11.01.2013

Empirical Research Report

 

This advice is mainly for thesis writing based on empirical research. As with the other text types in this section, research reports can vary greatly in structure and content, depending for example on the research field. The aim here is simply to give one typical structure used at the Language Department and its typical contents, which you can then adapt if necessary.

Besides the information here, you may find the following sources useful:

It is also possible to write a professionally orientated thesis (e.g. a teaching material package) or a literature review thesis. You can read more about these possibilities here.

More general advice on completing a thesis can be found (in Finnish) here.

When writing your thesis, you should also pay attention to formatting conventions (e.g. titles, subtitles, page numbers, appendices) and source referencing style. For the English section, these conventions can be found here.

Some example vocabulary and phrases for the various sections of a research report can be found here.

It should also be useful to familiarize yourself with the structure and content of previous theses. Bachelor's theses can be found here and Master's theses here.

Finally, more advice on writing up quantitative vs. various types of qualitative research (e.g. case-studies, conversation analysis) can be found in the following article: Chapelle, C. A. and Duff, P. A. (2003). Some guidelines for conducting quantitative and qualitative research in TESOL. TESOL Quarterly, 37(1):157-178. You can find the article through NELLI.

 

Basic Structure of the Report

  • Title Page
  • Abstract
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Background (give this a title that reflects the contents)
  • Research Aim and Questions
  • Data and Methods
  • Analysis (give this a title that reflects the contents)
  • Conclusion
OR

  • Results (give this a title that reflects the contents)
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Appendices

Introduction

The goal in the introduction is to create a clear line of thought taking the reader into your topic and arriving at the aim of your study. In a general to specific introduction, the steps often involve:

  • introduce the reader to the topic area (e.g. with a general trend or fact)
  • identify the specific issue that your study will address
  • identify a gap in research or knowledge on the issue
  • give the overall aim of your research

Remember when moving from one step to another to use clear logical connectors so that the text flows smoothly.

Background (give this a title that reflects the contents)

The background section of a thesis is expository text, similar to that described here.

Its contents include the theoretical framework for your study (i.e. the theoretical approach and key concepts or issues that your study will involve) and a synthesis of relevant previous research findings. The point is to set up your study, showing that it is logical and contributes to previous knowledge on the topic.

As with the introduction, your aim is to create a coherent line of thought through the text; it should not read like a disconnected list of concept definitions or individual summaries of previous studies. Again, a general to specific structure is common: beginning with your general theoretical approach or general topic area, and then moving on to your specific issue, along with relevant research findings. How generally you begin your background depends on the length of the report and the intended reader. In shorter papers, it's important that you get to the point quite quickly and concentrate on the specific issue of your research.

For example:  

Critical Discourse Analysis > Masculinity Studies > The Construction of Masculinity in Advertising Discourse

Or: Task-Based Language Teaching > A Focus on Form in Task-Based Language Teaching > Designing Form-Focused Language Tasks

Or: Humour in Interaction > Humour and Politeness Theory > Use of Humour in the Classroom

Note that you should not have subsections which are only one paragraph long. If you have such a subsection, integrate it into the larger section and use logical connectors to keep the text coherent (e.g. "One aspect that Masculinity studies is concerned with is..."). Otherwise, the text will start to feel like a glossary.

Research Aim and Questions

Explain the aim of your research again here and then break it down into the specific question(s) that your analysis will answer. The aim can be somewhat more general, but the question(s) should be focused and concrete, i.e. something that you can clearly answer through analyzing your data. You may also need to add some explanation and rationale for your question(s) to make it clear that they are logical considering your theory and research aim.

For example:

The aim of this study is to explore the ideologies of English academic writing on an international Master's programme in Finland. The analysis will answer the following questions:

1) What norms of English academic writing do the participants describe?

Explanation/rationale...

2) What 'authorities' do the participants orient to in explaining these norms?

 Explanation/rationale...

 

Data and Methods

  • What is your data? Why?
  • How have you gathered it? Why?
  • How have you analyzed it? Why?

Again in this section you should be specific, while making it clear that your data and methods are logical considering your theory and research aim.

 

There are two typical structures for reporting findings:

 

1. The first option is mainly suited to qualitative research where it is difficult, if not impossible, to separate the findings of your study from your interpretation.  For example, in much Criticial Discourse Analysis, the interpretation of particular language choices is the analysis, so it would make no sense to present observations separately. For this option, the structure is usually:

Analysis (give this a title that reflects the contents)

In this section, you need to make sure that you convincingly answer your research question(s). In order to do this:

  • Make claims that clearly relate to your question(s)
  • For each claim, give evidence from your data. This will usually be in the form of extracts from the data, as well as some paraphrasing. Be selective with the extracts you use; don't overload the text - you cannot include every example.
  • Explicitly interpret that evidence. In other words, spell out for the reader what you see in your data, rather than expecting it to speak for itself. This interpretation should reflect your theoretical framework. For example, if you have identified your framework as Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), you should use CDA tools in interpreting your data; Or, if your topic is motivation in language learning and you have defined 'motivation' in a certain way in your background, your interpretation of the data should reflect that definition. You can also bring in source references again at this stage to support your interpretation.

Conclusion

In the conclusion, you can:

  • summarize the answers to your research questions and relate them to your research aim
  • relate your findings to the previous research/theory
  • explain the implications of your findings
  • explain the strengths of your study (this may be intertwined with the implications)
  • explain the limitations of your study
  • suggest possible future research

 

2. The second option is to present your findings neutrally in one section, with only brief commentary, and then interpret them more in the following section. This is particularly suited to quantitative research where, for example, you may have a multiple choice questionnaire and can present the answers given before explaining what you think they may mean in relation to your questions.

Results (give this a title that reflects the contents)

In the results section, you should clearly present your findings (e.g. in the form of tables or figures) and describe them, e.g. "Table 1 shows the distribution of answers to the first question in the questionnaire, asking whether participants...".

Important findings can be highlighted, but the tone should be neutral/factual and interpretation should be minimal, e.g.  "As can be seen, the majority of participants felt that...".

Discussion

In the discussion you can then:

  • make claims that directly answer your research question(s), based on and referring to your findings
  • offer possible explanations for your findings, where appropriate
  • discuss your findings in relation to previous research
  • explain the possible implications of your findings
  • explain the strengths of your study (this may be intertwined with the implications)
  • explain the limitations of your study
  • suggest possible future research

In a longer thesis, you may also add a conclusion which is a more direct, brief summary of your findings. In that case, include any practical implications and suggestions for future research in the conclusion rather than the discussion.