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How to Write a Good Research Question (w/ Examples)

masters dissertation research question

What is a Research Question?

A research question is the main question that your study sought or is seeking to answer. A clear research question guides your research paper or thesis and states exactly what you want to find out, giving your work a focus and objective. Learning  how to write a hypothesis or research question is the start to composing any thesis, dissertation, or research paper. It is also one of the most important sections of a research proposal . 

A good research question not only clarifies the writing in your study; it provides your readers with a clear focus and facilitates their understanding of your research topic, as well as outlining your study’s objectives. Before drafting the paper and receiving research paper editing (and usually before performing your study), you should write a concise statement of what this study intends to accomplish or reveal.

Research Question Writing Tips

Listed below are the important characteristics of a good research question:

A good research question should:

  • Be clear and provide specific information so readers can easily understand the purpose.
  • Be focused in its scope and narrow enough to be addressed in the space allowed by your paper
  • Be relevant and concise and express your main ideas in as few words as possible, like a hypothesis.
  • Be precise and complex enough that it does not simply answer a closed “yes or no” question, but requires an analysis of arguments and literature prior to its being considered acceptable. 
  • Be arguable or testable so that answers to the research question are open to scrutiny and specific questions and counterarguments.

Some of these characteristics might be difficult to understand in the form of a list. Let’s go into more detail about what a research question must do and look at some examples of research questions.

The research question should be specific and focused 

Research questions that are too broad are not suitable to be addressed in a single study. One reason for this can be if there are many factors or variables to consider. In addition, a sample data set that is too large or an experimental timeline that is too long may suggest that the research question is not focused enough.

A specific research question means that the collective data and observations come together to either confirm or deny the chosen hypothesis in a clear manner. If a research question is too vague, then the data might end up creating an alternate research problem or hypothesis that you haven’t addressed in your Introduction section .

The research question should be based on the literature 

An effective research question should be answerable and verifiable based on prior research because an effective scientific study must be placed in the context of a wider academic consensus. This means that conspiracy or fringe theories are not good research paper topics.

Instead, a good research question must extend, examine, and verify the context of your research field. It should fit naturally within the literature and be searchable by other research authors.

References to the literature can be in different citation styles and must be properly formatted according to the guidelines set forth by the publishing journal, university, or academic institution. This includes in-text citations as well as the Reference section . 

The research question should be realistic in time, scope, and budget

There are two main constraints to the research process: timeframe and budget.

A proper research question will include study or experimental procedures that can be executed within a feasible time frame, typically by a graduate doctoral or master’s student or lab technician. Research that requires future technology, expensive resources, or follow-up procedures is problematic.

A researcher’s budget is also a major constraint to performing timely research. Research at many large universities or institutions is publicly funded and is thus accountable to funding restrictions. 

The research question should be in-depth

Research papers, dissertations and theses , and academic journal articles are usually dozens if not hundreds of pages in length.

A good research question or thesis statement must be sufficiently complex to warrant such a length, as it must stand up to the scrutiny of peer review and be reproducible by other scientists and researchers.

Research Question Types

Qualitative and quantitative research are the two major types of research, and it is essential to develop research questions for each type of study. 

Quantitative Research Questions

Quantitative research questions are specific. A typical research question involves the population to be studied, dependent and independent variables, and the research design.

In addition, quantitative research questions connect the research question and the research design. In addition, it is not possible to answer these questions definitively with a “yes” or “no” response. For example, scientific fields such as biology, physics, and chemistry often deal with “states,” in which different quantities, amounts, or velocities drastically alter the relevance of the research.

As a consequence, quantitative research questions do not contain qualitative, categorical, or ordinal qualifiers such as “is,” “are,” “does,” or “does not.”

Categories of quantitative research questions

Qualitative research questions.

In quantitative research, research questions have the potential to relate to broad research areas as well as more specific areas of study. Qualitative research questions are less directional, more flexible, and adaptable compared with their quantitative counterparts. Thus, studies based on these questions tend to focus on “discovering,” “explaining,” “elucidating,” and “exploring.”

Categories of qualitative research questions

Quantitative and qualitative research question examples.

stacks of books in black and white; research question examples

Good and Bad Research Question Examples

Below are some good (and not-so-good) examples of research questions that researchers can use to guide them in crafting their own research questions.

Research Question Example 1

The first research question is too vague in both its independent and dependent variables. There is no specific information on what “exposure” means. Does this refer to comments, likes, engagement, or just how much time is spent on the social media platform?

Second, there is no useful information on what exactly “affected” means. Does the subject’s behavior change in some measurable way? Or does this term refer to another factor such as the user’s emotions?

Research Question Example 2

In this research question, the first example is too simple and not sufficiently complex, making it difficult to assess whether the study answered the question. The author could really only answer this question with a simple “yes” or “no.” Further, the presence of data would not help answer this question more deeply, which is a sure sign of a poorly constructed research topic.

The second research question is specific, complex, and empirically verifiable. One can measure program effectiveness based on metrics such as attendance or grades. Further, “bullying” is made into an empirical, quantitative measurement in the form of recorded disciplinary actions.

Steps for Writing a Research Question

Good research questions are relevant, focused, and meaningful. It can be difficult to come up with a good research question, but there are a few steps you can follow to make it a bit easier.

1. Start with an interesting and relevant topic

Choose a research topic that is interesting but also relevant and aligned with your own country’s culture or your university’s capabilities. Popular academic topics include healthcare and medical-related research. However, if you are attending an engineering school or humanities program, you should obviously choose a research question that pertains to your specific study and major.

Below is an embedded graph of the most popular research fields of study based on publication output according to region. As you can see, healthcare and the basic sciences receive the most funding and earn the highest number of publications. 

masters dissertation research question

2. Do preliminary research  

You can begin doing preliminary research once you have chosen a research topic. Two objectives should be accomplished during this first phase of research. First, you should undertake a preliminary review of related literature to discover issues that scholars and peers are currently discussing. With this method, you show that you are informed about the latest developments in the field.

Secondly, identify knowledge gaps or limitations in your topic by conducting a preliminary literature review . It is possible to later use these gaps to focus your research question after a certain amount of fine-tuning.

3. Narrow your research to determine specific research questions

You can focus on a more specific area of study once you have a good handle on the topic you want to explore. Focusing on recent literature or knowledge gaps is one good option. 

By identifying study limitations in the literature and overlooked areas of study, an author can carve out a good research question. The same is true for choosing research questions that extend or complement existing literature.

4. Evaluate your research question

Make sure you evaluate the research question by asking the following questions:

Is my research question clear?

The resulting data and observations that your study produces should be clear. For quantitative studies, data must be empirical and measurable. For qualitative, the observations should be clearly delineable across categories.

Is my research question focused and specific?

A strong research question should be specific enough that your methodology or testing procedure produces an objective result, not one left to subjective interpretation. Open-ended research questions or those relating to general topics can create ambiguous connections between the results and the aims of the study. 

Is my research question sufficiently complex?

The result of your research should be consequential and substantial (and fall sufficiently within the context of your field) to warrant an academic study. Simply reinforcing or supporting a scientific consensus is superfluous and will likely not be well received by most journal editors.  

reverse triangle chart, how to write a research question

Editing Your Research Question

Your research question should be fully formulated well before you begin drafting your research paper. However, you can receive English paper editing and proofreading services at any point in the drafting process. Language editors with expertise in your academic field can assist you with the content and language in your Introduction section or other manuscript sections. And if you need further assistance or information regarding paper compositions, in the meantime, check out our academic resources , which provide dozens of articles and videos on a variety of academic writing and publication topics.

Dissertations & projects: Research questions

  • Research questions
  • The process of reviewing
  • Project management
  • Literature-based projects

On these pages:

“The central question that you ask or hypothesis you frame drives your research: it defines your purpose.” Bryan Greetham, How to Write Your Undergraduate Dissertation

This page gives some help and guidance in developing a realistic research question. It also considers the role of sub-questions and how these can influence your methodological choices. 

Choosing your research topic

You may have been provided with a list of potential topics or even specific questions to choose from. It is more common for you to have to come up with your own ideas and then refine them with the help of your tutor. This is a crucial decision as you will be immersing yourself in it for a long time.

Some students struggle to find a topic that is sufficiently significant and yet researchable within the limitations of an undergraduate project. You may feel overwhelmed by the freedom to choose your own topic but you could get ideas by considering the following:

Choose a topic that you find interesting . This may seem obvious but a lot of students go for what they think will be easy over what they think will be interesting - and regret it when they realise nothing is particularly easy and they are bored by the work. Think back over your lectures or talks from visiting speakers - was there anything you really enjoyed? Was there anything that left you with questions?

Choose something distinct . Whilst at undergraduate level you do not have to find something completely unique, if you find something a bit different you have more opportunity to come to some interesting conclusions. Have you some unique experiences that you can bring: personal biography, placements, study abroad etc?

Don't make your topic too wide . If your topic is too wide, it will be harder to develop research questions that you can actually answer in the context of a small research project.

Don't make your work too narrow . If your topic is too narrow, you will not be able to expand on the ideas sufficiently and make useful conclusions. You may also struggle to find enough literature to support it.

Scope out the field before deciding your topic . This is especially important if you have a few different options and are not sure which to pick. Spend a little time researching each one to get a feel for the amount of literature that exists and any particular avenues that could be worth exploring.

Think about your future . Some topics may fit better than others with your future plans, be they for further study or employment. Becoming more expert in something that you may have to be interviewed about is never a bad thing!

Once you have an idea (or even a few), speak to your tutor. They will advise on whether it is the right sort of topic for a dissertation or independent study. They have a lot of experience and will know if it is too much to take on, has enough material to build on etc.

Developing a research question or hypothesis

Research question vs hypothesis.

First, it may be useful to explain the difference between a research question and a hypothesis. A research question is simply a question that your research will address and hopefully answer (or give an explanation of why you couldn't answer it). A hypothesis is a statement that suggests how you expect something to function or behave (and which you would test to see if it actually happens or not).

Research question examples

  • How significant is league table position when students choose their university?
  • What impact can a diagnosis of depression have on physical health?

Note that these are open questions - i.e. they cannot be answered with a simple 'yes' or 'no'. This is the best form of question.

Hypotheses examples

  • Students primarily choose their university based on league table position.
  • A diagnosis of depression can impact physical health.

Note that these are things that you can test to see if they are true or false. This makes them more definite then research questions - but you can still answer them more fully than 'no they don't' or 'yes it does'. For example, in the above examples you would look to see how relevant other factors were when choosing universities and in what ways physical health may be impacted.

For more examples of the same topic formulated as hypotheses, research questions and paper titles see those given at the bottom of this document from Oakland University: Formulation of Research Hypothesis

Which do you need?

Generally, research questions are more common in the humanities, social sciences and business, whereas hypotheses are more common in the sciences. This is not a hard rule though, talk things through with your supervisor to see which they are expecting or which they think fits best with your topic.

What makes a good research question or hypothesis?

Unless you are undertaking a systematic review as your research method, you will develop your research question  as a result of reviewing the literature on your broader topic. After all, it is only by seeing what research has already been done (or not) that you can justify the need for your question or your approach to answering it. At the end of that process, you should be able to come up with a question or hypothesis that is:

  • Clear (easily understandable)
  • Focused (specific not vague or huge)
  • Answerable (the data is available and analysable in the time frame)
  • Relevant (to your area of study)
  • Significant (it is worth answering)

You can try a few out, using a table like this (yours would all be in the same discipline):

A similar, though different table is available from the University of California: What makes a good research topic?   The completed table has some supervisor comments which may also be helpful.

Ultimately, your final research question will be mutually agreed between yourself and your supervisor - but you should always bring your own ideas to the conversation.

The role of sub-questions

Your main research question will probably still be too big to answer easily. This is where sub-questions come in. They are specific, narrower questions that you can answer directly from your data.

So, looking at the question " How much do online users know and care about how their self-images can be used by Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook? " from the table above, the sub-questions could be:

  • What rights do the terms and conditions of signing up for Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook accounts give those companies regarding the use of self-images?
  • What proportion of users read the terms and conditions when creating accounts with these companies?
  • How aware are users of the rights they are giving away regarding their self-images when creating accounts with these companies?
  • How comfortable are users with giving away these rights?

The main research question is the overarching question with the subquestions filling in the blanks

Together, the answers to your sub-questions should enable you to answer the overarching research question.

How do you answer your sub-questions?

Depending on the type of dissertation/project your are undertaking, some (or all) the questions may be answered with information collected from the literature and some (or none) may be answered by analysing data directly collected as part of your primary empirical research .

In the above example, the first question would be answered by documentary analysis of the relevant terms and conditions, the second by a mixture of reviewing the literature and analysing survey responses from participants and the last two also by analysing survey responses. Different projects will require different approaches.

Some sub-questions could be answered from the literature review and others from empirical study

Some sub-questions could be answered by reviewing the literature and others from empirical study.

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Writing your dissertation - developing a research question

Posted in: dissertations

masters dissertation research question

Once you have shortlisted and selected your research topic, the next stage of the process is to sharpen, refine and define your topic, and identify a specific problem that is worthy of investigation. Here you need to set out:

  • the issue that you will investigate and why it is important to do so
  • the argument or thesis (what you want to prove, disprove, or explore)
  • the limits of your research (i.e. what you will not be investigating)

What's the problem?

It is vital that you establish your research problem as soon as possible. Your research problem is the anchor that keeps your research from drifting off course, and ensures your dissertation is moving in a logical and coherent direction.  When conducting your research reading and note-taking, you can then ask yourself, "Does this help me address the problem? If so, how and why?"

As you investigate the problem in more depth, you should always be open-minded and ready to revise, amend or change direction.  You might find for example that evidence is unavailable to support critical analysis, or new evidence points to another more serious or topical problem. You might discover that you start to question your own assumptions, your views, or your stance regarding the problem. If you are thinking about changing your focus or problem, you should always talk to your supervisor. She/he will advise on the best course of action.

In the example below, the student has refined and improved their initial research topic to create a highly effective research problem.

masters dissertation research question

As you may have guessed, the research problem can then be used as the title of your dissertation.

Adapted from: https://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/ld/all-resources/writing/writing-resources/planning-and-conducting-a-dissertation-research-project

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Writing your dissertation: navigating the ‘messy middle’

Writing a dissertation can be a deeply rewarding experience, but it can sometimes feel like a confusing and solitary process. If you’re feeling a bit lost in the ‘messy middle’ of the project, these tips may help.

masters dissertation research question

  • How it works

Dissertation Research Question Examples – Guide & Tips

Published by Owen Ingram at August 13th, 2021 , Revised On August 25, 2023

All  research questions should be focused, researchable, feasible to answer, specific to find results, complex, and relevant to your field of study. The research question’s factors will be; the research problem ,  research type , project length, and time frame.

Research questions provide boundaries to your research project and provide a clear approach to collect and compile data. Understanding your research question better is necessary to find unique facts and figures to publish your research.

Search and study some dissertation research question examples or research questions relevant to your field of study before writing your own research question.

Research Questions for Dissertation Examples

Below are 10 examples of dissertation research questions that will enable you to develop research questions for your research.

These examples will help you to check whether your chosen research questions can be addressed or whether they are too broad to find a conclusive answer.

Does your Research Methodology Have the Following?

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  • Great Research/Sources
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If not, we can help. Our panel of experts makes sure to keep the 3 pillars of Research Methodology strong.

Does your Research Methodology Have the Following

A dissertation is an important milestone no matter what academic level or subject it is. You will be asked to write a dissertation on a  topic of your choice  and make a substantial contribution to academic and scientific communities.

The project will start with the  planning and designing of a project before the actual write-up phase. There are many stages in the dissertation process , but the most important is developing a research question that guides your research.

If you are starting your dissertation, you will have to conduct preliminary research to  find a problem and research gap as the first step of the process. The second step is to write dissertation research questions that specify your topic and the relevant problem you want to address.

How can we Help you with Dissertation Research Questions?

If you are still unsure about writing dissertation research questions and perhaps want to see  more examples , you might be interested in getting help from our dissertation writers.

At Research Prospect, we have UK-qualified writers holding Masters and PhD degrees in all academic subjects. Whether you need help with only developing research questions or any other aspect of your dissertation paper , we are here to help you achieve your desired grades for an affordable price.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some examples of a research question.

Examples of research questions:

  • How does social media influence self-esteem in adolescents?
  • What are the economic impacts of climate change on agriculture?
  • What factors contribute to employee job satisfaction in the tech industry?
  • How does exercise frequency affect cardiovascular health?
  • What is the relationship between sleep duration and academic performance in college students?

You May Also Like

Find how to write research questions with the mentioned steps required for a perfect research question. Choose an interesting topic and begin your research.

How to write a hypothesis for dissertation,? A hypothesis is a statement that can be tested with the help of experimental or theoretical research.

Here we explore what is research problem in dissertation with research problem examples to help you understand how and when to write a research problem.

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  • What Is a Thesis? | Ultimate Guide & Examples

What Is a Thesis? | Ultimate Guide & Examples

Published on September 14, 2022 by Tegan George . Revised on July 18, 2023.

A thesis is a type of research paper based on your original research. It is usually submitted as the final step of a master’s program or a capstone to a bachelor’s degree.

Writing a thesis can be a daunting experience. Other than a dissertation , it is one of the longest pieces of writing students typically complete. It relies on your ability to conduct research from start to finish: choosing a relevant topic , crafting a proposal , designing your research , collecting data , developing a robust analysis, drawing strong conclusions , and writing concisely .

Thesis template

You can also download our full thesis template in the format of your choice below. Our template includes a ready-made table of contents , as well as guidance for what each chapter should include. It’s easy to make it your own, and can help you get started.

Download Word template Download Google Docs template

Table of contents

Thesis vs. thesis statement, how to structure a thesis, acknowledgements or preface, list of figures and tables, list of abbreviations, introduction, literature review, methodology, reference list, proofreading and editing, defending your thesis, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about theses.

You may have heard the word thesis as a standalone term or as a component of academic writing called a thesis statement . Keep in mind that these are two very different things.

  • A thesis statement is a very common component of an essay, particularly in the humanities. It usually comprises 1 or 2 sentences in the introduction of your essay , and should clearly and concisely summarize the central points of your academic essay .
  • A thesis is a long-form piece of academic writing, often taking more than a full semester to complete. It is generally a degree requirement for Master’s programs, and is also sometimes required to complete a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts colleges.
  • In the US, a dissertation is generally written as a final step toward obtaining a PhD.
  • In other countries (particularly the UK), a dissertation is generally written at the bachelor’s or master’s level.

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

The final structure of your thesis depends on a variety of components, such as:

  • Your discipline
  • Your theoretical approach

Humanities theses are often structured more like a longer-form essay . Just like in an essay, you build an argument to support a central thesis.

In both hard and social sciences, theses typically include an introduction , literature review , methodology section ,  results section , discussion section , and conclusion section . These are each presented in their own dedicated section or chapter. In some cases, you might want to add an appendix .

Thesis examples

We’ve compiled a list of thesis examples to help you get started.

  • Example thesis #1:   “Abolition, Africans, and Abstraction: the Influence of the ‘Noble Savage’ on British and French Antislavery Thought, 1787-1807” by Suchait Kahlon.
  • Example thesis #2: “’A Starving Man Helping Another Starving Man’: UNRRA, India, and the Genesis of Global Relief, 1943-1947″ by Julian Saint Reiman.
  • Example thesis #3:  “An Introduction to Higher-Order Frames in Communication: How Controversial Organizations Maintain Legitimacy Over Time” by Kees Smeets

The very first page of your thesis contains all necessary identifying information, including:

  • Your full title
  • Your full name
  • Your department
  • Your institution and degree program
  • Your submission date.

Sometimes the title page also includes your student ID, the name of your supervisor, or the university’s logo. Check out your university’s guidelines if you’re not sure.

Read more about title pages

The acknowledgements section is usually optional. Its main point is to allow you to thank everyone who helped you in your thesis journey, such as supervisors, friends, or family. You can also choose to write a preface , but it’s typically one or the other, not both.

Read more about acknowledgements Read more about prefaces

An abstract is a short summary of your thesis. Usually a maximum of 300 words long, it’s should include brief descriptions of your research objectives , methods, results, and conclusions. Though it may seem short, it introduces your work to your audience, serving as a first impression of your thesis.

Read more about abstracts

A table of contents lists all of your sections, plus their corresponding page numbers and subheadings if you have them. This helps your reader seamlessly navigate your document.

Your table of contents should include all the major parts of your thesis. In particular, don’t forget the the appendices. If you used heading styles, it’s easy to generate an automatic table Microsoft Word.

Read more about tables of contents

While not mandatory, if you used a lot of tables and/or figures, it’s nice to include a list of them to help guide your reader. It’s also easy to generate one of these in Word: just use the “Insert Caption” feature.

Read more about lists of figures and tables

If you have used a lot of industry- or field-specific abbreviations in your thesis, you should include them in an alphabetized list of abbreviations . This way, your readers can easily look up any meanings they aren’t familiar with.

Read more about lists of abbreviations

Relatedly, if you find yourself using a lot of very specialized or field-specific terms that may not be familiar to your reader, consider including a glossary . Alphabetize the terms you want to include with a brief definition.

Read more about glossaries

An introduction sets up the topic, purpose, and relevance of your thesis, as well as expectations for your reader. This should:

  • Ground your research topic , sharing any background information your reader may need
  • Define the scope of your work
  • Introduce any existing research on your topic, situating your work within a broader problem or debate
  • State your research question(s)
  • Outline (briefly) how the remainder of your work will proceed

In other words, your introduction should clearly and concisely show your reader the “what, why, and how” of your research.

Read more about introductions

A literature review helps you gain a robust understanding of any extant academic work on your topic, encompassing:

  • Selecting relevant sources
  • Determining the credibility of your sources
  • Critically evaluating each of your sources
  • Drawing connections between sources, including any themes, patterns, conflicts, or gaps

A literature review is not merely a summary of existing work. Rather, your literature review should ultimately lead to a clear justification for your own research, perhaps via:

  • Addressing a gap in the literature
  • Building on existing knowledge to draw new conclusions
  • Exploring a new theoretical or methodological approach
  • Introducing a new solution to an unresolved problem
  • Definitively advocating for one side of a theoretical debate

Read more about literature reviews

Theoretical framework

Your literature review can often form the basis for your theoretical framework, but these are not the same thing. A theoretical framework defines and analyzes the concepts and theories that your research hinges on.

Read more about theoretical frameworks

Your methodology chapter shows your reader how you conducted your research. It should be written clearly and methodically, easily allowing your reader to critically assess the credibility of your argument. Furthermore, your methods section should convince your reader that your method was the best way to answer your research question.

A methodology section should generally include:

  • Your overall approach ( quantitative vs. qualitative )
  • Your research methods (e.g., a longitudinal study )
  • Your data collection methods (e.g., interviews or a controlled experiment
  • Any tools or materials you used (e.g., computer software)
  • The data analysis methods you chose (e.g., statistical analysis , discourse analysis )
  • A strong, but not defensive justification of your methods

Read more about methodology sections

Your results section should highlight what your methodology discovered. These two sections work in tandem, but shouldn’t repeat each other. While your results section can include hypotheses or themes, don’t include any speculation or new arguments here.

Your results section should:

  • State each (relevant) result with any (relevant) descriptive statistics (e.g., mean , standard deviation ) and inferential statistics (e.g., test statistics , p values )
  • Explain how each result relates to the research question
  • Determine whether the hypothesis was supported

Additional data (like raw numbers or interview transcripts ) can be included as an appendix . You can include tables and figures, but only if they help the reader better understand your results.

Read more about results sections

Your discussion section is where you can interpret your results in detail. Did they meet your expectations? How well do they fit within the framework that you built? You can refer back to any relevant source material to situate your results within your field, but leave most of that analysis in your literature review.

For any unexpected results, offer explanations or alternative interpretations of your data.

Read more about discussion sections

Your thesis conclusion should concisely answer your main research question. It should leave your reader with an ultra-clear understanding of your central argument, and emphasize what your research specifically has contributed to your field.

Why does your research matter? What recommendations for future research do you have? Lastly, wrap up your work with any concluding remarks.

Read more about conclusions

In order to avoid plagiarism , don’t forget to include a full reference list at the end of your thesis, citing the sources that you used. Choose one citation style and follow it consistently throughout your thesis, taking note of the formatting requirements of each style.

Which style you choose is often set by your department or your field, but common styles include MLA , Chicago , and APA.

Create APA citations Create MLA citations

In order to stay clear and concise, your thesis should include the most essential information needed to answer your research question. However, chances are you have many contributing documents, like interview transcripts or survey questions . These can be added as appendices , to save space in the main body.

Read more about appendices

Once you’re done writing, the next part of your editing process begins. Leave plenty of time for proofreading and editing prior to submission. Nothing looks worse than grammar mistakes or sloppy spelling errors!

Consider using a professional thesis editing service or grammar checker to make sure your final project is perfect.

Once you’ve submitted your final product, it’s common practice to have a thesis defense, an oral component of your finished work. This is scheduled by your advisor or committee, and usually entails a presentation and Q&A session.

After your defense , your committee will meet to determine if you deserve any departmental honors or accolades. However, keep in mind that defenses are usually just a formality. If there are any serious issues with your work, these should be resolved with your advisor way before a defense.

If you want to know more about AI for academic writing, AI tools, or research bias, make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!

Research bias

  • Survivorship bias
  • Self-serving bias
  • Availability heuristic
  • Halo effect
  • Hindsight bias
  • Deep learning
  • Generative AI
  • Machine learning
  • Reinforcement learning
  • Supervised vs. unsupervised learning

 (AI) Tools

  • Grammar Checker
  • Paraphrasing Tool
  • Text Summarizer
  • AI Detector
  • Plagiarism Checker
  • Citation Generator

The conclusion of your thesis or dissertation shouldn’t take up more than 5–7% of your overall word count.

If you only used a few abbreviations in your thesis or dissertation , you don’t necessarily need to include a list of abbreviations .

If your abbreviations are numerous, or if you think they won’t be known to your audience, it’s never a bad idea to add one. They can also improve readability, minimizing confusion about abbreviations unfamiliar to your reader.

When you mention different chapters within your text, it’s considered best to use Roman numerals for most citation styles. However, the most important thing here is to remain consistent whenever using numbers in your dissertation .

A thesis or dissertation outline is one of the most critical first steps in your writing process. It helps you to lay out and organize your ideas and can provide you with a roadmap for deciding what kind of research you’d like to undertake.

Generally, an outline contains information on the different sections included in your thesis or dissertation , such as:

  • Your anticipated title
  • Your abstract
  • Your chapters (sometimes subdivided into further topics like literature review , research methods , avenues for future research, etc.)

A thesis is typically written by students finishing up a bachelor’s or Master’s degree. Some educational institutions, particularly in the liberal arts, have mandatory theses, but they are often not mandatory to graduate from bachelor’s degrees. It is more common for a thesis to be a graduation requirement from a Master’s degree.

Even if not mandatory, you may want to consider writing a thesis if you:

  • Plan to attend graduate school soon
  • Have a particular topic you’d like to study more in-depth
  • Are considering a career in research
  • Would like a capstone experience to tie up your academic experience

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Dissertation Structure & Layout 101: How to structure your dissertation, thesis or research project.

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) Reviewed By: David Phair (PhD) | July 2019

So, you’ve got a decent understanding of what a dissertation is , you’ve chosen your topic and hopefully you’ve received approval for your research proposal . Awesome! Now its time to start the actual dissertation or thesis writing journey.

To craft a high-quality document, the very first thing you need to understand is dissertation structure . In this post, we’ll walk you through the generic dissertation structure and layout, step by step. We’ll start with the big picture, and then zoom into each chapter to briefly discuss the core contents. If you’re just starting out on your research journey, you should start with this post, which covers the big-picture process of how to write a dissertation or thesis .

Dissertation structure and layout - the basics

*The Caveat *

In this post, we’ll be discussing a traditional dissertation/thesis structure and layout, which is generally used for social science research across universities, whether in the US, UK, Europe or Australia. However, some universities may have small variations on this structure (extra chapters, merged chapters, slightly different ordering, etc).

So, always check with your university if they have a prescribed structure or layout that they expect you to work with. If not, it’s safe to assume the structure we’ll discuss here is suitable. And even if they do have a prescribed structure, you’ll still get value from this post as we’ll explain the core contents of each section.  

Overview: S tructuring a dissertation or thesis

  • Acknowledgements page
  • Abstract (or executive summary)
  • Table of contents , list of figures and tables
  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • Chapter 2: Literature review
  • Chapter 3: Methodology
  • Chapter 4: Results
  • Chapter 5: Discussion
  • Chapter 6: Conclusion
  • Reference list

As I mentioned, some universities will have slight variations on this structure. For example, they want an additional “personal reflection chapter”, or they might prefer the results and discussion chapter to be merged into one. Regardless, the overarching flow will always be the same, as this flow reflects the research process , which we discussed here – i.e.:

  • The introduction chapter presents the core research question and aims .
  • The literature review chapter assesses what the current research says about this question.
  • The methodology, results and discussion chapters go about undertaking new research about this question.
  • The conclusion chapter (attempts to) answer the core research question.

In other words, the dissertation structure and layout reflect the research process of asking a well-defined question(s), investigating, and then answering the question – see below.

A dissertation's structure reflect the research process

To restate that – the structure and layout of a dissertation reflect the flow of the overall research process . This is essential to understand, as each chapter will make a lot more sense if you “get” this concept. If you’re not familiar with the research process, read this post before going further.

Right. Now that we’ve covered the big picture, let’s dive a little deeper into the details of each section and chapter. Oh and by the way, you can also grab our free dissertation/thesis template here to help speed things up.

The title page of your dissertation is the very first impression the marker will get of your work, so it pays to invest some time thinking about your title. But what makes for a good title? A strong title needs to be 3 things:

  • Succinct (not overly lengthy or verbose)
  • Specific (not vague or ambiguous)
  • Representative of the research you’re undertaking (clearly linked to your research questions)

Typically, a good title includes mention of the following:

  • The broader area of the research (i.e. the overarching topic)
  • The specific focus of your research (i.e. your specific context)
  • Indication of research design (e.g. quantitative , qualitative , or  mixed methods ).

For example:

A quantitative investigation [research design] into the antecedents of organisational trust [broader area] in the UK retail forex trading market [specific context/area of focus].

Again, some universities may have specific requirements regarding the format and structure of the title, so it’s worth double-checking expectations with your institution (if there’s no mention in the brief or study material).

Dissertations stacked up


This page provides you with an opportunity to say thank you to those who helped you along your research journey. Generally, it’s optional (and won’t count towards your marks), but it is academic best practice to include this.

So, who do you say thanks to? Well, there’s no prescribed requirements, but it’s common to mention the following people:

  • Your dissertation supervisor or committee.
  • Any professors, lecturers or academics that helped you understand the topic or methodologies.
  • Any tutors, mentors or advisors.
  • Your family and friends, especially spouse (for adult learners studying part-time).

There’s no need for lengthy rambling. Just state who you’re thankful to and for what (e.g. thank you to my supervisor, John Doe, for his endless patience and attentiveness) – be sincere. In terms of length, you should keep this to a page or less.

Abstract or executive summary

The dissertation abstract (or executive summary for some degrees) serves to provide the first-time reader (and marker or moderator) with a big-picture view of your research project. It should give them an understanding of the key insights and findings from the research, without them needing to read the rest of the report – in other words, it should be able to stand alone .

For it to stand alone, your abstract should cover the following key points (at a minimum):

  • Your research questions and aims – what key question(s) did your research aim to answer?
  • Your methodology – how did you go about investigating the topic and finding answers to your research question(s)?
  • Your findings – following your own research, what did do you discover?
  • Your conclusions – based on your findings, what conclusions did you draw? What answers did you find to your research question(s)?

So, in much the same way the dissertation structure mimics the research process, your abstract or executive summary should reflect the research process, from the initial stage of asking the original question to the final stage of answering that question.

In practical terms, it’s a good idea to write this section up last , once all your core chapters are complete. Otherwise, you’ll end up writing and rewriting this section multiple times (just wasting time). For a step by step guide on how to write a strong executive summary, check out this post .

Need a helping hand?

masters dissertation research question

Table of contents

This section is straightforward. You’ll typically present your table of contents (TOC) first, followed by the two lists – figures and tables. I recommend that you use Microsoft Word’s automatic table of contents generator to generate your TOC. If you’re not familiar with this functionality, the video below explains it simply:

If you find that your table of contents is overly lengthy, consider removing one level of depth. Oftentimes, this can be done without detracting from the usefulness of the TOC.

Right, now that the “admin” sections are out of the way, its time to move on to your core chapters. These chapters are the heart of your dissertation and are where you’ll earn the marks. The first chapter is the introduction chapter – as you would expect, this is the time to introduce your research…

It’s important to understand that even though you’ve provided an overview of your research in your abstract, your introduction needs to be written as if the reader has not read that (remember, the abstract is essentially a standalone document). So, your introduction chapter needs to start from the very beginning, and should address the following questions:

  • What will you be investigating (in plain-language, big picture-level)?
  • Why is that worth investigating? How is it important to academia or business? How is it sufficiently original?
  • What are your research aims and research question(s)? Note that the research questions can sometimes be presented at the end of the literature review (next chapter).
  • What is the scope of your study? In other words, what will and won’t you cover ?
  • How will you approach your research? In other words, what methodology will you adopt?
  • How will you structure your dissertation? What are the core chapters and what will you do in each of them?

These are just the bare basic requirements for your intro chapter. Some universities will want additional bells and whistles in the intro chapter, so be sure to carefully read your brief or consult your research supervisor.

If done right, your introduction chapter will set a clear direction for the rest of your dissertation. Specifically, it will make it clear to the reader (and marker) exactly what you’ll be investigating, why that’s important, and how you’ll be going about the investigation. Conversely, if your introduction chapter leaves a first-time reader wondering what exactly you’ll be researching, you’ve still got some work to do.

Now that you’ve set a clear direction with your introduction chapter, the next step is the literature review . In this section, you will analyse the existing research (typically academic journal articles and high-quality industry publications), with a view to understanding the following questions:

  • What does the literature currently say about the topic you’re investigating?
  • Is the literature lacking or well established? Is it divided or in disagreement?
  • How does your research fit into the bigger picture?
  • How does your research contribute something original?
  • How does the methodology of previous studies help you develop your own?

Depending on the nature of your study, you may also present a conceptual framework towards the end of your literature review, which you will then test in your actual research.

Again, some universities will want you to focus on some of these areas more than others, some will have additional or fewer requirements, and so on. Therefore, as always, its important to review your brief and/or discuss with your supervisor, so that you know exactly what’s expected of your literature review chapter.

Dissertation writing

Now that you’ve investigated the current state of knowledge in your literature review chapter and are familiar with the existing key theories, models and frameworks, its time to design your own research. Enter the methodology chapter – the most “science-ey” of the chapters…

In this chapter, you need to address two critical questions:

  • Exactly HOW will you carry out your research (i.e. what is your intended research design)?
  • Exactly WHY have you chosen to do things this way (i.e. how do you justify your design)?

Remember, the dissertation part of your degree is first and foremost about developing and demonstrating research skills . Therefore, the markers want to see that you know which methods to use, can clearly articulate why you’ve chosen then, and know how to deploy them effectively.

Importantly, this chapter requires detail – don’t hold back on the specifics. State exactly what you’ll be doing, with who, when, for how long, etc. Moreover, for every design choice you make, make sure you justify it.

In practice, you will likely end up coming back to this chapter once you’ve undertaken all your data collection and analysis, and revise it based on changes you made during the analysis phase. This is perfectly fine. Its natural for you to add an additional analysis technique, scrap an old one, etc based on where your data lead you. Of course, I’m talking about small changes here – not a fundamental switch from qualitative to quantitative, which will likely send your supervisor in a spin!

You’ve now collected your data and undertaken your analysis, whether qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods. In this chapter, you’ll present the raw results of your analysis . For example, in the case of a quant study, you’ll present the demographic data, descriptive statistics, inferential statistics, etc.

Typically, Chapter 4 is simply a presentation and description of the data, not a discussion of the meaning of the data. In other words, it’s descriptive, rather than analytical – the meaning is discussed in Chapter 5. However, some universities will want you to combine chapters 4 and 5, so that you both present and interpret the meaning of the data at the same time. Check with your institution what their preference is.

Now that you’ve presented the data analysis results, its time to interpret and analyse them. In other words, its time to discuss what they mean, especially in relation to your research question(s).

What you discuss here will depend largely on your chosen methodology. For example, if you’ve gone the quantitative route, you might discuss the relationships between variables . If you’ve gone the qualitative route, you might discuss key themes and the meanings thereof. It all depends on what your research design choices were.

Most importantly, you need to discuss your results in relation to your research questions and aims, as well as the existing literature. What do the results tell you about your research questions? Are they aligned with the existing research or at odds? If so, why might this be? Dig deep into your findings and explain what the findings suggest, in plain English.

The final chapter – you’ve made it! Now that you’ve discussed your interpretation of the results, its time to bring it back to the beginning with the conclusion chapter . In other words, its time to (attempt to) answer your original research question s (from way back in chapter 1). Clearly state what your conclusions are in terms of your research questions. This might feel a bit repetitive, as you would have touched on this in the previous chapter, but its important to bring the discussion full circle and explicitly state your answer(s) to the research question(s).

Dissertation and thesis prep

Next, you’ll typically discuss the implications of your findings? In other words, you’ve answered your research questions – but what does this mean for the real world (or even for academia)? What should now be done differently, given the new insight you’ve generated?

Lastly, you should discuss the limitations of your research, as well as what this means for future research in the area. No study is perfect, especially not a Masters-level. Discuss the shortcomings of your research. Perhaps your methodology was limited, perhaps your sample size was small or not representative, etc, etc. Don’t be afraid to critique your work – the markers want to see that you can identify the limitations of your work. This is a strength, not a weakness. Be brutal!

This marks the end of your core chapters – woohoo! From here on out, it’s pretty smooth sailing.

The reference list is straightforward. It should contain a list of all resources cited in your dissertation, in the required format, e.g. APA , Harvard, etc.

It’s essential that you use reference management software for your dissertation. Do NOT try handle your referencing manually – its far too error prone. On a reference list of multiple pages, you’re going to make mistake. To this end, I suggest considering either Mendeley or Zotero. Both are free and provide a very straightforward interface to ensure that your referencing is 100% on point. I’ve included a simple how-to video for the Mendeley software (my personal favourite) below:

Some universities may ask you to include a bibliography, as opposed to a reference list. These two things are not the same . A bibliography is similar to a reference list, except that it also includes resources which informed your thinking but were not directly cited in your dissertation. So, double-check your brief and make sure you use the right one.

The very last piece of the puzzle is the appendix or set of appendices. This is where you’ll include any supporting data and evidence. Importantly, supporting is the keyword here.

Your appendices should provide additional “nice to know”, depth-adding information, which is not critical to the core analysis. Appendices should not be used as a way to cut down word count (see this post which covers how to reduce word count ). In other words, don’t place content that is critical to the core analysis here, just to save word count. You will not earn marks on any content in the appendices, so don’t try to play the system!

Time to recap…

And there you have it – the traditional dissertation structure and layout, from A-Z. To recap, the core structure for a dissertation or thesis is (typically) as follows:

  • Acknowledgments page

Most importantly, the core chapters should reflect the research process (asking, investigating and answering your research question). Moreover, the research question(s) should form the golden thread throughout your dissertation structure. Everything should revolve around the research questions, and as you’ve seen, they should form both the start point (i.e. introduction chapter) and the endpoint (i.e. conclusion chapter).

I hope this post has provided you with clarity about the traditional dissertation/thesis structure and layout. If you have any questions or comments, please leave a comment below, or feel free to get in touch with us. Also, be sure to check out the rest of the  Grad Coach Blog .

masters dissertation research question

Psst… there’s more (for free)

This post is part of our dissertation mini-course, which covers everything you need to get started with your dissertation, thesis or research project. 

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How To Structure Your Literature Review Chapter



many thanks i found it very useful

Derek Jansen

Glad to hear that, Arun. Good luck writing your dissertation.


Such clear practical logical advice. I very much needed to read this to keep me focused in stead of fretting.. Perfect now ready to start my research!


what about scientific fields like computer or engineering thesis what is the difference in the structure? thank you very much


Thanks so much this helped me a lot!

Ade Adeniyi

Very helpful and accessible. What I like most is how practical the advice is along with helpful tools/ links.

Thanks Ade!


Thank you so much sir.. It was really helpful..

You’re welcome!

Jp Raimundo

Hi! How many words maximum should contain the abstract?

Karmelia Renatee

Thank you so much 😊 Find this at the right moment

You’re most welcome. Good luck with your dissertation.


best ever benefit i got on right time thank you

Krishnan iyer

Many times Clarity and vision of destination of dissertation is what makes the difference between good ,average and great researchers the same way a great automobile driver is fast with clarity of address and Clear weather conditions .

I guess Great researcher = great ideas + knowledge + great and fast data collection and modeling + great writing + high clarity on all these

You have given immense clarity from start to end.

Alwyn Malan

Morning. Where will I write the definitions of what I’m referring to in my report?


Thank you so much Derek, I was almost lost! Thanks a tonnnn! Have a great day!

yemi Amos

Thanks ! so concise and valuable

Kgomotso Siwelane

This was very helpful. Clear and concise. I know exactly what to do now.

dauda sesay

Thank you for allowing me to go through briefly. I hope to find time to continue.

Patrick Mwathi

Really useful to me. Thanks a thousand times

Adao Bundi

Very interesting! It will definitely set me and many more for success. highly recommended.


Thank you soo much sir, for the opportunity to express my skills

mwepu Ilunga

Usefull, thanks a lot. Really clear

Chrisogonas Odhiambo

That was incredibly useful. Thanks Grad Coach Crew!


My stress level just dropped at least 15 points after watching this. Just starting my thesis for my grad program and I feel a lot more capable now! Thanks for such a clear and helpful video, Emma and the GradCoach team!


Do we need to mention the number of words the dissertation contains in the main document?

It depends on your university’s requirements, so it would be best to check with them 🙂


Such a helpful post to help me get started with structuring my masters dissertation, thank you!

Simon Le

Great video; I appreciate that helpful information

Brhane Kidane

It is so necessary or avital course


This blog is very informative for my research. Thank you


Doctoral students are required to fill out the National Research Council’s Survey of Earned Doctorates


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What is Masters Dissertation or Postgraduate Dissertation?

Many postgraduate students experience a feeling of dread when they first begin thinking about the word ‘Dissertation’! As an essential component of most postgraduate degree programmes, the Dissertation can be the key to success or failure. However, there’s no need to spend time on stress and worry if you understand how to create a successful Dissertation .

Masters Dissertation

What is a masters dissertation.

A Masters Dissertation is a lengthy written study on a topic chosen by the student. It is undertaken with the guidance of a faculty supervisor, and involves an extended period of research and writing. The content and length vary depending on your field of study – Dissertations are typically longer in theoretical fields, and shorter in practical fields.

MA Dissertations

MA Dissertations are conventional academic studies in the fields of the Arts, Humanities and some Social Sciences. They are typically comprised of a thorough investigation of a particular topic, based on the application of theoretical knowledge to already-available data (texts, documents, artworks or existing data sets). It is rare for MA dissertations to include extensive data collected by the author, as the focus is primarily on the application of philosophical and theoretical frameworks. The length of MA Dissertations is typically 25,000-50,000 words, although they may be shorter in some degree programmes where a practical element is also included.

MSc Dissertations

MSc Dissertations are often shorter than MA Dissertations, because they rely more heavily on concrete data that can be conveyed with fewer words. However, the content is just as rigorous in a scholarly sense. MSc Dissertations will often involve some practical field work by students, who are expected to collect data through lab activities. For MSc students the Dissertation forms part of a larger process of research reports and data collection.

MBA Dissertations

MBA Dissertations can take several forms. Traditionally they adhere to a more science-based framework and have more in common with MSc Dissertations than MA Dissertations. However, universities are increasingly offering MBA students opportunities to pursue alternative forms of research that encompass more qualitative and philosophical approaches, and that address a wider set of learning outcomes. For this reason the length of the MBA Dissertation can vary significantly depending on the particular institution and the line of research the student undertakes. Furthermore, many MBA programmes do not require dissertations at all!

How Is a Masters Dissertation Different from Undergraduate and PhD-level Dissertations?

Masters Dissertation requires students to engage with their subject area in a more critical manner than they will have done at the undergraduate level. While many Masters students probably completed a Bachelor’s Dissertation , the expectations for the Masters Dissertation are very different. At this level they will be expected to develop a critical analysis that goes beyond the synthesised reviews typically offered in undergraduate studies. In particular, Masters students are expected to develop a clear philosophical and methodological framework for their writing, and this enables them to craft a much more targeted and incisive analysis.

Masters Dissertations also differ significantly from MPhil and PhD Dissertations, because the Masters level requires less original research. A PhD requires a much longer thesis, normally between 80,000 and 100,000 words. Both the PhD and MPhil require a more sophisticated research agenda, which will rely heavily on independent field research or unique text-based research. At the Masters level, research does not need to be completely unique and ground-breaking, as it does for a PhD. However, Masters students are still expected to provide original writing and critical analysis.

What Does a Masters Dissertation Normally Contain?

Masters Dissertation will typically contain the following dissertation structure , although the length and nature of these vary according to the academic field:

  • Abstract – a brief summary statement that contextualises your research, outlines your methodology and summarises findings.
  • Literature Review – a chapter that summarises the most important theories and philosophies that are relevant to your research.
  • Methodology – a dissertation chapter or statement that details the methods used to conduct your research, and provides a justification for this choice.
  • Analytical Chapters – the main body of the dissertation, these chapters provide the critical analysis of your chosen material or subject.
  • Conclusion – the final chapter summarises your findings and suggests possible directions for future research.
  • Bibliography – the bibliography is expected to be quite lengthy and must conform to the style guidelines for your discipline.

Standard Requirements and Assessment of Masters Dissertations

Word Length – Most Masters Dissertations are 15,000 – 50,000 words in length, although as stated above this can vary significantly depending on the subject area. Do remember that the word count typically does not include front matter, foot notes, bibliography or appendices!

Duration of Study – Most UK Masters programmes are one year in length, with the Dissertation submitted at the end of that year. This can vary for longer degree programmes, or in cases where students are allowed an extra ‘writing up’ year.

Submission Deadlines – Submission deadlines will vary among universities so it’s best to check with your specific institution for details. Masters Dissertations are assessed by examiners and the results must be certified by University Exam Boards, which are held twice yearly (normally in July and September). This means that the deadline for submitting dissertations is usually late June or late August, to allow time for marking prior to the Exam Boards. If necessary, students can request an extension to these deadlines if they can demonstrate genuine extenuating circumstances that will delay their submission. Always check with your university for specific regulations regarding submission and extensions.

Grades – The marking system for Masters dissertations is usually on the same numeric scale that is used for other UK assessments. Students must generally achieve a minimum mark of 40 to pass, but most will aspire to higher marks than this. Marks of 60-69 earn a classification of 2.1, or B; Marks over 70 earn a First classification, or A.

Writing a good dissertation requires honest dedication from students and an ability to motivate themselves over a long period of time. You can start off on a successful path by understanding the typical Masters Dissertation requirements, and developing your plan of study accordingly!

David Brigden and Graham Lamont, 2010. Planning Dissertations. Available: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/resources/detail/subjects/medev/Planning_dissertations. Last accessed 08 Apr 2013.

Kjell Erik Rudestam, 2007. Surviving Your Dissertation: A Comprehensive Guide to Content and Process. 3rd Edition. SAGE Publications, Inc.

University of Worcester, 2010. Masters Dissertation Handbook. Available: http://www.worcester.ac.uk/registryservices/documents/Masters_Dissertation_Handbook_2010_2011.pdf. Last Accessed 02 May, 2013.

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Masters Dissertation - Some Advice for Researching and Writing It

What is a Master’s Dissertation

The differences between an undergraduate dissertation and a masters dissertation, basic undergraduate (thesis) and masters dissertation differences, length and structural differences, research content, master’s degree dissertation structure, important clues for writing an introduction, the main steps of writing, steps to conduct a research, find your advisor to write decent master’s dissertation, get a finished work without leaving home.

The last course of study is always exciting - the main assignment of all your years is ahead. A masters dissertation is the final step to your Master's degree . It gives an opportunity to prove considerable skills in a certain field or science, comprehensive education, capacity to organize & carry out such a project by a student. You have to set objectives of study, organize, analyze sources where to find the necessary data. One should draw a conclusion and if necessary, make recommendations and marks for a supplementary investigation.

The dissertation is the final stage of the Masters degree and provides you with the opportunity to show that you have gained the necessary skills in a certain science and knowledge in order to organise and conduct a research project. It should demonstrate that you are skilled in identifying an area, or areas, suitable for research: setting research objectives; locating, organising and critically analysing the relevant secondary data and authoritative literature; devising an appropriate research methodology; analysing the primary data selected and drawing on the literature in the field; drawing conclusions; and if appropriate making relevant recommendations and indications of areas for further research.

A dissertation is a “formal” document and there are “rules” that govern the way in which it is presented. It must have chapters that provide an introduction , a literature review, a justification of the data selected for analysis and research methodology, analysis of the data and, finally, conclusions and recommendations. Where the subject is based around a business or an applied situation recommendations for action may also be required.

The Masters level dissertation is distinguished from other forms of writing by its attempt to analyse situations in terms of the ‘bigger picture’. It seeks answers, explanations, makes comparisons and arrives at generalisations which can be used to extend theory. As well as explaining what can be done, it addresses the underlying why. The most successful dissertations are those which are specific and narrowly focused.

This document is intended to guide you through the dissertation process. It can only offer suggestions; there is nothing that can be said which will guarantee the production of a fine piece of work, but these are suggestions which, through time, have been found to be both practical and effective.

A dissertation to get a Master’s degree and an undergraduate thesis are not the same. Research work gets detailed answers, compares relevant facts, underlines response to “why”. The best works have narrow specific subjects. The main rule is not to make the paper reserved - it takes time to write a good work.

The main difference between a thesis and dissertation is when they are completed. The thesis is a project in a graduate school that marks the end of an undergraduate program, while the dissertation occurs during master’s study. The two are actually quite different in their purpose, as well. A thesis is a compilation of research that proves you are knowledgeable about the information learned throughout your graduate program. A dissertation is your opportunity during a master’s (or - doctorate) program to contribute new knowledge, theories or practices to your field. The point is to come up with an entirely new concept, develop it and defend its worth.

In an undergraduate you research a topic , then analyze and comment upon the information you gleaned and how it relates to the particular subject matter at hand. The point of the thesis is to show your ability to think critically about a topic and to knowledgeably discuss the information in-depth. Also, with a thesis, you usually take this opportunity to expand upon a subject that is most relevant to a specialty area you wish to pursue professionally. In a master’s dissertation, you utilize others' research merely as guidance in coming up with and proving your own unique hypothesis, theory or concept. The bulk of the information in a dissertation is attributed to you.

Finally, there is a difference in length between these two major works. The length and structure of an undergraduate and masters dissertations vary according to program; however, most theses are significantly shorter than dissertations. Students seeking a master's degree usually complete a thesis project in one full semester during which this is the only course they take. A master's dissertation should be at least 100 pages in length, likely a bit beyond that. Length and structure also depend on the field of study. Science majors write less because they conduct more hands-on experiments; students in humanities and liberal arts programs write longer papers with more in-depth analysis.

A dissertation is an extremely complex work. It will likely be two, possibly even three, times the length of a thesis. You will receive guidance from a faculty member who will serve as your dissertation adviser. This adviser will be there to point you in the right direction if you are stuck, can assist in locating resources and ensure that your proposal is on the right track.

Regardless of how schools use the terms thesis (undergraduate) and dissertation (masters), the purpose remains the same for both projects: undergraduate level theses and Master's dissertations require extensive research in order to prove that students have retained sufficient knowledge about their field. Theses typically require less external research because the project reflects a student's own ideas and conclusions. Dissertations take several years to complete and may require hundreds of external sources.

The secondary focus is to see how well students can defend their own work. Both of these research projects typically conclude with an oral defense in which faculty members ask questions about the research and final paper. A dissertation defense can last several hours whereas a thesis defense may last only an hour.

All postgraduate dissertations are unique to a certain extent; there are two main structures that every postgraduate should use. PhD (doctoral) graduates may systematize the paper into a series of articles. They might be published in professional journals; with such a structure one does not need to draft thesis and essays to issue them separately.

This form of dissertation is non-traditional. Before composing one needs to discuss this ability with a supervisor, you may check some templates of the thesis and learn how long is a masters dissertation. The traditional way to create dissertation is to write it like a foliant with several chapters. There shouldn’t be many of them. Despite the number of units which depend on the type of examined area and the duration of the course, the work has the following structure:

  • Abstract - The dissertation should contain an abstract of up to 350 words. A good abstract is difficult to write and can only be completed after the full dissertation has been written. It represents a brief summary of the results of the dissertation research. By summarising the results of the research, it allows other people to get an idea of what was accomplished without having to read through the whole dissertation. Other scholars can read an abstract to decide if looking at the full work will be worthwhile. The abstract should provide sufficient information about the results of the research that reading the full dissertation is not necessary, although your markers will read the full dissertation.
  • Contents - The contents page should list the chapter headings, appendices, references and the pages on which they can be found. Separate listing should be given for lists of figures, tables and abbreviations.
  • Chapter 1 (background / introduction) - the Introduction to the dissertation should set out the background to the research study and address the following areas: a) the context in which the research took place; b) the reasons why this study was carried out; c) the way the Dissertation is to be organised.
  • Chapter 2 (literature review) - The main reason for the inclusion, in a Masters dissertation, of a literature review section is - To present and to analyse, in a critical manner, that part of the published literature which is relevant to your research topic and which acts as the basis for a fuller understanding of the context in which you are conducting your research; thus helping the reader to a more rounded appreciation of what you have completed. Remember critical does not mean looking at the negatives but forming an evaluation.
  • Chapter 3 (methodology) - You should begin the Research Methodology chapter by stating, again, the research objectives of the project. This will enable the reader to make an assessment as to the validity of your chosen research methodology. This chapter is that part of the dissertation where you have the opportunity to justify to the reader the process by which the research questions, which were derived by an analysis of the relevant literature, were answered.
  • Chapters 4-6 (info / data analysis) - These chapters present the evidence and/or results of primary research which you have undertaken. Depending upon your subject area this can be in the form of detailed quantitative models, hypothesis testing to some basic analysis using basic descriptive statistics or qualitative techniques dealing with structured content analysis, textual analysis, to case study descriptions. The main part of the chapter is the presentation of the data that you obtained. Even projects of relatively moderate dimensions will generate a large amount of data which has to be considered. This data must be organised in a logical and coherently ordered whole so that your thought processes and interpretation are clear to the reader.
  • Chapter 7 (discussion) - This is the heart of the dissertation and must be more than descriptive. This chapter develops analytic and critical thinking on primary results and analysis with reference to theoretical arguments grounded in the literature review. You should try to highlight where there are major differences and similarities from the literature or between different groups.
  • Conclusion - Here you will bring together the work of the dissertation by showing how the initial research plan has been addressed in such a way that conclusions may be formed from the evidence of the dissertation. No new material or references should be placed here. The conclusions should make a statement on the extent to which each of the aims and objectives has been met. You should bring back your research questions and state clearly your understanding of those questions. Be careful not to make claims that are not substantiated from the evidence you have presented in earlier chapters.
  • Bibliography - All the sources used in writing the dissertation (whether direct quotations or paraphrasing) should be included in a bibliography, compiled in alphabetical order by the author.
  • Appendices - Appendices won’t be necessary in many dissertations, but you may need to include supplementary material to support your argument. This could be interview transcripts or questionnaires. If including such content within the body of the dissertation won’t be feasible – i.e. there wouldn’t be enough space or it would break the flow of your writing – you should consult with your supervisor and consider attaching it in an appendix.

Any other type of structure can be agreed with your supervisor.

An introduction is a part of the master's dissertation you notice last. Notwithstanding, it is not the last thing to do. You may draft an outline with the introduction as soon as you know the topic of the work. There you compose all your ideas about the topic of the research, specify what you would like to study during writing. As ideas evolve, you are able to change this section of the dissertation. You should answer why your work is relevant and why it is valuable.

Define the objective that is associated with the question, present literature about your topic. If there is an analytical debate, it would be a good start to explore the topic of the dissertation and express your private opinion. It should be combined with the analysis of sources.

Here are some ideas to make a good introduction :

  • A strong opening sentence that catches the reader’s attention
  • It is not required to give full data in reverse to the topic in the introduction, but give vague ideas and arguments
  • Verify not mentioning some facts which will not be explained in your work later

One way to draft logically is to draw up a plan or a mind map in which one can note essential ideas. Determine the question of your research that would go through the thesis. Link the parts of the study and give an agreement to describing. When you have some ideas about writing the dissertation, put them on paper - it is easy to forget them when you have to memorize a lot of data. Your writing plan may be the following one:

  • You may begin with creating a completed and unorganized list of all the key facts and details which are considered necessary to be included
  • Firstly note the headings to all the parts, use graphic representations if needed
  • Create a list of headlines in order
  • Type essential sub-headings to each section of the dissertation. A chapter concerning the literature review is required to be divided into several sub-parts. Every sub-part would have its own heading, together they form the unit
  • To organize your thoughts better, create a list with bullet points under each chapter. Each point corresponds to one paragraph
  • When it is done, add more ideas, a list of references, citations, and conclusions. Do not forget to include these elements in your Master’s degree dissertation
  • Verify that there is correspondence among parts and the format is comprehensible, convincing and every idea is well-defined
  • Make sure that the writing is logical

When a thesis is well-structured and clear, it would be a pleasure to the committee to read it. They will listen to you without interruption for trying to understand the logical links or asking a lot of questions concerning your dissertation.

Depending on how you build your dissertation or thesis , writing of entire work will vary. The body should be methodical and effective. So you would not spend time on analysis or reading resources that are not related to work. Following tips may help you in writing.

1. Write a schedule for each part of dissertation:

  • Find a convenient number of sources to fully understand the topic, but it is necessary to end researching and not go with the ideas far
  • A lot of students are afraid that they have to read every book concerning the dissertation. Think about how much time you spend on reading several crucial sources and follow your schedule
  • Show that you have read and understood relevant researches as well as their limitations

2. Find appropriate places to find valuable sources for the dissertation:

  • When it is time to conduct a study, official websites serve as the first point. One should understand that the data is not reliable on all the websites. Check it twice and look for truthful pages of official websites. Use Google Scholar to locate such sources
  • Go to the library to ask a cataloger for some help in writing your dissertation. They may advise reading the books needed for the research

3. Systematize the data:

  • Take notes so that you will not be perturbed and always know where to find important arguments that you want to use. Such tools as Penzu will help you to save necessary notes and sources.

When you finish writing the work, you'll know more about the degrees of the research object than the сommittee. You will see how the relationship between your advisor and you changes having asked him to become your colleague. Talk to him/her about how to make the research work more effective and how you will work on this together.

Ask about how often you may text him about the new data added to the dissertation if he would like to read drafts of chapters, how much time he needs to read and correct the draft if the sections should be sent to him in writing or not. It is indispensable to tell your advisor about the kind of feedback you want to get.

An advisor may give purposeless or discouraging answers that will not help you to cope with your dissertation. Let him know what response would be useful for the assignment. Give specific explanations and arguments so that he would know exactly how to give a helping hand. Inform him about every step of the thesis by sending the reports weekly or monthly.

You should find another advisor’s students, as it is probable that they have certain communication strategies. That would help you to find common language quicker; if it is not so, you may choose another advisor. It is possible to ask a committee member to be your secondary advisor and check your notes.

You may always order a thesis online - our writing service does its best. By ordering a thesis or a dissertation you do not give an assignment to some random writer. Our pro writers deliver high-quality and original paper. No matter what assignment you need, an essay/dissertation, and what your faculty is, place an order to enjoy the results. The company aims to keep its prestigious reputation among the top services of the writing field.

The main idea is to help students to cope with his assignment without extra efforts and saving their copyright. Better results are the prerogative. Every student can view the process of writing even the hardest work such as executive summary and can order writing only part of it. There is no need to stand the torments of Tantalus if you have no idea how to start. Writing service will be your lifeline.

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Formulating a Strong Research Question: A Key Step in Master’s Dissertation Writing

Aug 17, 2023 | 0 comments

masters dissertation research question

Aug 17, 2023 | Blog | 0 comments

Embarking on the journey of Master’s Dissertation Writing involves navigating a series of crucial steps, formulating a solid research question as a cornerstone. As you delve into the world of academic exploration, crafting a well-defined and focused research question becomes paramount. This initial step serves as the guiding beacon, shaping the trajectory of your entire research endeavor. In this article, we will uncover the significance of a well-crafted research question and delve into the art of creating one that aligns with your academic goals and sets the stage for a successful and impactful master’s dissertation.

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The Role of a Research Question

At the heart of every successful Master’s Dissertation Writing journey lies the crucial role of a research question. Imagine it as the compass that guides your expedition through the sea of knowledge. A research question is not just a random inquiry; it’s a carefully crafted query that shapes your entire study. Consider it the foundation for building your research, gathering data, and drawing conclusions. This question sets the tone, directing your focus and helping you stay on track amid the vast realm of information. In essence, it’s your roadmap to discovery. So, whether you’re exploring the effects of climate change or deciphering literary nuances, a well-formulated research question is your trusty companion, steering you toward the shores of academic accomplishment.

Characteristics of an Effective Research Question

Crafting a practical research question is like creating a key that unlocks the doors of knowledge. Think of it as a question with superpowers – clear, concise, and captivating. A practical research question is straightforward in its intent, leaving no room for confusion. It’s specific, focusing on a precise topic rather than wandering into the abyss of generalities. But that’s not all – it’s also relevant, aligning seamlessly with your research goals. Like a captivating story, it piques curiosity, compelling you and your readers to journey deeper into the subject. Plus, it’s feasible, considering the resources and time available. This superhero question empowers your research, driving it forward with purpose. So, whether your study revolves around ancient civilizations or modern technology, remember that a practical research question is your dynamic sidekick, ensuring your efforts hit the bullseye of scholarly excellence.

The Relationship Between Research Question and Research Objectives

Picture your research as a well-choreographed dance – the research question takes the lead, and the research objectives follow its graceful moves. These two elements are intricately connected like a dance partner, moving in harmony to create a captivating performance. Your research question sets the stage, outlining your study’s central theme and direction. It’s the big “why” that fuels your curiosity. Here comes the twist: research objectives are like the steps that guide you toward the ultimate goal. They break down the research question into smaller, manageable tasks, ensuring you stay on track and don’t miss a beat. This dynamic duo ensures that your research isn’t a random improvisation but a well-structured masterpiece. So, whether you’re investigating the mysteries of deep-sea life or analyzing economic trends, remember that the synergy between your research question and objectives transforms your study into an artful scientific endeavor.

Types of Research Questions

Just like a palette of colors enriches a painting, different types of research questions add depth to your academic exploration. Each class is like a unique lens, offering a distinct perspective on your topic. Let’s unravel these lenses and see how they enhance your research adventure.

1. Exploratory Questions: Imagine you’re a curious detective embarking on a journey of discovery. Exploratory questions help you dive into uncharted territories, seeking to understand a topic that hasn’t been extensively studied. They’re like opening a treasure chest of possibilities, where the answers might be surprising and enlightening.

2. Descriptive Questions: These questions take you into the heart of your subject, capturing its essence in vivid detail. It’s like painting a detailed portrait that highlights the intricacies and nuances. Descriptive questions answer “what” and “how” to give you a comprehensive understanding.

3. Explanatory Questions: Ever wanted to understand why things work the way they do? Explanatory questions are your allies. They delve into causality, uncovering the reasons behind phenomena. These questions explore the relationships between variables, revealing the mechanics of the world around us.

4. Comparative Questions: Life is full of choices, and so is research. Comparative questions help you evaluate different options, comparing two or more groups, concepts, or variables. They provide insights into differences, similarities, and factors influencing outcomes.

Steps in Formulating a Research Question

Creating a solid research question is like building a sturdy foundation for your academic adventure. Let’s walk through the steps of this construction process, ensuring that your question stands tall and resilient.

1. Identifying the Research Area: Consider this as choosing the landscape for your exploration. Start broad, identifying the general field that captivates your interest. Are you drawn to psychology, history, or biology? Narrow down until you find your unique patch of curiosity.

2. Reviewing Existing Literature: Imagine preparing for a grand feast – research is the main course and existing literature is the appetizer. Dig into research papers, articles, and books related to your area. This helps you identify gaps, uncover trends, and see what’s already been cooked up.

3. Identifying Research Gaps: Now that you’ve tasted the appetizer, it’s time to find the missing ingredients. What hasn’t been explored? What questions linger unanswered? These gaps are where your research question finds its sweet spot.

4. Defining the Scope and Boundaries: Like an artist’s canvas, your research question needs defined edges. Specify the boundaries – what’s in and what’s out. This prevents your question from becoming an overwhelming masterpiece in progress.

5. Considering Feasibility: Just as a chef considers the ingredients in the pantry, consider your resources. Can you gather the data you need? Do you have the time and tools? Crafting a question that fits your available ingredients ensures a smoother journey ahead.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Even the most seasoned explorers can stumble upon hidden pitfalls in the research landscape. Let’s shine a light on some common blunders and help you steer clear of them as you navigate the terrain of crafting your research question.

1. Vagueness and Ambiguity: Imagine wandering through a dense fog – that’s what vague research questions can feel like. Avoid using overly broad terms that lack focus. Instead, be as clear as a sunny day, ensuring your question has a well-defined purpose.

2. Overcomplication: Just like adding too many spices can ruin a dish, overcomplicating your research question can make it difficult to digest. Aim for simplicity and elegance, avoiding convoluted language that confuses rather than clarifies.

3. Lack of Alignment: Imagine building a car with square wheels – it won’t go far. Your research question should align seamlessly with your chosen field and objectives. Avoid questions that veer off course or clash with your study’s purpose.

4. Answerable or Obvious Questions: Crafting a question with an obvious answer is like solving a puzzle you’ve already completed. Seek questions that prompt investigation and exploration rather than those that are easily answerable with a quick search.

5. Neglecting the “So What?” Factor: Just as a story needs a captivating ending, your research question should have a “so what?” factor. Avoid questions that lack relevance or fail to demonstrate their potential impact on your field or society.

6. Ignoring Feedback: Embarking on research is like embarking on a team expedition. Ignoring feedback from mentors and peers is like leaving behind valuable gear. Embrace constructive criticism, which helps refine your question and elevates your research journey.

Refining and Revising the Research Question

Think of refining and revising your research question as sculpting a masterpiece. Just as a sculptor chips away at excess stone to reveal a beautiful figure, you’ll trim and tweak your question until it shines with clarity and purpose.

1. Embrace the Iterative Nature: Crafting a research question is not a one-shot deal. It’s a journey of iterations. Like a rough story draft, your initial question is just the beginning. Embrace the idea that refinement takes time and multiple rounds of edits.

2. Seek Feedback: As a chef relies on taste testers, your question needs a fresh perspective. Share your query with mentors, professors, or peers. Their insights can provide valuable guidance, helping you see blind spots and areas for improvement.

3. Check for Clarity and Specificity: Imagine explaining your question to a curious friend. If they give you a puzzled look, it’s time to clarify. Avoid jargon or complex language. Your question should be crystal clear, even to someone unfamiliar with your field.

4. Align with Objectives: Your research objectives are like checkpoints on a map – they guide your journey. Ensure your question is in harmony with these objectives. If there’s a disconnect, consider revising to ensure coherence.

5. Test the Feasibility: As an architect ensures a building plan is structurally sound, check if your question is feasible. Can you realistically collect the data you need? Do you have access to the necessary resources? Adjust if necessary.

6. Trim Unnecessary Details: Like pruning a plant to encourage healthy growth, trim away unnecessary complexities. Focus on the core of your question. Streamline it so that it’s succinct yet impactful.

Examples of Strong Research Questions

Imagine having a toolbox filled with examples to inspire your creative endeavors. Let’s open this toolbox and explore various solid research questions that showcase the diversity of approaches you can take in crafting your question.

1. Exploratory Question: “What are the underlying factors contributing to the decline in pollinator populations in urban environments?”

2. Descriptive Question: “How do social media usage patterns differ among various age groups, and what implications does this have on communication trends?”

3. Explanatory Question: “What is the relationship between sleep patterns and academic performance among college students, and how does stress mediate this connection?”

4. Comparative Question: “What are the economic and environmental impacts of traditional agriculture versus vertical farming regarding resource utilization and crop yields?”

5. Longitudinal Question: “How do career aspirations and job satisfaction evolve over a decade for individuals in the technology industry?”

6. Intervention Question: “To what extent does a mindfulness-based stress reduction program influence the psychological well-being of healthcare professionals in high-stress work environments?”

7. Qualitative Question: “What are the lived experiences and challenges refugees face during their resettlement process in a new country?”

These examples illustrate the versatility of research questions across different fields and types. Each question is like a puzzle, contributing to the more extensive knowledge picture. As you embark on your research journey, let these examples spark your creativity and guide you in crafting a research question that resonates with your passion and purpose. Remember, your question has the potential to shape not only your study but also the academic discourse within your chosen field.

Get Help Writing Research Questions for Your Master’s Dissertation

Are you struggling to formulate a compelling research question for your Master’s Dissertation? Look no further. Essay Freelance Writers is a beacon of expertise in the field, offering top-tier assistance to elevate your academic journey. With a team of seasoned professionals, we understand the nuances of crafting impactful research questions that pave the way for a successful dissertation. Don’t let the challenge hold you back – take a step towards excellence by placing your order today. Click the ORDER NOW button above and harness the power of our expert writing to help shape your academic success.

How do you write a substantial research question for a research paper?

To report a robust research question for a research paper, focus on being transparent, specific, and relevant to your topic. Ensure the question is researchable and guides your study effectively.

What makes a good research question for a dissertation?

A good research question for a dissertation is clear, concise, and aligned with the research objectives. It should address existing literature gaps and offer potential for meaningful exploration.

What are the five steps of writing a research question?

The five steps of writing a research question involve: identifying the research area, reviewing existing literature, identifying research gaps, defining scope and boundaries, and considering feasibility.

What are the three critical concepts for developing a solid research question?

The three key concepts for developing a concrete research question are clarity (clear and concise wording), relevance (alignment with research objectives), and feasibility (practicality in terms of resources and data collection).

Sarah Bentley

With a passion for helping students navigate their educational journey, I strive to create informative and relatable blog content. Whether it’s tackling exam stress, offering career guidance, or sharing effective study techniques

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Free Topics For Write a Masters Dissertation Professionally

Masters degree programs require students to submit dissertations in the course of their training. Writing dissertations for masters programs is mandatory, and trainees need to get the skills of doing this competently. The safety of students taking their postgraduate programs lies in the great mastery of dissertation writing skills. If your desire is to create excellent dissertation for your master submission, then our service will help you achieve it.

Just like every other academic research work, masters dissertation papers elicit fearful feelings in students. They understand how critical, such papers are, and how they could mess their academic grades if they didn't give it the best. Writing exceptional dissertations as required by your professor is something every student desires. Unfortunately, only few may have the requisite skills of writing them as expected. Experts like our own existence to help you. As long as you collaborate with us, you can be sure you will have the best grade for your dissertation masters degree. We have been on the market for long to help masters students, and we are always confident with the resources we have to help more students who need our services.

Wring dissertations can be a dreadful experience for students who don’t like research. Typically, dissertations, especially for masters degree programs, are lengthy, and they demand many days, weeks, or even months to complete. The good thing is that you can write a dissertation on a topic you are interested in. Most professors allow students to choose their topics to take the entire process simple for them. With the right skills at hand, you can produce a great dissertation paper that will earn you a desirable grade eventually. Do you want to learn how to write excellent dissertations? Make our experts your consultants, and you will enjoy the entire procedure.

Get a Master Degree Dissertation Sample Done by an Expert

Professionals in the writing industry have helped many students in colleges and universities. Most of the beneficiaries have been the master's students, who may have little time to do their work as well as attend to job responsibilities. A number of them refer doing the whole work on their own. The only help they seek is consultation on the topic, structure, and other details needed to write dissertations. Masters dissertation examples displayed on the website from renown writing agencies like our own become helpful in such times. They can refer to them as a guide to writing their own papers.

If you need to write a good master thesis dissertation, asking for a master degree dissertation sample done by a professional would be wise. It will not only be a guide for you but also give you the opportunity to interact with experts who can help you write quality master papers. Brainstorming and researching are the most important things one can do in preparation for their dissertation writing. One thing is evident; they will access some samples that give them some prompts and insights on what to do in their projects. If you understand how valuable the dissertation grade would be to you, then you can use any method to achieve a top-notch quality paper.

Master degree programs can be difficult especially with the demand for unique dissertation writing. However, professional writers can help make your work easier. The only work you would do is to choose the right experts who have adequate knowledge in your field of study. With this, no work including your master dissertation proposal would give you a hard time. The experts you work with will always come into assists whenever needed.

What a Dissertation for Masters Degree Constitute

Writing a paper is simple when you understand its components. For a master degree dissertation, the standard structure and format of writing it should be adhered if the students need to maintain the quality of such a paper. This article will highlight the various constitutes of a dissertation to help you understand how to write it well. Besides, you can get any master essay sample including a master dissertation proposal example, which our writer takes time to compose. Don't delay in requesting for the relevant help from experts who can deliver a wonderful piece.

A dissertation constitutes the following:

  • An abstract

A good dissertation entails an abstract, which gives the context of the research, the method used and a brief summary of the findings. An abstract is mandatory for any master dissertation.

  • Literature review

This section gives a detailed overview of the theories, existing data, and reliable information related to the topic of research. It entails the knowledge one gathers on the research questions.

  • Methodology

The chapter includes the method the students use in his or her investigation. It is efficient when you give a justification for the choice of the method. This section determines how easy or hard your research would be. The choice of the right way is important. You can involve an expert to help you choose the right methodology for your research topic.

  • Discussion/analysis

The author discusses the findings of the research in this section. You could give a critical analysis including presenting the data through various ways.

It comes at the end of every dissertation. Here, you make the final remarks on your research topic. You could also provide the possible suggestions for further research.

  • Bibliography

Since any dissertation for masters degree involves a lot of investigations and research, the author ought to provide all the reading material of reference. The bibliography section contains all the books, journals, and articles using the right referencing style.

Master dissertations appear professional and compelling when every of these sections is written articulately. Conduct your research well and make the entire writing process simple. You can involve our dissertation writers to help you do it. They have a lot of experience in writing a dissertation for master students. Relying on them is worthwhile.

The Best Way to Achieve Excellent Essay Master Papers

Are you having a challenge writing your dissertation? Do you need help with your essay master papers? We acknowledge the desire of every student that entails submitting excellent essays. For most postgraduate students, the problem starts with the right choice from various master dissertation topics that they would comfortably research. Since the choice of topic determines how well one would approach their dissertations, it is good when you handle it with the due seriousness. It may include asking for masters dissertation help from experts who can help you choose the right topic or write it on your behalf.

Achieving exceptional master degree papers is never a simple thing. It may involve numerous attempts of writing drafts on the same. It can also compel one to burn the midnight oil just to do extra research that would make their dissertation writing professionally. Dissertations are lengthy; setting aside the adequate time needed to a complete the required research is mandatory. Many students who have many responsibilities to attend to can hire master paper writers to help them instead of risking their final grades.

Students can fail to produce excellent masters papers due to weak structure. Since your professor may not give an allowance for this mistake, avoiding it through help from experts is the best option. It could be that you know how to make the most compelling writings, but you have a wrong idea of how a masters dissertation structure should appear. Have as many samples as you can, and compare the right structure you need for your dissertation. You could also consult with your institution to know the acceptable structure for dissertations and other master papers.

The Need for Professional Help with Master Papers

Did you know that writing quality master papers especially a masters thesis paper requires a lot of dedication and commitment from the writer? Most dissertations contain more than 15,000 words, which ought to be researched and written competently. You would find yourself starting at a good pace only to get tired along the way due to the much work it involves. You may not handle many responsibilities and still produce the high-quality master degree essay needed in your institution. All these are reasons why you should rely on experts like our own to help you.

Many people want to pursue their master's degree. The institutions they desire may have a criterion to admit masters students to take the programs of their choice. However, they are required to submit a proper essay for master degree application, seeking an opportunity to pursue their degrees. The university admission panel can deny you a chance into your program because of a poor master degree essay. Make it as appealing as possible. Get various masters degree application essay examples from reliable companies like our own to help you handle your writing.

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Does the ‘Educational Alliance’ conceptualize the student - supervisor relationship when conducting a master thesis in medicine? An interview study

  • Michael Brenner 1 ,
  • Anja Nikola Weiss-Breckwoldt 2 ,
  • Flurin Condrau 3 &
  • Jan Breckwoldt 4  

BMC Medical Education volume  23 , Article number:  611 ( 2023 ) Cite this article

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Completing a master thesis (MT) is mandatory in many undergraduate curricula in medicine but a specific educational framework to guide the supervisor-student relationship during the MT has not been published. This could be helpful to facilitate the MT process and to more effectively reach the learning objectives related to science education in medicine. An attractive model for this purpose is the ‘Educational Alliance’ (EA), which focusses on the three components ‘ clarity and agreement on (a) goals, (b) tasks and (c) relationship & roles ’. This study investigated factors that can either facilitate or hinder the process of MTs, and related these to the components of the EA.

We conducted semi-structured face-to-face interviews with 20 students and – separately – with their 20 corresponding supervisors, after the MT had been accepted. The interviews included open questions on factors facilitating or hindering the success of the MT. Audio recordings of the interviews were anonymized and transcribed, and then analysed by qualitative content analysis. Also, quantitative data were gathered on satisfaction with the MT process and the supervisory quality (using Likert-type questions).

We were able to analyse all 40 interviews, related to 20 MTs. From the transcripts, we extracted 469 comments related to the research question and categorized these into the four main categories (a) ‘Preparation’, (b) ‘Process’, (c) ‘Atmosphere’, (d) ‘Value of the MT’. Interviewees highlighted the importance of a careful preparation phase, clear expectations, a clear research plan, thorough and timely feedback, mutual agreement on timelines, and a positive working atmosphere. Each of these factors could be brought in line with the three components of the EA framework: agreement and clarity of goals, tasks, relationships & roles. Satisfaction with the MT process was rated 8.75 ± 1.22 SD (of 10) points by supervisors, and 7.80 ± 1.61 SD points by students, while supervision quality was rated  +  1.51 ± 0.63 SD (scale from − 2 to + 2) by supervisors, and +  1.26 ± 0.93 SD by students.

We propose the EA framework as a useful guidance for students, supervisors, and the university towards conducting successful MTs in medicine. Based on the findings, we provide specific recommendations for students, supervisors, and university.

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Participating in an undergraduate research project promotes scientific competencies such as interpreting studies, critical thinking, and applying evidence-based medicine in the clinical context [ 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 ]. A Master Thesis (MT), or a report on a scientific project, is therefore an obligatory element of the undergraduate curriculum in countries which have adopted the Bologna framework in medicine, i.e. those that organize undergraduate medical education into a Bachelor and a Master phase [ 5 ].

From a curricular perspective, conducting a MT establishes a longitudinal one-to-one teaching relation between student and supervisor [ 3 , 6 ]. For postgraduate doctoral programmes, several publications have explored this relation from various perspectives. Heyns et al. have provided advice for supervisors for guiding students in health care, [ 7 ] and recently, a literature review has addressed supervising strategies for postgraduate research in general [ 8 ]. Both papers advocate for a more person-centered approach with a focus on feedback [ 7 , 8 ]. Other authors have included the students’ perspective, highlighting a mismatch between their expectations and experiences, [ 9 ] or differences between supervisors’ and students’ expectations [ 10 ]. For doctoral theses, there is consensus that a mutual understanding and an alignment of expectations is essential [ 11 , 12 ] and a dialogue between the two parties should be encouraged [ 13 ].

However, this research has not yet been extended to the MT process. The student - supervisor relationship during the MT process has been addressed by only a few studies [ 6 , 14 , 15 ]. De Kleijn showed for the fields of social sciences, geosciences, and humanities that supervision should be carefully balanced [ 15 ]. Another paper on undergraduate engineering studies found that expectations were not well aligned between university, supervisor and student [ 14 ]. That paper found that supervisors pursued a more ‘research outcome’ orientated goal as opposed to an educational goal (to provide students with an understanding of the research process) [ 14 ]. Another study from business school addressed a lack of training for supervisors [ 16 ]. However, none of these studies on undergraduate thesis writing has offered an educational framework to outline the student - supervisor relationship [ 17 ]. In addition, conditions in medicine differ from those in these other fields as the professional identity formation in medical studies focusses on clinical competencies rather than on scientific careers [ 18 ].

Conceptualizing this mutual relationship between students and supervisors, an explicit framework such as the ‘Educational Alliance’ (EA) [ 19 ] could help both parties to better understand how to successfully shape the MT process. The EA was initially developed and extensively explored as the ‘working alliance’ in the field of psychotherapy, [ 20 , 21 ] where it is accepted as a central principle across therapeutic modalities [ 22 ] with robust effects on patient outcome [ 23 ]. Recently, the concept has been adapted to the context of medical education [ 19 , 24 , 25 , 26 ]. The EA concept builds on three components, (a) clarity and agreement on goals, (b) clarity and agreement on tasks, (c) clarity and agreement on relationship & roles. Developing a mutual agreement on all three components helps to build a strong bond in the educational relationship and may lead to improved success [ 19 ]. Given the longitudinal one-to-one relationship between supervisors and students conducting a MT, the EA model could be a useful framework for better understanding this educational process.

In this study, we sought to collect specific evidence from the field of undergraduate medical education and to test whether the findings would fit into the EA framework. We addressed two research questions, (a) Which factors facilitate, or hinder, a successful MT process? and (b) Are the findings consistent with the three components of the EA? For this purpose, we conducted semi-structured interviews independently with students and their corresponding supervisors. Based on the results, we aimed to provide guidance for students, supervisors, and the university towards a successful MT process.

Curricular context

Undergraduate medical curricula in Switzerland follow the Bologna structure [ 5 ] with a three-year Bachelor and a three-year Master phase. The detailed structure of the curriculum at the University of Zurich has been described elsewhere [ 27 , 28 ]. The Swiss national catalogue of learning objectives [ 29 ] states for the Master thesis that “ students should be able to ‘identify and develop a research question or hypothesis, analyze, and synthesize the results, and present these as a scientific report or article” . Students may work on the project during the whole Master phase, and they approach potential supervisors individually. Topics can be chosen freely from all types of scientific work such as clinical studies, literature reviews, basic lab science, or essays. The work may either be published as a journal article or submitted to the university as a monograph. Before starting the project, the student and supervisor must agree on a written outline of the thesis, which is submitted to the Vice Deanery of Education. The total workload accounts for 15 Credits of the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) representing 450 working hours in total. A thesis committee decides whether to accept the thesis during the final year of studies.

Study design

The Ethical Committee of the Canton of Zurich declared the study did not fall within the scope of the Swiss Human Research Act and therefore granted exemption (BASEC Req-2018-00345). The research was performed in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki. All information which could have identified persons or institutions was anonymized before data analysis, and all participants gave informed written consent.

From autumn 2019 to spring 2020, we conducted semi-structured face-to-face interviews with MT students and – separately – with their individual supervisors. Hierarchical power issues between students and supervisors were minimized as the interviews were conducted separately and the MT had already been completed. No incentives for participation were provided. The participants were recruited for one part from a pool of particularly successful MTs (e.g., nominated for university awards), labelled as ‘Published MTs’ (PMTs). These MTs had been published as journal articles with the student as first or second author, listed in the ‘Science Citation Index’ (SCI) in the first or second quartile of the subject domain, with a Journal Impact Factor (JIF) [ 30 ] in 2017 above 2.0. A second category for analysis included cases where the MT thesis had only been submitted as a monograph to the university library repository (ZORA). These cases were classified as ‘Unpublished MTs’ (UMT). UMTs were randomly picked from the electronic database of the Vice Deanery of education as a convenience sample. We deliberately decided to investigate both PMT and UMT cases as we hypothesized that there could be differences in the facilitating or impeding factors between the groups.

The interviews were based on MTs submitted from 2013 to 2017, which ensured that adequate time had passed for a manuscript to be published. An interview guide was designed following Kallio et al., [ 31 ] informed by student and supervisor feedback from the preceding academic years, and subsequently refined by content experts from the university faculty. We designed two corresponding versions of the interview guide, one for students and one for supervisors. The guides were piloted with two students and two supervisors, and subsequently adjusted for minor points. This final version was used for the first 18 interviews, after which we screened the answers for redundancy and to determine if further focus was needed. We then made minor adaptations to the student questionnaire by removing two questions that were not related to individual experiences and adding one question about selecting topics and supervisors. A question not related to individual experience was also removed from the supervisor’s questionnaire. The refined interview guides are attached as Supplementary File 1 .

In addition to differences between PMTs and UMTs, we compared student and supervisor responses.

After having obtained written permission, we started the interview by asking questions relating to overall satisfaction with the MT process and general impressions. In the main section, we posed open questions regarding the factors that facilitated and hindered the success of the MT. Additionally, we asked questions about personal aims, achievements, and the value of the MT. Students and supervisors both rated how they perceived the process of the MT on Likert-type scales from 0 (not satisfied at all) to 10 (very satisfied). Finally, students rated the perceived quality of supervision in eight Likert-type questions (from − 2, “totally disagree” to + 2, “totally agree”) while the supervisors self-rated their supervision quality using the same scale (for specific questions, see Supplementary File 2 ). The mean value of these eight answers was taken as a compound score for ‘perceived supervision quality’. With this, we aimed to control for supervision quality as a potential confounder.

Data handling

The interviews were audiotaped and subsequently transcribed using the software ‘MaxQDA’ [ 32 ]. Participants did not review their transcripts (mainly, to reduce social desirability bias). All information with the potential to identify persons or institutions was anonymised.

Qualitative content analysis

From the anonymized transcripts, qualitative content analysis was conducted according to Mayring [ 33 ]. All comments pertinent to the research question, “ Which factors and supervision strategies facilitated or hindered the progress of a Master Thesis? ”, were extracted and then sorted into main categories and further subcategories. To derive the main categories, four researchers (MB, AW, AA, JB) independently analysed 20% of the transcripts with respect to the research question. The final main categories were agreed upon after discussion by all four researchers. The comments were classified into ‘positive’, ‘negative’, or ‘neutral’. To evaluate facilitating factors, only positive and negative comments were used. Lastly, comments were compared between students and supervisors, and PMT and UMT groups.

Sample size

We assumed that sufficient saturation of information (‘information power’ according to Malterud et al.) [ 34 ] was reached at 6–10 interview pairs per PMT and UMT group, respectively. In total, 24–40 single interviews were proposed. Given the qualitative study purpose we deliberately did not perform statistical comparison.

In summary, we conducted 40 Interviews corresponding to 20 MTs (22 PMTs and 18 UPTs). All persons invited agreed to be interviewed. 6 students were female, 14 male, and the median student age at the time of the MT submission was 25 (range 24–28). No differences were apparent between PMT and UMT or between females and males. Of the supervisors, 6 were female and 14 male. Academic ranks (and ages) were slightly higher for UMT supervisors. Further details are provided in Supplementary File 3 . The median interview duration of all interviews was 27 min (range 19–42).

In the following, we outline the most important findings according to the main categories ‘Preparation’, ‘Process’, ‘Atmosphere’ and ‘Value of the MT’.

From the transcripts, we extracted 469 relevant comments, 380 of which were positive and 89 negative. Table  1 gives a quantitative overview of all comments by categories and subcategories. Detailed information on subcategories, including verbatim quotes, is provided in Table  2 .


Both students and supervisors expressed it was highly important to select an appropriate working partner, and in this, they found an orientating interview was most valuable (student quote 1b: ‘ I chose him based on my gut instinct ’ [during the meeting]). Students stated that exchange with fellow students also helped to decide on specific supervisors. However, the main driver for students to decide on a project was a strong interest in the topic (student quote 4: ‘ I […] wanted to get an exciting view into the specialization [field]…’ ). Supervisors found it important that students could think over the project for some time (supervisor quote 3: ‘ I always tell them to think about it for several nights …’ ). Supervisors also commented on the resources provided online by the university (regulations, advisory handbook, best practice examples), which some regarded as redundant and confusing, and others found helpful.

With respect to the most important goals behind the MT, students and supervisors cited acquiring scientific skills and skills in scientific writing. In addition, both parties indicated an intrinsic interest in the topic was paramount. Publishing the thesis as a journal article was mentioned far more often by students and supervisors of PMT cases. In addition, students of PMTs more often stated they intended to take up a residency in the field of the MT. Further details are provided in Supplementary File 4 .

Students and supervisors found it important for students to have a clear understanding of what was expected. Both sides stated that the research plan helped to outline the expectations for content, amount of work, and deadlines (supervisor quote 7: ‘We had a research plan which needed to be realistic.’ ). In addition, concise time management was found important. On this issue, more interviewees of the PMT group than of the UMT group made positive comments. According to some supervisors, students lacked the necessary basic scientific skills to autonomously conduct a MT (supervisor quote 10: ’ A lot of the students come with too little knowledge about statistics, …’ ), and some claimed that the university should have prepared students better.


Both interviewee groups highlighted the importance of offering feedback in correcting students and offering support if needed (student quote 11b: ‘ Corrections during the writing process would have been helpful. ’). Negative comments in this respect were more frequent in the UMT group. Many comments were related to timely feedback, which helped students to maintain enthusiasm (student quote 12: ‘The biggest advantage was that my supervisor responded very quickly to my mails’ ). Conversely, negative feedback was reported as lowering motivation. Two students reported negative feedback as having led to frustration and discouragement. As a further hindrance, two students of UMTs experienced a hierarchical imbalance, which made them feel unable to provide bottom-up feedback (student quote 15: ‘we just weren’t on eye level’ ). In addition, students stated that a poor relationship decreased the supervisors’ opportunity to take up feedback and suggestions from students.

With respect to personal traits, both students and supervisors valued showing a high motivation for the project. Positive comments were more frequent in the PMT group. The motivational factors mentioned most by students and supervisors of both PMT and UMT cases were intrinsic interest in the topic and a desire to acquire or pass on scientific skills.

‘Value of the master thesis’

Overall, interviewees attributed a high value to the MT. They expressed high to very high satisfaction with the process and the product of the thesis, with slightly higher satisfaction for supervisors and PMT cases (for details see Supplementary File 5 ). More PMT students and supervisors found that the value of the MT went beyond just being part of the curriculum. Most interviewees thought the MT was an important element of the curriculum that offered significant opportunities to acquire scientific skills (supervisor quote 17: ‘ Ideally the MT is an eye opener where students realize if research is a kind of work they like .’).

Satisfaction with the process and quality of supervision

Satisfaction with the MT process was rated with a mean of 8.75 ± 1.22 SD (of 10) points by supervisors, and 7.80 ± 1.61 points by students, while supervision quality was rated  +  1.51 ± 0.63 SD (scale from − 2 to + 2) by supervisors, and +  1.26 ± 0.93 SD by students.

The quality of supervision was rated high to very high (overall mean: +1.39 on a scale from − 2 to + 2) (see Supplementary File 6 ). Supervisors self-rated their supervision quality slightly higher than the students did (supervision quality scale + 1.51 vs. +1.27), and in the PMT group, mean values were also higher (+ 1.46 vs. +1.32). However, the differences were small, and based on the considerations above we did not perform statistical analysis. Of note, the lowest ratings of supervisors by students were found in relation to ‘clarity of working instructions’.

This qualitative study explored factors that facilitate and hinder conducting a MT in medicine in the views of students and supervisors. By including both the student and the supervisor perspective, we gained a balanced picture and by conducting the interviews independently we were able to avoid potential hierarchical power issues between the parties. The interviews showed high agreement and consistency between students and supervisors. While strengthening the validity of the findings in general, the agreement between students and supervisors also points towards the importance of a mutual understanding in the sense of an educational alliance.

Using an inductive approach, we identified facilitating factors for the MT and sorted them into the main categories ‘Preparation’, ‘Process’, ‘Atmosphere’, and ‘Value of the MT’. In the following, we will discuss these findings in respect to the components of the EA (clarity and agreement on goals, tasks, relationships & roles).

Clarity and agreement on goals

Very much in line with the EA, one of the most important success factors delineated in the main categories ‘Preparation’ and ‘Process’ was that supervisors and students aspired to reach common goals, e.g., acquiring or passing on of scientific skills. To align goals, both students and supervisors stressed that it was important to invest in a thorough preparation of the thesis. The importance of common goals is further indicated by the different motivations we found between the PMT and UMT groups. For PMTs, students and supervisors shared the aim of publishing the thesis as a journal article, which was presumably associated with higher (aligned) intrinsic motivation. Furthermore, PMT students more frequently regarded the MT as a step towards graduate training in the respective field. Achieving clarity and alignment of goals in advance definitively supports the development of an effective working alliance, and the literature outside of medical education mentions the need to address deficits in this area for better alignment between students and supervisors [ 14 ].

‘Clarity of expectations’ was another important finding from the interviews which goes in line with the EA. Linking the goals to the necessary time, engagement and resources provided a reliable framework for the MT process. Providing and maintaining this framework is an important competency that supervisors should develop (or should be trained for) [ 16 ].

Support for an effective EA could also come from the university curriculum. Our data underline the importance of carefully planning the curricular activities around the MT, including appropriate content and time points for courses in statistics, research design, and project management. In this sense, the university should complement the preparation by students and supervisors towards an effective EA.

Clarity and agreement on tasks

Our findings reflect the EA component ‘clarity and agreement on tasks’ in a couple of subcategories under the main category ‘Process’. Students’ and supervisors’ comments on research plans, corresponding timelines, and the availability of resources highlight the significance of task clarity. In accordance, negative experiences by students mostly related to a lack of clear working instructions.

Most supervisors aimed to guide students towards increasing independence during the project, which is regarded a powerful driver for learning [ 35 ]. However, shaping this process of gradually and effectively fading out also calls for specific supervisor training [ 16 ].

Clarity and agreement on relationships & roles

The EA component ‘clarity and agreement on relationships & roles’ is well reflected by our main category ‘Atmosphere’ including feedback quality, reliability, motivational factors, and personal relationship. All these factors were regarded as important to success by both interviewee groups. High feedback quality helped to create a reliable working atmosphere, and conversely, some of the negative comments from respondents illustrate that receiving negative or non-informative feedback hindered the development of autonomy and reduced motivation. This confirms findings from research education in STEM disciplines [ 35 ].

Also in line with the EA component of relationships & roles, students and supervisors highlighted that showing enthusiasm and being proactive (for both sides) was beneficial for progress. Similar needs for appropriate contact have been reported for educational one-to-one relationships in GP residency training, [ 36 ] or undergraduate clinical electives [ 27 ].

Differences between groups

Overall, we found only discrete differences between PMTs and UMTs, mainly related to motivational factors such as aiming for a publication and planning graduate training in the field of the MT. Two hypotheses may explain why the differences were so remarkably low. First, students and supervisors had deliberately matched their expectations before starting the project. Therefore, PMT students with higher aspirations might have been more tolerant of frustrations during the project. Second, students and supervisors of the PMT cases had set their goals higher and were selected for interviewing based on their success, meaning that both had succeeded in their ‘aligned’ project. In this respect, the students and supervisors in UMT cases had also succeeded in their aligned (‘lower’) goals, which would explain why the differences between the two groups were relatively small. However, supervisors of UMT cases were slightly more senior with slightly higher academic ranks. It could be speculated that they had more experience in tailoring the MT process to the needs of the student. Importantly, UMTs should not be mistaken for non-success-cases, as these MTs were also successfully completed and thus likely stimulated a positive recollection of events.

Self-ratings by supervisors were slightly higher than those provided by students, which fits with the literature showing inconsistent correlations between supervisor and student ratings of teaching quality [ 37 ]. The major explanation given for this is that the constructs for supervision quality differ between students and supervisors [ 37 ].


With this study, we identified factors and strategies facilitating the MT process. The findings imply that the EA could serve as a valuable framework to guide the process. Incorporating these findings could address deficits outlined by the existing literature on undergraduate thesis writing, such as poor alignment of expectations or a lack of supervisor training [ 14 , 16 ]. The EA could also contribute to a more holistic understanding of doctoral student - supervisor relationships and could be a helpful framework for supervisor training [ 9 , 10 , 11 , 12 , 13 ].

Based on our findings, we provide practical recommendations for each of the three parties involved (students, supervisors, and the university) summarized in Table  3 .

Strengths and Limitations

As one strength of this study, we interviewed students and supervisors of the same MTs, thereby analyzing the MT process from two perspectives. As a second strength we compared PMTs and UMTs, contrasting potentially more successful projects to standard outcomes. For this purpose, we based our definition on publication metrics, although these metrics have been criticized for good reasons [ 38 ] and are not the only way to define success [ 39 ]. Notably, some research fields in medicine have differing publication cultures and are thus likely under-represented.

A weakness of this study may be the single center setting with limited generalizability, given that other universities might lay a different focus on research activities. As a second limitation, we did not actively search for poorly conducted or failed MTs to compare with the success cases. Further potential biases include a selection bias and positive recall bias since the experiences took place at least two years ago. Further research should address whether faculty development based on the EA framework could improve satisfaction with and success of MTs. In addition, the significance and impact of each of the components of the EA could be analysed in detail.


We conducted semi-structured interviews with 20 students and 20 supervisors of MTs in undergraduate medical education to determine the facilitating and hindering factors for the MT process. The factors derived from qualitative content analysis were then related to the framework of the Educational Alliance (EA; drawing on ‘clarity and agreement on goals, tasks, and relationship & roles’). We found that the EA clearly serves as a valuable concept to address important shortcomings of MT processes. We therefore recommend the EA as a useful guide for students, supervisors, and the university in conducting successful MTs.

Data Availability

The datasets used and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request, or are included in the supplementary information files of this article.


Educational Alliance

European Credit Transfer System

Journal Impact Factor

  • Master thesis

published master thesis

Science Citation Index

unpublished master thesis

science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (disciplines)

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We thank Andrea Althaus, former researcher at the Center for Medical Humanities, Institute for Biomedical Ethics and History, University of Zurich, who assisted in research methodology and participated in developing the main categories for the coding process. We also thank Rainer Weber, former Dean of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Zurich, for supporting this research project, and Gerhard Rogler, Chair of the Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, University Hospital of Zurich, for supporting the development of the interview guide. For critical reading of the first manuscript version, we thank Olle ten Cate (University of Utrecht). Finally, we cordially thank all (former) students and supervisors of MTs who gave their precious time participating in the interviews.

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M.B.: collected the data, developed and refined the interview guide, transcribed, coded and analyzed the data and wrote the manuscript draft. A.N.W.B.: contributed to the study concept, developing main categories, interpretation, and critical review of manuscript. F.C.: contributed to the study concept, interpretation, and critically reviewed the manuscript. J.B.: conceptualized the study, developed the interview guide, performed data collection, data analysis, writing of manuscript.

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This study was granted exemption by the Ethical Committee of the Canton of Zurich (BASEC Req-2018-00345). The research was performed in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki. All participants gave informed written consent to participate in the study (available upon reasonable request from the corresponding author). Information with the potential to identify individuals or institutions was anonymized before data analysis.

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Brenner, M., Weiss-Breckwoldt, A.N., Condrau, F. et al. Does the ‘Educational Alliance’ conceptualize the student - supervisor relationship when conducting a master thesis in medicine? An interview study. BMC Med Educ 23 , 611 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12909-023-04593-7

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Holy Sobriety in Modern Russia: Three Questions with Page Herrlinger

Monday, august 28, 2023.

Drawing on multiple archives and primary sources, including secret police files and samizdat,  Holy Sobriety in Modern Russia : A Faith Healer and His Followers  reconstructs the history of a spiritual movement that survived persecution by the Orthodox church and decades of official atheism, and still exists today. Page Herrlinger examines the lived religious experience and official repression of this primarily working-class community over the span of Russia’s tumultuous twentieth century, crossing over—and challenging—the traditional divide between religious and secular studies of Russia and the Soviet Union, and highlighting previously unseen patterns of change and continuity between Russia’s tsarist and socialist pasts.

1. What is your favorite anecdote from your research for this book?

Over a decade ago, I made my first visit to a prayer meeting held by the community of sober followers of “Brother Ioann” Churikov in St. Petersburg. The meeting was held in a dilapidated church, which still smelled much like the dairy it had been during the Soviet years. Other than the location, what struck me most was the fact that the meeting’s form and content were exactly the same as if it had taken place over a century ago– even same image of Brother Ioann posted in front of the church near the icons was the same.

As I soon found out, this was not a recreation or revival of a pre-revolutionary custom (like the post-Soviet trend of cooking with tsarist-era recipes, for example). On the contrary, the sober community had survived through decades of official atheism and continued its practices underground throughout the era of Soviet atheism. Although I would later discover that the continuity in their movement was not as seamless as I had initially thought, I knew I had to find out more, and that’s how this project was born. 

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book that you know now?

Many studies of Russia’s history in the twentieth-century have focused on the massive, and often destructive, force of Soviet state policies on ordinary people. This is understandable, given the central role that the Soviet state played in transforming society along ideological and political lines. And yet, while my own research also revealed the devastating costs of official intolerance and state-sanctioned violence in the realm of religious life, it also taught me how incredibly resilient and courageous the Soviet people could be even in the face of totalitarian repression. Most of all, it highlighted for me the importance in Russia’s history of faith-based communities in everyday life, including the one at the center of this study. 

[I]t also taught me how incredibly resilient and courageous the Soviet people could be even in the face of totalitarian repression.

Although the Putin regime has attempted to reassert the primacy of the Russian Orthodox Church over the last twenty plus years, it is important to understand that Putin’s insistence on the Russian Orthodox faith as a foundation stone of national identity is part of a political strategy. To be sure, many Russians identify as Orthodox by choice, but Russia remains a society comprised of diverse religious traditions and communities. 

3. How do you wish you could change your field?

While there is no doubt that the field of modern Russian history has become a lot more vibrant in the last 30 years since the opening up of archives after the fall of communism, in many ways it has remained “top-down” in approach– that is, either viewed from the perspective of state actors or driven by state and/or driven by state or institutional source materials. Even when the lives of ordinary people are discussed, their perspectives have been filtered (and distorted) through an official (and highly ideological) lens, and they are often reduced to victims of state power and ideologies. The focus has also been overwhelmingly secular. But the lives of ordinary Russian people were and are far more diverse and interesting than existing scholarship lets on, and their agency in their daily lives was sometimes more significant than commonly understood. By centering on an alternative community of religious believers, and by focusing on everyday life and the problems that matter most to people – questions of faith, health, addiction, and family – this book offers a unique account of Russian society and culture in the twentieth century, and one that might be of interest to a wider audience of readers.  

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Page Herrlinger is Associate Professor of History at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where she teaches courses on nineteenth and twentieth century Russia and Europe.


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