Guide to writing projects, theses and dissertations

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The purpose of an introduction in an empirical research report is to introduce the problem area, establish its importance and indicate the author’s perspective on the problem. Introductions usually conclude with an explicit statement of the research hypothesis, or questions to be explored in the study. When the introduction is usually long, it is a good idea to use subheadings. Some researchers usually break down the Introduction into a) Background to the problem, b) Statement of the problem, c) Importance of the study etc. Generally, the introduction also provides the theoretical basis for the study. In a journal article, the introduction is usually integrated with the literature review. In theses, dissertations and special research projects, it is common to have an introduction first followed by the literature review. The literature review is usually used to provide the background history of the problem.

The proposal's theoretical section occupies a critical position in the proposal's text. You must at once demonstrate mastery of the problem, highlight critical theoretical debates, point to shortcomings in existing research and approaches, and indicate how your work will help fill the void. The primary purpose of your theoretical review is to demonstrate your familiarity with present intellectual currents and concerns. Your review should not, however, be a general survey of the field. Your discussion must quickly situate you and your work within the context of the field's theoretical themes. At all times, keep in mind that your theoretical review must justify your research question and help determine your research design. Point out debates and disjuncture; expose the cracks and highlight the payoffs. Your second primary task in reviewing existing theory and literature is to justify the need for, and interest in, your proposed research. Justification for research can come from a variety of sources. At one level, new events or developments may justify an empirical review of a long-accepted theory's empirical foundations (e.g., why no democratization in places with a strong middle class?). You may also highlight rival claims within the literature of your field that can only be resolved through empirical work (e.g., some claim peasants are motivated by economic forces, others say they are not). Regardless, attempt to highlight internal contradictions in the existing literature. Then demonstrate how your work will contribute to their resolution. The following guidelines will help you write a good introduction and literature review.

  1. Start the introduction by describing the general problem area and gradually shift the focus to the specific area of interest and end with statement of research objectives of hypotheses.

  2. The importance of a topic should be explicitly stated in the introduction of a term paper, thesis or dissertation

  3. A statement of importance should be specific to the topic to be investigated.

  4. Use the first person (I) if it facilitates the smooth flow of the introduction\

  5. The literature review should be presented in the form of an essay and not in the form of an annotated list. An annotation is a brief summary of contents while a literature review is an essay organized around a topic outline that takes the reader from topic to topic.

  6. The literature review should emphasize the findings of previous research and not just the research methodologies and names of variables studied.

  7. Point out trends and themes in the existing literature

  8. Point out gaps in the literature. What the previous studies covered and what they failed to cover and how your study will fill this gap.

  9. Consider pointing out the number or percentage of people who are affected by the problem you are studying.

  10. Point out how your study differs from previous studies

  11. Fell free to comment on the quality and importance of the research you are reviewing.

  12. Use direct quotes sparingly in literature reviews.

  13. Consider using literature to provide the historical context of your study. In other words, use literature review to build the background to the problem you intend to study.

In a single sentence, a research hypothesis describes the results that a researcher expects to find. It is a prediction or an educated guess about the outcome one expects from an undertaken. There are two types a) Research hypothesis and b) Null hypothesis. A research hypothesis is the hypothesis that a researcher believes will be supported by his or her data. This type of hypothesis is often used in journal articles or articles in books. The null hypothesis on the other hand is a statistical hypothesis that states that any difference is attributable to random errors. In other words, the null hypothesis states that there is no true difference only a random one. Significant tests are then used to test the null hypothesis. In term projects, theses and dissertations students are often required to state the null hypothesis.

Example 1:

Research hypothesis:

Social standing in campus organizations is directly related to gregariousness

Null hypothesis:

  1. There is no true relationship between social standing in campus organizations and gregariousness… OR…

  2. The relationship between social standing in campus organizations and gregariousness is non-existent on CCSU campus.

Example 2.

Research hypothesis

Private school graduates have a higher proportion of fathers in high status occupations that public school graduates.

Null hypothesis:

  1. There is no true difference in the proportion of fathers in high status occupations between the populations of public school and private school graduates.

  2. The observed difference between the proportions of fathers in high status occupations for private school graduates and public school graduates is the result of chance associated with the random sampling process.

1. A research hypothesis should name two variables and indicate the type of relationship

expected between them.


  1. There is a direct relationship between the concentration of pollutants and the amount of toxins found in fish.

  2. Among rats, the length of light deprivation from birth is inversely associated with performance in a difficult task.

  3. Among college students, there is an inverse relationship between level of free-floating anxiety and ability to form friendships.

2. If the relationship among variables is expected only in a particular population,

reference must be made to that population in the hypothesis. See example 1a, 1b, and 1c.

3. A hypothesis should be simple and contained in one sentence.

4. If a comparison is to be made, the elements to be compared should be stated in the

hypothesis. Comparisons are introduced through the use of words such as “more”

less, higher, lower etc. Be sure to complete any comparisons you start with these

terms. For example: Do not write

  1. Low achieving students are more dependent on adults for psychological support. This is an incomplete sentence. An improved one will read like this…

  2. Low achieving students are more dependent on adults for psychological support than high achievers.

5. Because most hypotheses deal with groups, plural forms should be used. See the

example in 4b above.

6. A hypothesis should indicate what will be actually studies – not the possible implications of the

study or value judgments of the author. For example, do not write this:

  1. Religion is good for society. An improved form will be:…

  2. Attendance at religious services is inversely associated with student’s cheating behavior while taking classroom tests.

7. Name the variables in the order in which they occur or will be measured during the

research. a) There is a positive relationship between first semester grades earned in

college and SAT scores. In this example a natural order gas been reversed because

SAT’s are taken prior a student’s admission to college. An improved one will be (b)

There is a positive relationship between SAT scores and grades earned in college.

8. Avoid using two different terms to refer to the same variable, avoid using words such

as “prove” and “significant” in a hypothesis.

9. Avoid using exact statistical predictions in a hypothesis. For example, do not write:

  1. Thirty-five percent less bacteria contamination will be found in the air of operating rooms in which the staff wears gloves. An improved one will read as..

  2. Less bacterial contamination will be found in the air of operating rooms in which staff wears gloves.

10. In a report, a hypothesis should flow logically from the narrative that immediately precedes

it. A research report begins with an introduction and literature review and these should

logically lead the reader to the hypothesis.

11. When a number of related hypotheses are to be stated, consider presenting them in a numbered

or lettered lists.


The Research Question

Your research question is the most critical part of your research proposal -- it defines the proposal, it guides your arguments and inquiry, and it provokes the interests of the reviewer. If your question does not work well, no matter how strong the rest of the proposal, the proposal is unlikely to be successful. Because of this, it is common to spend more time on the researching, conceptualizing and forming of each individual word of the research question than on any other part of the proposal. To write a strong research question you will need time. Consider what drew you to your topic. What about it animates and matters to you? Listen to yourself and start formulating your question by following your own interests. Remember, you will spend a lot of time researching and writing about the proposed project: if it does not interest you in the beginning, it will certainly become very difficult to write about in the end. Next, extensively research your topic. What have people said about it? How have they framed their research? What gaps, contradictions, or concerns arise for you as you read, talk to people, and visit places? After you have done this, you can start crafting the question itself. When you do, consider that a strong research question should be relevant, clear, and researchable.

Hypotheses or Objectives: Sometimes researchers are not interested in examining relationships between variables or there may be too little knowledge on a topic to permit the formulation of hypothesis. Under such conditions, a research purpose (also called research objective) or research question might be substituted for a hypothesis. Following the guidelines below could help you write good research objectives.

  1. When the goal of a research is to describe group(s) without describing relationships among variables, write a research objective instead of a hypothesis. For example, if the goal of a study is to determine the level of public support for a project, the research objective might be stated as (a) The objective of this study is to determine the level of public support for the sale of special trash bags to finance the Recycling program.

  2. The research objective can also be stated as a research question. In example 1a above, the research question ca be stated as (b) What is the level of public support for the sale of special trash bags to finance the Recycling program. The choice between stating a research purpose as a question or as an objective is a matter of choosing what reads more smoothly in a particular context. One form may not be better than the other.

  3. The research objective or question should be as specific as possible yet stated concisely.

  4. When a number of related purposes are to be stated, consider presenting them in a numbered or lettered list. For example one may state the following:

In sum, the following questions guided our study:

1) How important do teachers perceive student motivation for reading in the classroom?

  1. How are teacher perceptions of student motivation related to reading achievements?

  2. To what extent do teacher perceptions of student reading motivation vary across grade levels?

  1. In a research report, the research question or research objective should flow from the narrative that immediately precedes it.

Above Materials have been adapted from:

Fred Pyrczak and Randall Bruce (2000) Writing Empirical Research Reports; a basic guide for students of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. Los Angeles, Pyrczak Publishing.

The section on methods contains a description of the physical steps you took to gather data to either disprove or confirm your hypotheses or validate the objectives of the study. Typically, the method section begins with a description of the individuals (city dwellers), objects (i.e., textbooks), or features (rivers) you studied. In reports on completed research use the past tense (I used…) to describe methods; in proposals, use the future tense (e.g. I will use…).

  1. Decide to use either subjects or participants to refer to individuals studied. Traditionally, researchers have used the term subjects to refer to these individuals but increasingly researchers are using the term participants. Other terms you may consider using include; respondents and examinees.

  2. Describe the participants in enough detail for the reader to visualize them. For example, participants’ gender and ethnic composition, age, place of residence and income. These characteristics can be presented in a table and explained in the report. As a rule, describe those that are most relevant to issues being studied.

  3. If you use a total population, name it and if you use just a sample of the population, describe the method of sampling. For example,

    1. From the population of senior citizens in the Hartford County, 250 were selected at random for this study.

  4. If some participants withdraw from the study, state the number that dropped and provide the reasons for the attrition. For example

    1. 4 boys and 3 girls dropped out of the study because their parents moved out of the school district.

  5. If you use a small sample from a population, consider providing a description of the individual participants.

  6. Describe the informed consent procedures as well as steps taken to maintain confidentiality of the date gathering process. You might sometimes be required to obtain informed consent from the individuals who will be participating in the research. You might have to prepare a consent form that describe the purpose of the study, possible benefits and harm that might result from the study and identification of those conducting the research and then give the report to participants to sign. In your report, briefly describe the use of informed consent as…

    1. Registration for the study was conditional on the person signing a consent form that indicated that he was over 18 years of age, knew he would be exposed to toxic materials and could refuse to answer any question or withdraw at any time.

    2. Measures taken to protect the rights of participants to confidentiality should also be described in the report as… A standard set of procedures was given to all test administrators. The procedures prevented participants from ….

  7. If you use measuring tools (e.g. achievement tests, attitude scales, questionnaires, surveys and interview schedules) that are unpublished, describe such tools in detail. Frequently, you may have to construct your own measuring tool (interviews, questionnaires etc) because none are available for your particular research objective. For example

    1. Attitude toward recycling was measured with a questionnaire developed for this study. It contained nine items. The first three measure attitudes toward the environment… Participants were asked to rate each statement on a 5-point scale from 1 strongly agree to 5 strongly disagree. The questionnaire is shown in Appendix A.

  8. For both published and unpublished measuring tools, provide information on reliability and validity if available.

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