To collect data for your Social Sciences master’s dissertation or perhaps a History dissertation, you may decide to design a questionnaire and carry out interviews for your research.  How exactly should you go about this?

Dissertation guide

One major obstacle can be finding suitable interviewees.  Instead of knocking on doors, use groups that are already in existence.  Over 50s clubs, mother and toddler groups or community halls can all be possible sources of interviewees.  Get in touch with the organizers and let them know you are a student rather than a professional researcher.  People seem keen to help students, although they can be wary if they think they are speaking to a journalist, so be open and honest about your intentions.

If you are invited along to speak to a group, remember to write to thank them afterwards.  You may want to return to re-interview some people at a later date, so make sure that the group thinks well of you.

Writing dissertations

Much as you should plan the dissertation structure before you start to write, prepare the questions for your questionnaire before you start interviewing people.  Your supervisor should be happy to check your questions for you before you start collecting data to make sure that your meanings are clear and that the questions pursue the information you need.

Primary Research techniques

No matter what you do, there will be some interviewees or simply do not want to speak.  They might give ‘yes’/’no’ answers and seem sullen or unresponsive.  Don’t bully them into giving you an answer!  If they won’t answer leave them be.  Some people may have been persuaded to take part in the research through peer pressure rather than really wanting to be involved.  Don’t take their silence personally.  Sometimes, analysis of a sullen interviewee might yield interesting ideas for your dissertation.

Dissertation Structure

The questionnaire should be reproduced in one of the appendices of your dissertation.  The marker needs to see how you conducted your research.

Dissertation Plan

Although it can be very tempting to deviate from the questionnaire when you conduct the interviews, you have to stick rigidly to the questionnaire with each individual to maintain a scientific basis for your research.  By sticking to the questionnaire you allow your research to be fully transparent so that the marker can clearly evaluate your abilities.

Have you started your research?  Perhaps you are still struggling with your dissertation proposal?  Let us know which stage you have reached.  Post a comment below.