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Documents you need to look at and complete before commencing your dissertation research: 

i) Please check the University's ethics pages where you will find all the information about procedure & clearance and a copy of the ethics form


The dissertation handbook has guidance on the structure and process of dissertation research & writing.  Have a look at Consent Forms.  

If you are doing a desk based study (eg no field research) the you will need to submit to your supervisor: i) an ethics form/proposal outline.  If you are doing field study then you will also need to submit: ii) an information sheet for participants and iii) a consent form.  You should ensure all of your documentation is with your supervisor before you start.

Here is some guidance on structure (this is of especial relevance to practice route students:

Abstract: A brief summary of each section; impetus, literature, reseaerch questions, case data, outcome and reflections. 

Impetus: What the background, what are the issues and questions your are seeking to address, clinical problematic or technical issue perhaps? 

Literature review: related to the case issue, or technical issue (eg play therapy).  The lit review will focus on the central theme of the theory or evidence that you are building.

Methodology: You need to locate the research methods you are using: intensive, single case study.  Qualitative research, fine grain, thin slicing inquiry.  Heuristic methods.  Nature of evidence based practice, efficacy, health commissioning, recommended guidelines (NICE), policy influenced by narrative?  

Research field study or case study:  Narrative account.  Field study may be a range of approaches methods deployed from: observation research, survey, audit, focus groups, interviews etc.  You may use a hybrid method using more than one research method.         

For students undertaking a clinical case study: This may be a longitudinal narrative, might select particular themes or issues, or might focus on a particular technique (eg use of creative materials).  The case study should be alert to the processes of consent (this might be embedded in the main text of the dissertation accompanied by some information in the appendix).  If you are seeking retrospective consent (eg an account of work with a client which you didn't initially think you would be a subject for your case study use, then your research might be called 'reflective research and require a different criteria for consent (see: Winship, G (2007) The ethics of reflective research in single case study inquiry.  Perspective in Psychiatric Care, 43, 4: 174-182 - is it ethical to contact the client after the therapy to seek retrospective consent? You will need some discussion in your dissertation about your ethical decisions and process).

The research case study serves multiple purposes:

i) it demonstrates your capacity as a practitioner in learning new skills and clinical intuition

ii) it engages you with the debate about evidence based practice 

iii) it is an opportunity for you to generate new evidence, confirm or refute old evidence (what works for whom). 


In some case study the outcome might be that something didn't work, or something went wrong: don't dismiss this as a non-viable case study; don't necessarily chose a case study that shows how great you are.  The approach needs to be critical, even it went swimmingly (which is highly improbable if there has been gain).  You need to be critical both about the technique you deploy (person centred or whatever) and also self-critical; what you did well and what you did less well. 


The other criteria for case study choice is the question of prior knowledge short fall (either your own or, even better; other peoples).  Do you have a case where;

i) there is less or no other literature, (eg the other day someone presented a case of anorexia and its links to being an only child, an as far as we can see there is no prior research here, or I heard about the case of a young Albino boy who was bullied)

ii) do you have a case where you found out something, either about the client's condition, or about the technique you have used. 

iii) Which case do you have that might be potentially useful for your colleagues to hear about?

Some of the above criteria taken together might form a sort of matrix for decision making.

Some of the above is dictated by circumstances: it is hoped that you will see a client for 20 sessions in order to generate some longitudinal data.  With 20 sessions (or more) you will have both process data and possibly some outcome (improvement or deterioration).

Case Study/results reflection: An assessment of the case material that starts to interweave theory back into the development of your argument and begins to address some of the questions or hypotheses that you situated earlier.

Discussion/Implications:  What has been learned from the research, what are the implications for your development, and more importantly are there lessons to be learned for colleagues.  What future development might your research take etc.     

What might I expect from supervision?  Here are some notes from John Mcleod:  The role of a research tutor/supervisor: some guiding principles

These are some ideas about what is involved in working effectively with students\trainees around learning about counselling and psychotherapy research, and doing a research project.

1. A research identity.  It is important for a tutor to know what he or she stands for, in relation to research, and to be willing and able to communicate this to students. It is helpful for students if a tutor can share examples from his/her own research, and is clear about the kind of research that he/she in interested in, and has experience of, and the types of research where he or she has less interest.

2. Organised resources. A tutor acts as a guide to research resources such as on-line search facilities, copies of questionnaires and interview schedules, ethics procedures, methods reading lists, etc. The tutor may not be the ultimate provider of these resources (e.g., a librarian is usually better at explaining about on-line search facilities) but needs to plan in advance to ensure that they are accessible to students, and be able to provide students with accurate information on how to find them.

3. A 'product-focused' orientation to research. Vague and generalised 'research awareness' is no good to anyone. Research is concerned with the creation of 'knowledge products' that have a function. Examples:

a. peer review of a research paper submitted to a journal;

b. critical review of the research literature that generates guidelines for practice;

c. research proposal that can lead to the generation of new knowledge and resources;

d. published article or report that becomes part of the broader literature on a topic.

A 'product-focused' approach to research is reinforced when the tutor arranges the syllabus and assignment tasks around the accomplishment of a series of practical products.

4.   Encourage students to read methodology. Typically, and understandably, students are interested in the substantive topic of their project, rather than methodology. However, in order to carry out a satisfactory project (particularly a qualitative study) it is essential to think about methodological issues.

5.  Insist, at an early stage, that the student locates a published article that will serve as a template for what they want to do. 

6.  Adopt and apprenticeship approach - at key points, be willing to demonstrate research skills (e.g., analysing sections of the student's data).

7.  Agree a timetable of work. 

Submission guidance

Full time applied route students are required to undertake a dissertation of 12,000-15,000 words.  

Practice route students irrespective of date of registration or ft/pt status are required to write a dissertation in the range 8.000-10,000 words.

You can submit your dissertation with a comb binder or some other method which will keep the papers together securely.  You should still follow the instructions about the front page, which should have the title of your work, the date of submission and your name.

Can you also please note that although your supervisor will provide appropriate support and guidance on request in the preparation, process, and writing-up stages of your work, s/he will not expect to be asked to approve detailed drafts.   Supervisors will normally read through one chapter of your work – the conclusion or introduction for example – but they will not read through a draft of the whole piece.  It is expected that, by this stage of your studies, you should not need this level of support.  Please note also that August is usually the time when many members of staff are able to take their annual leave, so you should factor this in to your planning; you may not be able to make contact with your supervisor at this time if they are on holiday.

The structure of a research paper

The majority of research articles in the field of counselling are written according to a standard format. This structure gradually evolved through the first half of the 20th century (psychology papers published during that period display a great diversity of reporting formats). The guidelines produced by the American Psychological Association (APA) have been highly influential - even among non-APA journals.  The advantage of a standard format is that it makes papers easier to read - the reader knows where to look for key pieces of information. This makes it possible to summarise complex information in a succinct manner.  The disadvantage of a standard format is that it can stifle creativity, and it may not be as appropriate for some types of report compared to others - for example, it could be argued that it is hard to write personally or reflexively within APA style .

The structure of a research paper generally adheres to the following pattern:

1.Title of the article

2.Names of authors

3.Abstract (brief summary of the paper)


5.Introductory section, which usually includes:

a.The hook: an opening statement of the general interest and significance of the topic

b.Literature review - placing the study in the context of previous research, theory and policy debates;

c.Statement of the aims of the present study, and sometimes also a brief summary of the design of the study.

Note: the introduction follows a logical progression, and tells a story that starts with a general statement of the topic, narrowing this down to specific research that has been carried out in relation to the topic, drawing some conclusions about the gaps in the literature, explaining what kind of further research is now required, and introducing the aims of the current study, which has been designed to fill some of these gaps. The introduction is mainly written in the present tense (apart from the aims bit at the end) to reflect the fact that it is a statement of established fact.

6.Method section, which usually includes a series of sections with sub-titles such as:

a.Participants - who took part in the study;

b.Measures/instruments - the techniques through which data were collected;

c.Procedures - how participants were recruited, what happened to them during the study;

d.Ethical issues;

e.The researchers - sometimes in qualitative studies there is a brief paragraph describing the background and expectations of the researchers;

f.Analysis - procedures/strategy for analysing data (mainly found in qualitative studies). 

Note: the method section is usually written in the past tense - 'this is what we did'.

7.Results section. Here, the factual findings of the study are presented, with no interpretation or explanation. If quantitative/statistical data are reported, here will always be a corresponding written statement that states what the numbers actually mean. This is written in the past tense: 'this is what we found'.

8.Discussion. This section usually includes:

a.a brief statement of what the study aimed to do, and what it claimed to find;

b.rehearsal of the strengths and weaknesses of the study;

c.careful comparison of the results of the study in contrast to results of previous studies (i.e., those mentioned earlier in the literature review - no new literature is introduced here), along with an interpretation of any contradictory findings (e.g., 'our results contradict those of Smith and Jones (2002) because ….')

d.discussion of the implications of the findings for theory, further research, and practice.


10.Appendices - e.g., copy of questionnaire that was used. 

Studies carried out on the reading strategies of experienced researchers have found that they rarely read a research paper straight through from start to finish. First, they use the title, author list (what are these people up to?) and abstract to decide whether the paper is of interest. Then, if the paper is potentially relevant to them, they sample the aims statement, the method and the start of the discussion, to assess the 'guts' of the argument. Only if there is anything puzzling or unexpected about the findings, do they read the paper all the way through from the start, for example, to check whether the literature review has missed anything or is biased, the procedures or sample were unusual in some way, or the authors might have missed something in the analysis.

The structure of a research paper can be thought of as similar to an egg-timer shape: starts off broad (general statement of interest), narrows down to very specific details in the middle, and finally broadens out again to conclude with a general statement. 

Further reading:

American Psychological Association (2001) Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Fifth Edition. Washington, DC: APA (see also: http://www.apastyle.org/styletips.html)

Greenhalgh, T. (2006) How to read a paper: the basis of evidence-based medicine. 3rd edn. Oxford: WileyBlackwell.

PhD students dangerous rise of therapeutic education E-Books & Reading Process Groups Dissertations
PhD students dangerous rise of therapeutic education E-Books & Reading Process Groups Dissertations