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Suggested dissertation template for systematic review studies
Getting the structure of your dissertation right is a tricky but extremely important task. There is no ‘one’ right way to structuring a dissertation thesis as the structure will vary depending on your research topic and what you are trying to achieve. Please make sure that you discuss and plan the structure of your thesis with your supervisor as he/she will be best placed to support you with this. The following provides an example of one way you may want to structure your dissertation (systematic review studies only).
In total your dissertation must be between 15,000 and 20,000 words. It should be written in a clear standard font type (usually Times New Roman, Arial or Calibri font), size 12, with 1.5 lines spacing, and 2.54 cm margins space (top, bottom, left and right margins). Please note that your title page, contents page, abstract, tables, figures, diagrams, references and appendices do not count towards your word limit.
Title page
The must include the name of the unit, the title of your dissertation, the date and your full name (with your student number), and the name of your degree title (please use the phrase ‘Submitted in part fulfilment for the award of…’ (title of your award/degree))
Declaration page
Please edit the following statement as appropriate:
This study was completely undertaken and written by author add your name.
The author used his own words or images, and ideas.
After conducting the study, author has formed the results from his/her work.
This study was not copied from the scripts of other authors or candidates, and no unauthorised materials were used. No false information has been included.
Acknowledgements (optional)
You can list the people who have helped you, ensuring that you use correct titles, names and qualifications (if these are necessary). You should exercise care in making reference to individuals if they have supplied confidential, contentious or embarrassing information or opinions.
Contents page
Be sure to provide page numbers for the different sections and sub-sections (do this last). It is usual for material preceding the contents page to be numbered in Roman numerals, with the remainder using Arabic numerals. A list of figures and tables (if used) should be given on a separate page. These should be consecutively numbered in the text. Again, you may find it easier to number them at the end of the writing process, especially if you have quite a few. Please number sections and sub-sections.
Abstract (250-350 words)
Your abstract should aim to succinctly summarise key background literature, your rationale, aims, methods, findings, conclusions and implications.
Chapter 1: Introduction (approximately 1000-2000 words)
- Succinctly and explicitly state what study you are proposing to carry out
- Provide key background literature. You should try to take a ‘funnel’ approach to describing and critically evaluating key background literature to your study. This involves starting with general and broadly relevant literature, then progressively citing literature which is more and more specific, and finally by providing literature which is most specifically relevant to your study
- Provide an explicit and convincing rationale as to why this study is important to carry out. State what the possible implications your proposed study might have, and what contribution it adds to the existing body of knowledge in this area. Your rationale should be at least partially based on the background literature that you have introduced.
- Clearly state your research question(s), research aim(s) and study objective(s),you’re your study hypotheses (if you have any)
Chapter 2: Literature review (approximately 4000-5000 words)
- This chapter needs very careful planning. Before you start writing it, you should discuss with your supervisor what the best way of structuring this chapter should be, and what content should be prioritised for it.
- The overall aim of this chapter is to provide the context, background and set the scene for your study.
- One way of approaching this chapter is to write 3 – 5 mini essays (around 1000 words each) that cover the key themes in your proposed study. Together, these mini-essays should provide all of the most key previous studies, theories and conceptual knowledge related to your study. The word count may not appear to be restrictive at first glance, but once you begin writing you will likely realise very quickly that you will need to be very strategic about which 3000-5000 words you choose to include.
- For systematic review dissertation studies, it is particularly important not to review literature that directly attempts to address your research question(s). This task is the study itself, whereas this chapter is purely for background and context purposes. This is an important difference to primary research dissertation studies.
- Try to use this chapter to evidence your ability to think critically. This will likely mean critically appraising individual studies and theories, as well as critically appraising and reflecting at the end of each of your mini-essays. Two particularly important critical questions to ask are ‘what is the quality of the evidence being presented in a particular study or set of studies?’ and ‘what are the evidence gaps?’
Chapter 3: Method (approximately 3000 words)
This is a key chapter and your opportunity to evidence your research methodology knowledge and understanding. If you complete this methods chapter effectively, you should have provided enough detail for another research to replicate your study. Please always write this chapter in the past tense. Please also try to avoid writing generic text that is not directly relevant to your study. A suggested structure:
- Research design/approach: Begin by explicitly stating what your study design/approach was. Explain what this design/approach means and provide a clear justification for its choice (what advantages did it afford you in addressing your research question[s]?).
- Inclusion and exclusion criteria: Very clearly state the inclusion and exclusion criteria you set in this study. Provide rationale and justification for each criterion.
- Searching strategy: State what your search keyword terms were (provide Boolean operators). Describe which literature databases you searched, what each literature each database targets, and provide clear rationale for these choices. Describe the other searching techniques you may have used (e.g. reference list checking, emailing authors, manual/hand-searching).
- Screening strategy: Clearly describe how screened your search results against your inclusion and exclusion criteria. What screening stages were involved in identifying the appropriate literature?
- Data extraction: Describe how you extracted your data. Which software did you use? What extraction columns did you create and what data were you targeting in your extraction?
- Quality appraisal: Describe how you quality appraised each study, and what scoring/evaluation system you implemented. What were the implications of studies with stronger or weaker evidence? For example, did the appraisal result in various studies being excluded in the analysis?
- Ethical issues: Describe the ethical issues which were pertinent and relevant to your study. Explain what each issue means, why they are important and relevant in this study, and how you addressed them during the study. These are likely to be minimal in a systematic review. Also state which institutions granted you ethical approval and how this was sought.
- Analysis: Describe your evidence synthesis and data analysis method. If you conducted a meta-analysis, explain your reasons for its adoption and how the meta-analysis was conducted. If you only narratively analysed your data, explain why a meta-analysis was not appropriate. Also explain your approach to your narrative analysis.
Chapter 4: Results (approximately 2000-3000 words)
This chapter is highly descriptive. It involves describing in a structured manner what the exact findings were without interpretation (this is left to your discussion chapter). You will very likely find presenting your data in tables and figures very useful. Please spend time ensuring that any tables and figures you use are very well presented (for example, do not just copy and paste tables or forest plots directly from software programs), titled clearly and accurately, and are referred to within your text. Some good tips for this chapter are:
• focus on the key results – i.e. the ones that answer your research question(s)
• be clear and concise - make sure your readers know exactly which results you are describing
• do not go into too much detail - you only need to direct your readers to important and relevant findings and information
• however, be careful not to omit anything important- your readers were not involved in your research study so you need to tell them what you exactly you found
• you must talk about every table, figure and chart you include. If it is not worth talking about, leave it out!
• make life easier for your readers by simplifying your results. For example, 75% is easier to understand than 150 out of 200, and 'nearly 10%’ is easier to digest than 9.98%
• describe your results. Do not explain or discuss them - this is what the discussion section is for.
Chapter 5: Discussion (approximately 4000-5000 words)
- This is one of the most important parts of your dissertation and you again have an excellent opportunity here to evidence your ability to think critically.
- Begin by succinctly summarising your key findings (but avoid repetition of your results).
- Next, you need to interpret and explain what these findings mean and to address your research question(s). If you set out to test a theory and hypothesis, what were the test findings and what implications do they have for theory? If you set out to explore a theory, how do your findings add to existing theory?
- Critically consider where your results fit in relation to existing literature and the existing evidence-base. This is where you can and should link in with your literature review chapter. Think about how your results and findings compare with previous research, where the differences and similarities are, and theorise as to why the findings are different or similar to previous studies.
- What are the implications of your findings? What significance do they have for relevant public health policy and professionals?
- Critically evaluate your own study. What were the strengths and weaknesses of the study and what implications do these have when readers consider your findings? This is an important subsection as it is one way of evidencing your ability to think critically, and helps the reader understand how powerful this study’s findings are.
Chapter 6: Conclusion (approximately 1000-2000 words)
This is the final chapter in your dissertation. You should:
- Succinctly summarise your study from beginning to end. Remind the reader what your research questions were, why they were important to examine, the methods you used, what the key findings were and what the key implications of the study are.
- Future research: What future research do you think needs to be conducted in order to follow-up and build upon what you have found in your study?
- Reflective thoughts about the study (optional): Here you can reflect upon your experiences of completing your dissertation, for example - what did you learn, where you surprised by anything in particular, how might you have done things differently if you started this study again?
- Final thoughts: Provide any concluding thoughts and remarks.
- As usual, please use the University’s Harvard referencing system. Carefully and accurately provide a list of references for all of the literature that you have cited in this proposal.
These are intended to give you the opportunity to provide supplementary materials that support the discussion and analysis in the main text. Do not include unrelated and unnecessary appendices. Examples of appendices include supporting information such as the data collection tools used, ethical clearance documents, etc. The exact nature of the appendices will vary with the type of study undertaken.