- Clarify research questions. In the early stages of preparing for your dissertation, objectives and research questions can still be rather vague and open-ended. When embarking on primary research, however, you must begin by clarifying your guiding questions, or risk losing all focus. Word your questions precisely, write them down, know them back to front.
- Methodological alternatives. There is always some element of choice between competing research methodologies. Researching the nature and implications of each relevant methodology is a task in itself, and should be undertaken thoroughly. List alternatives and weigh up their comparative benefits and pitfalls.
- Comparable studies. Search for published studies with a similar scope and comparable aims in order to find potential models or inspiration for your own approach. Often this will throw up reminders of unexpected hurdles and challenges which are far more manageable when identified in advance.
- Planning your time. Primary research can be a long drawn out process, one that can spiral out of control if constraints are not put in place. A realistic and reasonably flexible time plan can be a useful tool to keep you on track in addressing your research questions.
- Ethical questions. Some subject areas are clearly more ethically loaded than others, but most projects with need to make at least some minor ethical considerations. Data protection assurances and individual confidentiality are just two common concerns which should be addressed directly.
- Less is not more. It is possible to cut down and edit large volumes of data when it is found that you haven’t the space to incorporate it all; not so the other way round. Ensure that your primary research is substantial enough that you will not be in the unenviable position of desperately trying to pad out your data analysis chapter.
- Systematic data collection and analysis. Some primary research endeavours will gather so much information that the lack of a systematic approach can be disastrous. Get serious about filing, keep digital as well as hard copies, and don’t count on memory alone to distinguish between data sets.
- Quantitative. When gathering quantitative data you should be mindful in advance of the applicability of various statistical measures to the data you are collecting. Questions of precision, accuracy and reliability all figure here, and should heavily inform the way you go about conducting your quantitative research.
- Qualitative. The classic concern with qualitative research centres on the issue of how far data from small samples can be generalised. But shortcomings in quantity are made up for with richness of detail and narrative. Design interviews and discussion topics which do more than scratch the surface.
- Development. While it is important to maintain focus on the initial research questions, bear in mind the usefulness of following your instincts when your research appears to develop momentum in a particular direction. Do not stray too far from your stated aims, but be mindful of issues peripheral to your centre of focus.
Helpful links: Dissertation Examples, Primary Research Writing, Oxbridge Primary Research