Anyone who has written or is writing a dissertation will agree with me when I say:
Dissertations are not easy.
Are they fun?
Are they easy?
No, definitely not.
But what if dissertations could be easier? Writing a dissertation still wouldn’t be really easy… but it would definitely be easier.
Well, in today’s post, I’m going to show you how you can borrow ideas from research articles to make your life and your dissertation easier.
Does it sound too good to be true?
Well it isn’t!
When you normally read a research article, you’re probably reading it to get evidence to support your argument or to provide background information on your topic.
But did you know that you can use these articles to do so much more?
The two methods that I used:
And I’m going to show you how…
Note: these two methods can actually improve your grades and make your life easier… AND if you follow my instructions, you won’t get into trouble!
You know those old journal articles that you’ve been avoiding because they’re out-dated? They might just be useful!
If you look closely at the reference lists in recent academic journal articles, you might see that some of them use old (published 15+ or 20+ years ago) articles as references.
If published authors are using old sources of information, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t use them too.
When I first noticed this I had a question:
Why would recent researchers use old, dated articles?
I spent a few hours looking into these old sources of information, and then it hit me:
If a research articles from 20+ years ago is still being referenced today, then it must have some really important information in it… For example:
These reasons can be summarised in this single idea:
If a current research article uses information from an old, dated article, then you should too. [Click here to Tweet this]
So what does this mean? Which information should you use?
Well, one thing that all long essays and presentations require is a definition of a key term.
In fact, it’s not unusual to need more than one key definition in a technical presentation or assignment.
And we all know that paraphrasing definitions is not an easy task for any student (domestic or international).
So: quote definitions from the original studies that they came from.
By using the original definition as a quotation, you don’t need to worry about paraphrasing or creating your own definition, which definitely saves time and headaches.
But that’s not the only benefit! It also shows that you’ve investigated the origin of your topic!
Combine the old definition with newer modifications to create your own working definition.
A working definition is a definition that is still under development. It’s a definition which isn’t 100% accepted yet.
This means that you can combine different definitions (including the original one and any modifications) to create a definition which fits your purpose.
I created my own definition of what language learning strategies were which got bonus marks for being original.
This has the potential to save you a lot of time.
Basically, you want to borrow the research methods from a previous study.
But that’s not all...
You want to do it without plagiarising
So how can you do this?
Easy – start by reading into the subject that you are writing about.
Why is this easy? Because you have to do it anyway!
Next, find some articles that use the same research method that you want to use, such as interviews or questionnaires. If you don’t know which research method you want to use, just find an article which did what you want to do.
Then, read the methodology section and the appendices of these articles closely.
You’re looking for any information about how the research was done. This includes which questions they used, the setting of the study, the sample size, and anything else which tells you what they did.
If you find anything that you think is useful, make a note of it.
It’s completely acceptable to use anything that you think is relevant to your dissertation provided that you do it properly.
What does properly mean? Here’s how you can borrow research methods without getting into trouble:
By doing this, you can use the interview or questionnaire questions from a study similar to yours. This can save you a lot time, stress and frustration.
Furthermore, if you borrow something that was previously really successful, then you’re more likely to get better results from your research.
You could call that a win/win!
And don’t be worried if nothing seems completely relevant to your study. You can modify questions to fit your context. Remember to fully reference the articles where you borrowed questions, and say why you chose to use them.
When I did my dissertation research, I combined the methods from more than one study.
But… why did I do this?
I showed which studies I’d used and why I’d used them. I was open about how and why I used them and explained everything. I didn’t hide anything.
Bonus tip: Some research articles are published PhD theses. Sometimes the original PhD authors are happy to share their complete work with you (which will contain much more information about their methodology than the article).
So find their email address and send them an email about your research. You can get my email script in the free Tasksheet.
Academic journal articles aren’t only useful for finding supporting evidence or views on concepts or arguments that you’re writing about. They can also be used to help you with some of the more difficult parts of your dissertation.
So go through some of the journal articles that you’ve recently read, and see if they have anything else to offer.
Sam is the founder and creator of English For Study. He's also lecturer in EAP/Academic English. Apart from making Academic English easy, he likes learning languages, lifting weights and eating good food.