
and so still of relevance!

A prime consideration is the relationship between the work and your chosen topic. Please
remember that it is important to draw on seminal (i.e. strongly influencing later
developments) work e.g. Porters (1985) exposition of the concept of the Value Chain. (In
this instance an example of a later development is the work of Normann and Ramirez
(1994) By examining what appears to be seminal, it is likely that you will find antecedents.
It is important to take account of the word count limitation and recognise that you are
going to have to draw the line somewhere otherwise you will end up studying the
development of knowledge from the year dot.
It is permissible to enhance personal relevance further by stating clearly that you will
review an assignment topic in a particular context e.g.:

In the public sector.

In the small business arena.
In a mature business.

It will be important though to contextualise your work by evaluating your work using
Saunders. Lewis and Thornhill (2000) first criterion. Therefore you should adopt the
approach of starting broadly and then narrowing your review to focus on your perspective.
In adopting this sort of approach, it pays to be self-critically aware of the impact any
restriction may impose, including falling prey to the not invented here syndrome i.e. that
you simply dismiss an argument or finding because it was developed in a different context.
The eight criteria, given by Saunders above, are helpful in ruling items in or out of
your final selection of pieces of work. Many of the criteria also provide a starting point for
ensuring that your treatment of the literature is critical.

How to analyse an argument

Before examining what is meant by a critical review it is important to recognise the
components of an argument, the different types of claim that you might encounter in
literature, and to identify common fallacies in argumentation.
Toulmin (1958) set out a model for the analysis of arguments. He identified 4 key
components of an argument:

The Claim an arguable statement (Is the claim justified?)

The Evidence data used to support the claim (Is the evidence valid and will it enable
us to accept the claim?)
The Warrant (or permit) an expectation that provides the link between the evidence
and claim (Is the research out of date? Do the conclusions logically flow from the
evidence? Is the evidence appropriate? Were the data collection and analysis methods
reliable (repeatable)?)
The Backing context and assumptions used to support the validity of the warrant
and evidence (Under what conditions would we be prepared to accept the claim as being
valid? Do the analogies, illustrations and scenarios used to back the argument provide
credence for the argument?)

Hart (1998 p90) identified 5 different types of claim:

Type of claim
Claims of fact
Claims of value
Claims of policy


A statement that can be proven to be true or false

A judgement about the worth of something
A normative statement about what ought to be
done rather than what is done
Claims of concept
A definition providing interpretation of the
language used
Claims of
A proposal on how some data or evidence is to be
understood (what interpretation has been
Hart (1998 p98) summarised earlier work of Thouless and Thouless (1990) in the following


What it is and how to avoid it

Implied definition

Referring to something without clearly defining it;

always define what you refer to, especially concepts
Closing down alternatives by giving a restrictive
Defining something as A, then using A in a different
way, B.
Using value loaded or ethically loaded terms

Use of all rather
than some
Selected instances
Forced analogy
Mere analogy
False credentials
Technical language
Special pleading
Playing on the
Claiming prejudice
Appealing to others
for authority
False context

Using bland generalisation to incorporate all

variables and thereby minimise contradictory
Giving one interpretation or example as if all others
could be treated or categorised in the same way
Picking out unusual or unrepresentative examples
Using an analogy without recognising the
applicability of other contradictory analogies
Claiming there is no real difference between two
things even when there is
Use of analogy with no recourse to examples from
the real world
Exaggerating your credentials or experience to
convince others of your authority
Deliberate use of jargon intended to impress
Claiming a special case to raise your argument above
other similar positions. This is often associated with
the use of emotive language.
Telling readers what they want to hear rather than
challenging their thinking and assumptions.
Attributing prejudice to an opponent in order to
discredit them.
Claiming some other in authority has made the same
argument as yourself in order to strengthen your
own position.
Giving examples out of context or using nothing but
hypothetical scenarios.
Ignoring centre ground position by focusing only on
the extreme ends of a spectrum of alternatives.
Use of language structures to get acceptance of your
argument from others. This is often in the form of
too much of X is bad therefore X itself is good.

Fallacies take two forms: fallacies other people make in their arguments and fallacies you
can make when evaluating other peoples arguments. (Hart 1998 p97)

Producing a critical review

Blaxter, Hughes and Tight (1996) remind us that In everyday language, if someone is
critical we may be referring to a dressing down or a personal attack. In research terms,
however, critical reading, critical thinking and critical assessment refer to a considered,
though not necessarily balanced, and justified examination of what others have written or
said regarding the subject in question.
Dees (2000) suggests that the following criteria in order for your review to be judged as
being critical:

Refer to work by recognised experts in your chosen area

Consider and discuss work that supports and work that opposes your ideas
Make reasoned judgements regarding the value of others work to your research
Support your arguments with valid evidence in a logical manner
Distinguish clearly between fact and opinion.

Blaxter, Hughes and Tight (1996 pp 216-218) cite the work of Taylor (1989) who listed the
various forms of critical writing as follows:
The most common motives that govern academic writing are:
Agreeing with, acceding to, defending or confirming a particular point of view;
Proposing a new point of view;
Conceding that an existing point of view has certain merits but that it needs to be
qualified in certain important respects;
Reformulating an existing point of view or statement of it, such the new version makes a
better explanation;
Dismissing a point of view or another persons work on account of its inadequacy,
irrelevance, incoherence or by recourse to other appropriate criteria;
Rejecting, rebutting or refuting anothers argument on various reasoned grounds;
Reconciling two positions which may seem at variance by appeal to some higher or
deeper principle;
Retracting or recanting a previous position of ones own in the face of new arguments or
Blaxter, Hughes and Tight. (1996 p219) further state:
Criticism is evaluation. It should be careful, considered and justified. It should also be
even-handed, recognising that you yourself are capable of error and may change your mind
in time. Anything may be criticised: underlying assumptions, arguments, methodologies,
the accuracy of the data collected, the interpretation of the dataCriticism is about joining
in a wider research debate with others you may never meet. Research is never perfect. It
could always have been done differently or better. By joining a critical debate, you can
help to improve future research and understanding.

Cottrell (1999) cites Glasers definition of critical thinking:

Critical thinking calls for a persistent effort to examine any belief or supposed form of
knowledge in the light of the evidence that supports it and the further conclusions to which
it tends.
Cottrell (1999 p189) identifies the following processes for critical thinking when reading:

Identifying the line of reasoning in the text.

Critically evaluating the line of reasoning.
Questioning surface appearances and checking for hidden assumptions or agendas.
Identifying evidence in the text.
Evaluating the evidence according to valid criteria.
Identifying the writers conclusions.
Deciding whether the evidence gives rise to those conclusions.

Burns and Sinfield (2003) provide a set of what they term Interactive reading questions
and tips, namely:

What is the main idea here?

What is the authors argument?
Where is the author coming from?
Have I encountered this argument before? Where?
Have I encountered a different argument somewhere? Where?
What evidence is being offered?
Is the evidence valid? Why do I think it is or is not valid?
How does this connect with what I have already read/heard?
What is the authors final point?

Clough and Nutbrown (2002) use the term radical reading and provide the following
illustrative questions:

What is the author trying to say?

What is the real point here? What is the central argument?
To whom is the author speaking?
Is this account written for academics? Policy-makers? Practitioners? Is the author
really speaking to me?
Why has this account of this research been written?
Does s/he have a political point to make? How does it relate to current policy?
What does the author ultimately want to achieve?
Does s/he want to bring about some change? Does s/he want to make a difference? To
What authority does s/he appeal to?
Disciplinarity? Policy evidence? Political mission?
What evidence does the author offer to substantiate the claims?
Participants statements? Observations/documentary analysis? Is there any missing
Do I accept this evidence?
Is it sufficient to support the claims made in the report? What else could I ask to see?
Does this account accord with what I know of the world?
Is there a match between my experience and my reading and what I am reading? Does
it matter if the report is disconnected from my own world? Can I learn something from
that disconnection?

What is my view?
Based on what principles/ideology/pedagogy/life experiences and supported by which
What evidence do I have for this view?
How can I substantiate my own view? Do I draw on what I am reading here? What
other sources and experiences have formed my view?
Do I find this account credible within the compass of my experience and knowledge?
Taking my responses to the above questions does my reading of this research report
lead me to decide that it should count in my own study? Should it be included as part
of the bank of information and evidence which shapes my own study?

Cottrell (1999 p189) also provides the following list for critical thinking when writing:

Being clear about what your conclusions are.

Showing a clear line of reasoning an argument leading to your conclusion.
Presenting evidence to support your reasoning.
Reading your own writing critically, as above, as well as your sources.
Viewing your subject from multiple perspectives.

Cottrell (1999 p177) also provides guidance on the features of evaluative writing:

Comparing find the points of similarity, and show that you are aware of minor points
of difference within areas of similarity.
Contrasting set items in opposition, in order to bring out the points of difference.
Evaluating significance evaluate the significance of any similarities or differences. Do
they matter? Do they have important implications for which model should be used? Or
for probable outcomes?
Making a judgement indicate which theory or side is preferable. Give the reasons for
your opinion based on an analysis of the evidence.
Showing your criteria show the criteria you used in arriving at your opinion, such as
that you used data or research evidence as the basis of your decision.

Following recognised academic conventions for citation and

Jankowicz (1995 p.132) identifies the following purposes of referencing:

To attribute a quotation,
To provide justification for a strong statement.
To tell the reader where an idea comes from.
To argue for the reasonableness of your methods, since they are as used by other
people working in the field.
To help interpret your results.
To help build an argument.

Blaxter, Hughes and Tight (1996 p.115) state:

You should use references to:

Justify and support your arguments.

Allow you to make comparisons with other research.

Express matters better than you could have done.
Demonstrate your familiarity with your field of research.

You should not use references to:

Impress your readers with the scope of your reading.

Litter your writing with names and quotations.
Replace the need for you to express your own thoughts.
Misrepresent other authors.

Guidance on the Harvard form of referencing can be found on the RGU Library website. It
is important to recognise that there are many systems for citation and referencing. They
key for any piece of work is to consult your tutor but, in any event, you most be clear,
internally consistent and complete in your referencing

Avoiding plagiarism

Plagiarism is a form of cheating and is an academic offence. It is using the work of others
without acknowledging your source of information or inspiration. Cottrell (1999 p.122)
further makes the following suggests on How to avoid plagiarism:

Write all your notes in your own words [avoid collusion]

Note down exactly where you read the information you put in your notes
In your assignment, write out where ideas and information come from:
Reference your work
Make clear when you are using a direct quotation
Write a full list of references, and, if required, a bibliography (all the books [etc] you
read [that have informed your thinking but have not directly cited in your text].

NB additional text in parenthesis added.

Denscombe (2002 p.62) labels plagiarism as intellectual theft and academic fraud and
goes on to say that even If it is done unintentionallywell, ignorance of the law is no

Hart (1998 p219) provides the following useful checklist for dos and donts for reviewing:

Identify and discuss the relevant key landmark studies on the topic.
Include as much up to date material as possible.

Check the details, such as how names are spelled.

Try to be reflexive, examine your own bias and make it clear.
Critically evaluate the material and show your analyses.
Use extracts, illustrations and examples to justify your analysis and argument.
Be analytical, evaluative and critical and show this in your review.
Manage the information that your review produces: have a system for records
Make your review worth reading by making yourself clear, systematic and coherent;
explain why the topic is interesting.


Omit classic works and landmarks or discuss core ideas without proper reference
Discuss outdated or only old materials
Misspell names or get the date of publication wrong
Use concepts to impress or without definition
Use jargon and discriminatory language to justify a parochial standpoint.
Produce a list of items, even if annotated; a list is not a review.
Accept any position at face value or believe everything that is written
Only produce a description of the content of what you have read
Drown in information by not keeping control and an accurate record of materials
Make silly mistakes, for example, orgasm in place of organism
Be boring by using hackneyed jargon, pretentious language and only description.

Finally, Murray (2006) reminds us of the bigger questions by listing Prompts for initial
writing about the literature:

What do I know about my research topic?

What I am looking for in the literature is
What are the schools of thought in the literature?
The great debates in my area are


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