It is challenging and yet exciting to link your data with your analysis
and this is frequently where most marks are gained for your
dissertation. So take this seriously and carefully. Do not
underestimate the amount of time it will take you to think through
your data and to link it in thoughtfully with your findings.
Often dissertations lost marks because of the following:
- Too much time is spent on the introduction and literature
review and the following chapters are rushed and not fully
- The introduction says the dissertation will be focused on one
issue when it is really concentrating on another aspect of the
research question. WE MARK YOU ON WHAT YOU SAY YOU WILL
BE DOING. Write your introduction last of all.
- As I said above the data and analysis chapters are rushed and
not fully developed enough.
- Your dissertation is not coherent enough and not fully linked –
I will say more about this below
- Ensure you have enough time to bring your dissertation
together so that it is a coherent and interlinked whole piece of
- Get someone else to proof read your work – when you are so
embedded it is difficult to spot the errors – i.e. it instead of is,
form instead of from, then instead of that. DO NOT RELY ON
There are two ways of writing up your data and analysis chapter/s.
One is to provide an overview of the data, this is one chapter, and
then you move onto the next chapter that discusses the data. In
short, Chapter X focuses on describing the data and the next Chapter
Y provides the analysis.
Another way is to link your data and analysis together. So that you
describe a theme in your data and then move into the analysis and
so the chapter/s are structured through a series of sub-sections. The
advantage of this structure is that it avoids repetition and ensures
more solidly a coherent dissertation.
Whichever structure you go for – you must be clear on what is your
data and what is your analysis.
Data is a description of what you found through interviews, focus
groups, or ethnography or whatever method you have chosen.
Analysis is your understandings of the data. There is a difference
between description and conceptual understanding.
The above applies as much to those of you who are doing a literature
based dissertation as you also have to describe what the literature
you found says…For those of you doing a library based dissertation –
what do the articles that you have collected and read tell you. How
do they help you further your understanding of your research
The first question is to ask yourself: WHAT STORIES DOES YOUR
DATA TELL? WHAT NARRATIVES DOES YOUR DATA REVEAL?
So taking your encouragement from Les Back’s book – The Art of
Listening – listen to your data – this may be unusual advice but stand
back and listen to what your data may be telling you? What is
emphasised in your data and take a risk – what is silenced?
Your data will confirm findings from previous studies and make that
clear and do not get caught up in your thesis has to be original – they
never are. For as a banner outside the British Library puts it ‘Need an
Original Idea: the Library is Full of Them’!
Also be clear when one of your findings contradicts data from
elsewhere – you may be onto something – or you may not but the
point is explore the finding
BE CAREFUL NOT TO OVER- OR UNDER-VALUE YOUR FINDINGS.
State your findings carefully without blowing them up (making too
much of them) or being overly diffident and downplaying the
significance of your data.
Take a critical stance to your data and analysis – and by critical here
– I don’t mean dissing everything that you have found or previous
research or… or… but rather taking a critical distance and thinking
through – why did this person say …? Or say you are doing an
ethnography on shopping habits – why did that person buy that…? So
open yourself up to being surprised by your data.
Your analysis chapter must remain focused on your data and do not,
but do not, bring in new findings that you have not already addressed
– it just becomes confusing and incoherent.
Do remember that a solid analysis does not cover everything that you have thought, read, written in a draft or in a notebook – a solid
analysis is careful, coherent and linked together.
I would advise you to use sub-headings so that it is clear what you
are discussing. While working on your draft do use sub-sub-headings
in order to provide yourself with a solid map of your dissertation and
so that you can keep the threads and lines of enquiry clear.
Do remember that this is a social science dissertation and the task is
to explore, understand and not to prove your viewpoints and/or
opinions. Exploring and understanding is of value and so do not be
defensive of your methods, your data or your analysis.