A dissertation is a big project. It’s a piece of independent research, but that doesn’t mean you’re supposed to do it alone! There is plenty of support in your department, among your classmates, and at LSE LIFE—across the entire academic year.
We're here to help you get a head start – whether it’s developing skills for writing, reading, and critical thinking; coming up with ideas for research topics; or learning about how to plan and conduct research.
Interesting ideas and well-honed research skills make for the most rewarding Master’s dissertations. These require both time and collaboration with others. LSE LIFE is here to help you start early and progress steadily, from Michaelmas Term all the way to your submission date!
(...and don’t worry if you don’t know precisely what you’d like to research right now! Think about it: you haven't even studied half your programme - maybe your inspiration hasn’t revealed itself yet. Book a one-to-one session with an LSE LIFE Study Adviser to discuss your ideas.)
Get off to a good start
There are different ways to approach social science research, different ways to do a dissertation, and specific requirements differ across departments. Be sure you have all the basic information about what is required and when it is required in your department. You can find this information from your dissertation supervisor, course convenor for dissertations, academic mentor, or other staff in your department. You can also check your course's Moodle page or your departmental handbook.
Note your submission date and other deadlines and how they fit in with your personal plans over the next few months.
Get used to building and communicating written and spoken arguments - both in assignments and during seminars and discussions.
What is the word limit? Is there a penalty for exceeding the limit? Are footnotes included in this count? Are appendices allowed?
Is collecting your own data required? Optional? Or is primary research discouraged?
When are departmental workshops or information sessions taking place?
Are formal research proposal(s) required? If so, when?
Events this term
Write your research proposal
How to get started on your dissertation
Plan your dissertation: get organised, manage your time, and get the work done
Your research ideas: develop your research proposal
Develop your ideas and your research story
A well-articulated research question is key to keeping you focused while you conduct research and write your dissertation. A clear, specific statement of what you want to find out helps guide your reading and shape your research design. It will also help you draft and edit your text. Clear, specific research questions help your reader have a clear sense of what your research is about and know what they can expect from the very beginning of your dissertation.
However, generating your research question(s) is an iterative process, which usually takes some time. As you review the literature, you learn more about the topic, which in turn allows you to pose more specific questions. Then, as you draft your dissertation, you may narrow your scope even further, which enables you to fine-tune your question(s).
An excellent source of ideas and guidance on ways to approach your dissertation is past dissertations from your department. Consider comparing a few different dissertations to explore how different students have approached research projects in your field. Try starting a collection of ideas and inspiration for things you could research as you read about them.
As you read research articles, think of the author as a fellow researcher. Ask yourself: what is the research question? how did they design their investigation? how do they define the problem and the factors they think are relevant to it? which specific aspects of a problem or situation do they prioritise? which are less important? whose theories or ideas are featured prominently in their work? Then ask yourself, would you do it this way? Or do you see things differently? (Yes, this is different from reading just to find the main argument and examples!).
Are past dissertations available in your department? How can you access them?
How is research framed in your discipline?
How is theory used to shape and inform research questions?
What kinds of methods are used to collect and analyse data?
Events this term
Diversify your thinking to get research ideas
Think about your dissertation as an argument
Telling the story of your research
A launchpad for thinking about your research question
Find, review, and use literature
Before you can contribute your own ideas in response to your research question (or questions), you’ll need to have a good idea of the current debates around the topic and what is already understood. This means searching the literature.
“Literature” can refer to books, journal articles, professional or trade publications, case studies, or research reports (including dissertations and theses). It includes academic publications and conference papers, but can also include publications by national or local governments, international organisations, and NGOs. It’s important to read widely and keep track of your searches and what you’ve discovered. You also need to reflect and write regularly to develop your own views of others’ ideas.
Learn the basics of citing and referencing and check if there is a preferred style in your department (e.g. APA, MLA).
Begin to explore texts and other sources beyond your reading list.
Learn how to effectively review the studies, theory, cases, commentary and the other material that's out there in this 4-part video course on searching the literature.
What is a literature review and how should I plan a search?
What are the key concepts and which search terms should I use?
How do I structure a search and how do I choose good quality sources?
Which catalogues and databases should I use?
Each LSE department has their own specialist librarian. Get in touch with your department librarian who can help you find your readings, identify the best resources for your assignments; develop your literature search strategies; find and manage data for your research; and cite and reference your work appropriately.
Events this term
Reference with confidence
Define, refine and practise your literature search
Explore the literature and use it to focus your dissertation
What is a literature review?
Read critically within and across texts for your literature reviews
Master citing and referencing with citethemrightonline
Collect and analyse data
If you are considering a research project where you’ll collect and/or analyse data, you'll need to think about which research methods you’ll use. This applies both to quantitative data (e.g. numerical values, measures, models, etc.) and qualitative data (e.g. words from interviews, newspaper articles, social media, reflective journals; or non-verbal forms of data like images, drawings, film, sounds, etc.).
There are many books about methods—for example, Bryman, A. (2016) Social research methods. You’ll find hundreds more on the LSE Library catalogue, along with Sage Research Methods: an extensive online database with articles, chapters, videos and examples of research methods (log in with your LSE details using the Institution login option).
It’s important to be familiar with the principles behind several types of methods. Not because you need to use them all—but to choose the methods that best suit you and your project. Understanding research methods also enables you to read others’ work more critically. Take a look at the excellent materials from Methodology Department courses available on Moodle. Two good introductory courses are MY421 Qualitative Research Methods and MY451 Introduction to Quantitative Analysis.
If you want to explore other methods, there are also courses on case studies, comparative methods, surveys, experimental design, multivariate and regression analysis—and more!
Check out our guide to conducting primary research online for tips on online tools, data management, information security, and research ethics around doing online research. And if you're thinking about conducting dissertation research that involves collecting your own data (like surveys, interviews, social media analysis), you'll want a plan for how you’ll manage your data and keep it secure.
Remember, the Library has a wealth of specialist data resources! You name it; we got it: company data, financial market data, market research, historical data, country data (specifics and aggregated), maps and geospatial data, news and media sources.
Events this term
Think ahead about your data management for your research project or dissertation
Wondering how best to organise and back up your data so you don’t have to worry about lost or corrupted files? Or does your research involve human participants or personal data through which individuals could be identified? If so, you’ll need to think about ethics of working with participants, informed consent, and protecting data. Get advice on either of these aspects, and a whole lot more, in our Research data one-to-one support sessions starting next week.
If you've got methodology questions, the Methodology Department experts (in both qualitative and quantitative methods) have opened up their weekly Methods surgery. Sign up on Moodle to attend one of their surgeries, happening every Thursday during term time.
Working with your data: think about data collection clearly and logically
Working with your data: connect your data analysis with your literature review and research question
Plan and conduct responsible, ethical research
Write your data management plan