A dissertation requires a student to undertake some research to investigate an issue or phenomenon that is of interest to the student and relevant to their area of study. The research will be based on the literature review and designed to answer the research question. There are two basic approaches to research: secondary and primary.
The use of a secondary research methodology can be simpler than a primary research process as it does not require a student to generate new data. When undertaking secondary research, the student will use data sets which have already been created by other researchers and reanalyse or reinterpret the findings. One of the most commonly seen forms of secondary research found in peer review journals are meta-analyses where researchers correlate and compare results from past studies to identify trends, patterns, or commonalities, as well as identify any differences. However, the use of secondary research may not always be ideal, as the data collected by other researchers may not meet the need of the student to answer the research question. , and fully meet their needs but does allow for a faster research process and has an associated lower cost.
Primary research is the most common approach for student dissertations. The primary research process involves the student collecting their own data which they subsequently analyse. There are two approaches to primary research; qualitative and quantitative.
Quantitative data is based on the gathering of data from a large sample facilitating statistical analysis. Quantitative research is undertaken with the aim of collecting data which can be analysed numerically, usually with the use of a statistics program and the use of hypothesis testing. Data collection focuses on gaining a large quantity of responses to increase the potential for the results to represent accurately the population being studied. Quantitative research is generally viewed as more robust than qualitative research as the processes used to obtain the results can be replicated reducing the potential for subjective interpretation of the results, particularly where hypothesis testing is utilised. Data collection methods for quantitative research may include surveys, questionnaires, laboratory experiments, econometrics, and mathematical modelling.
Qualitative research will involve a smaller sample to gain more in-depth information which will allow a researcher to gain increased understanding of the phenomena being examined. Data collected will be non-numerical although it may be coded to allow for statistical testing. Qualitative data gathering tools include interviews, mainly semi and unstructured interviews, textual analysis, and observations which may consist of a wide range of media. While qualitative research may provide the potential for gaining an increased depth of knowledge, it may be seen as less robust as there is a smaller sample and interpretation of results may be more subjective.
There are many options regarding the choice of methodology. Whatever approach is adopted should be aligned with the research questions and optimise the opportunity for gaining an accurate answer to the research question. Additionally, the student should ensure that the research method chosen is fully explained and justified in the methodology chapter.