Frank Rennie & Keith Smyth

Chapter 10 – Structuring research

All the content relating to the chapter above is below

In this chapter, we provide an overview of key considerations in planning and structuring your research project. This includes exploring the general categories within which you might organise your work, as a precursor to the more detailed consideration of how to present your research report which we explore in Chapter 13. Our optional activities for the current chapter look at practical ways and freely available tools that can be used for planning and structuring your research work.

[Interviewer, off camera] So Gareth, can you tell me what the main considerations of things to think about in terms of organising research?

Organising research essentially is about how you put your plan into practice. It’s essentially implementing all the planning that you’ve been doing, it’s actually going out and finding the information that you need, to answer that research question. But, as with most plans, as soon as you put them into practice, you’ll almost certainly going to come up against the unexpected. Organising your research is important so that you have capability to adapt to changing circumstances and a great example of something that you might need to adapt to, or a problem that you might need to solve, might be lack of recruitment. Nobody knows how well recruitment is going to go, until you actually do it. You might for instance, expect to find enough people to run two or three focus groups but you might actually end up with only enough people to run two or three interviews. That’ fine, but you need to be able to say how you’ve adapted to that problem and you need to also justify that solution to the problem, that’s important because you need to be able to tell people what you’ve done and why you’ve done it.

[Interviewer, off camera] So, for a new researcher, an undergraduate working on a dissertation, on their first major research project, what advice would you give them, at that inevitable point in time where something doesn’t go quite to plan?

Well, as with all points in research, I think the overriding principle is to keep it simple. If you’ve got a simple plan and a simple structure, it’s much easier to adapt that simple plan and simple structure. If you’ve designed a complex piece of research and something goes wrong, that can have knock on consequences for subsequent parts of the research, so if you can actually keep it nice and simple, then you’re going to find it much easier to adapt to any unforeseen circumstances.

[Interviewer, off camera] Gareth, what advice would you give to new researchers in terms of the scale or scope of the research?

It’s very very easy to ask complicated questions, but you’re not going to get marks for being overly complex. Keeping it as simple and as achievable as possible, is always going to get you to your end result more effectively than doing something that’s more complex. If you’re going to be doing something that’s overly complicated, or overly ambitious, you’re going to run into trouble much more quickly. So don’t try and aim for the sky straightaway, you need to be able to do something that is absolutely going to be achievable at the end. It’s all about making sure you answer that question with elegant simplicity. Complexity doesn’t help anyone, it will just serve to confuse you, it will confuse your supervisor and it will confuse the person who is reading your report at the end of the day as well.

Coverall – intro, design, data, presenting… An online handbook produced by the University of Surrey to give students an introduction to research.

A link to an extensive set of notes from the University of Surrey dealing with the whole process of documenting research. It starts with a consideration of why we do research, works through a range of planning issues that need to be considered, and concludes with a section on how research result might be utilised. Contains some embedded links.

The contents are well-defined and easy to read, in short, informative sub-sections. Not all of the sections will be appropriate to every research project, so students will need to use their own judegement, but taken as a whole, the document gives a good overview of the kinds of issues which students need to consider when preparing a research dissertation.

Go to resource

university of surrey importance pilot studies - Introduction to research - handbook

A set of short dissertation writing videos from Massey University with resources for students.

These are helpfully broken-up into separate tasks, such as preparing a proposal, writing a report, editing, and so on. Each video clip gives a general overview and some guidance for students to help manage the selected task.

Go to resource

massey university dissertation videos - Dissertation videos from Massey University

This links to an assemblage of video clips relating to various aspects of research and the preparation of research reports.

Individual videos deal with different forms of research, evaluation, and project planning. The clips range from 30 minutes to an hour each, so you may wish to watch them in stages, or allow time to watch, pause, and take notes. Different videos will be appropriate to different subject matter, so you may want to discuss your initial options with your supervisor before you invest time learning a research method which is not suitable for the topic of your study.

Go to resource

Educational Videos YouTube - Research and the preparation of research reports (by Dr Sam Fiala)

Useful short animated video by John McDonald, exploring how to structure a research report.

Covers the purpose of all the key sections of a research report, and how they should sequentially build upon each other.

This 2-minute video gives a quick overview of how a research paper is structured. It briefly explains what each of the parts of a research paper should focus on and how they should be organized. This video is a short snippet from a webinar on “Quality construction: Concepts of organization that improve your writing” by John McDonald, Editor and academic writing trainer at Editage.

Educational Videos YouTube 150x150 - Structure of a research paper