Methodologicalnotes onwriting a thesisDavid AlexanderUniversity College London
Research:an individual process of discoverywhich is often very solitaryand which involves an elementof risk of failure.If that element of risk of failuredoes not exist, perhaps theresearch is not worth doing...
Research is divided into:-• inductive and deductive types• empirical and review typesThe most mediocre and uninterestingresearch, that which is leastsuccessful, is inductive: unfortunatelyit is also the most common type...
Induction: the inference of a generalprinciple from particular instancesDeduction: the inference ofparticular instances from a[hypothesized] general principle
Carl HempelKarl PopperConfirmationObservationHypothesisTheory DeductionTheoryInductionTentativehypothesisPatternObservation
Induction: the inference of ageneral law from particular instancesDeduction: the inference ofparticular instances from a[hypothesized] general law.
Empirical research via deductive method• formulate a hypothesis• collect data in order to verifythe hypothesis• analyse the data to do this• verify the hypothesis in thelight of the data analysis.
Two strategies:-1. The funnel: begin with a giganticproblem and try to reduce it tosomething that is small enoughto be tackled in the thesis-- a bad, bad strategy!2. The inverse funnel: begin with aproblem that seems too modest tobe worth studying and add more andmore elements until it is large enoughto be worth writing a thesis about-- the right strategy!!
In other words, better to "seethe world in a grain of sand" thantry to see how many grains ofsand there are in the world...Begin with a hypothesis about a modestrelationship between two phenomenaDevise or find a method to verify itCreate a model and a procedureto conduct the verificationIf the work seems to be too little,raise your sights and add more.
What is a hypothesis?a vague sensation that there isa cause-and-effect relationshipbetween two phenomena• the relationship must be verifiablein the time and with the resourcesof data and equipment thatare available to the student• in the hypothesis, we assume, supposeand propose (but we do not know).e si propone (ma non si sa)
Null hypothesis:-H0: there is no relationship [of causeand effect] between A and BAlternative hypothesis:-H1: a relationship does existbetween A and B
Careful! Correlation does not provethe existence of a cause-effectrelationship, only of covariation.There are many kinds of relationship...A --> BA --> C --> BB --> AA <--> BA <-- C --> BCorrelation analysis is widelyused in inductive research...
The use of models:-A model is a simplification of realitydesigned to render it more comprehensible... by selecting the elements that aremost useful to explanation andreducing them to an elegant minimum,... but without reductio ad absurdam.
Chapters of an empirical thesis1 - Introduction2 - Literature review3 - Data collection methods4 - Data analysis5 - Results6 - Discussion and conclusions
Summary:-• Introduction - area of study• The problem - that I intend to tackle• What the literature says aboutthis problem (NOT the area of study)• How I tackle this problem(methods and methodology)• What happened when I did it(analysis, results)• What the implications are(discussion, conclusion).
1. Introduction• the problem - general area of study• the problem - specific introduction• the hypothesis• introduction to the area wherethe hypothesis will be tested -or the conditions underwhich that will happen.
2. Literature review• what do we already knowabout the problem in question?• the review must be specific tothe problem at hand, not general• it is essential to be selective inones treatment of the literature.
Literature survey:-• Find sources• Make a list of references• Read each paper or chapter selectively• Paraphrase - summarise - quote extracts• Make an outline• Organise notes into the outline• Turn it into a proper written account.
Typical defects of aliterature review chapter• the review and the choice ofliterature are not sufficientlyspecific to the problem under study• the treatment is acritical• the writer tries to tackle, andperhaps solve, too many problems.
3. Data collection• describe the data collection methods• describe the problems encounteredand solutions adopted during thedata collection phase of the work• describe the data collected- various choices encountered- explain the choices- how the data will contribute to theverification of the hypothesis.
5. Results• describe the results obtainedfrom the data analysis• graphics and tables of results• use the analysis to verify hypothesis• sensitivity and variation of the results• confidence limits and intervals.
6. Conclusions• "the result of the results"• what can be deduced from the results• the wider significance of the results• and, to conclude, a summary ofthe work that remains to be done...The conclusion allows you to revisitthe introduction with the benefitof the knowledge gained by yourresearch and analysis.
BibliographyAppendices• use the "Harvardsystem" of references
Citing published literature• citations must beconsistent and complete• be careful to observeproper academic conventions.
"Harvard style"Alexander, D.E. 2002. Principles of Emergency Planning andManagement. Oxford University Press, New York, 340 pp.Alexander, D.E. 2005. Towards the development of astandard in emergency planning. Disaster Prevention andManagement 14(2): 158-175.Alexander, D.E. 2005. Vulnerability to landslides. InT. Glade, M. Anderson and M. Crozier (eds) LandslideHazard and Risk. Wiley, Chichester, UK: 175-198.Surname. Name or Initials. Year. Title of book.Publisher, place of publication, pages.Surname; Name or Initials, Year. Title ofarticle. Journal Volume no. (and issue): Pages.
"Harvard style"Citations in the text:-Alexander (2005)(Alexander 2005)(Alexander 2005a, 2005b)etc.
The abstract - a 250 wordsummary of what is in the thesis• not an introduction but a summary• make it balanced: problem -analysis - results - conclusions• a few words each.
Avoid:-• using a style that is toopedantic or pseudo-scientific• confusion of any kind (in theanalysis, visual aspects,observations, references, etc.)Promote:-• a simple, clear style• a spartan, economic analysis• a sober but lively style.
"In order to stake their claims to territory andresources, people with long-standing place-basedaffiliations are often obliged to foreground theenduring success of their adaptation to variable localenvironments. But what an appreciation of the collidingtemporalities manifest in the natural hazard alerts usto is the likelihood that adaptive strategies are hardwon, painfully accrued, and inevitably provisional."Clark et al. 2013. Geographical Journal 179(3): 108.Avoid this sort of academic writingAT ALL COSTS:write simply and clearly.
Learn how to....• choose a problem, a topic anda form of analysis that can becompleted the available time• apply a deductive methodologyto the chosen research problem• tackle a problem that can be solvedin a few months, not many years• not enlarge th scale of analysisbeyond what is strictly necessary.