Desk Based Study Dissertation Sample

Your dissertation provides you with the opportunity to write a substantial piece of academic work on a topic of interest to you.  It is your chance to produce a work of scholarship, using the academic skills you have developed.  Regardless of topic, your dissertation will demonstrate the following skills:

  • defining and outlining a research topic
  • establishing a clear research question
  • identifying the salient issues
  • finding or generating the relevant information
  • evaluating its reliability and validity
  • weighing up the evidence on all sides of a debate
  • arriving at a well-argued conclusion
  • organising and presenting the results of your work critically, cogently, and coherently.

There are two major forms of dissertation:

  • A piece of empirical research, conducted on a topic or issue.
  • A literature-based long essay providing an analysis of a specific research question.


An Empirical Dissertation

This type of dissertation involves carrying out a piece of original research on a small scale. It entails planning a research study, collecting and analysing primary data, and presenting the results in a systematic way.

The Key Stages in Producing an Empirical Study

1. Identify a research topic within the scope of the project

2. Refine the project title and formulate your own research question. This will be by:

  • reading on the topic to see what aspects have been researched;
  • your observation of details of the topic in any work experience;
  • reflections on this experience;
  • and discussions with tutors and fellow students.

3. Determine the best research format so as to better understand the area/issue in question. This will be formed by:

  • research methodologies and research methods that others have tried. This will be discovered by reading in the substantive area and focusing on how others have researched the topic;
  • the nature of your topic area and what research methods are possible.


4. Formulate a research proposal within the scope of the project

5. Identify and select the location(s) where you will conduct the research, and your target group(s).

6. Consider carefully alternative groups/places you could approach in case permission is denied. Start at this stage to avoid panicking and making inappropriate choices.

7. Seek permission to access the places and groups.

8. Develop research tools and test these.

9. Further reading.

10. Refine your research tools.

11. Collect and analyse your data.

12. Review earlier reading and evaluate other research and conceptualisations in light of the data you have gathered.

13. Throughout the process, record the research progress and critical points in a research diary. This can be quite brief, but will be valuable when you write up your work.

14. As the writing process gets underway, you will need to:

  • draft outlines, synopses and chapters of the dissertation & discuss these with your supervisor and others;
  • discuss your findings and developing concepts with your supervisor and others;
  • work with the supervisor‟s and others‟ feedback to develop and refine the draft.

Empirical Dissertation Sample. Click Here


A-Library Based Dissertation

A library-based dissertation is probably best distinguished from an empirical study by regarding it as a piece of scholarship in which the work of others is placed under close scrutiny, rather than the gathering of new, primary data directly from observation or measurement. The data of a library-based study is the work of others. However, it is potentially highly valuable and important work, especially if you wish to conduct an in-depth study of an area and review the implications for your own professional concerns.

It is not the simply the describing of work that has been carried out in an area, although this will be part of the task. Library-based studies must contain research questions that are as carefully developed as any other type of study. The work can then be placed in a defined context and a critical judgment of the work can be made regarding its value, quality and contribution to theory and practical application. You also must consider the research methods used by the original researchers and evaluate these. You may also make judgments about the validity of the results in the context of your own professional practice.

The Key Stages in a Library-Based Study

1. Identify a research topic within the scope of the project.

2. Refine the project title and formulate your own research question. As with all dissertations you must have a clear question for which you wish to find answers. This will form the basis of the contract with your supervisor.

3. Clearly identify, discuss and clarify the key concepts being investigated. To do this you must read on your topic, advised initially by your supervisor.

4. Formulate a research proposal within the scope of the project. This may take several days.

5. Review the evidence available. This will include:

  • constructing sets of criteria against which to judge the materials reviewed. (at this point you should discuss your criteria with your supervisor);
  • a detailed literature review of the relevant books and journal articles. Note that this can also include other relevant materials, e.g. company or government reports, market research, newspaper articles, etc.

6. Sum up. This may be an overall analysis of statistical studies or some other analysis of the total evidence available.

7. Discuss how the literature survey answers the questions that you are exploring. Weigh up the pros and cons.

8. Make recommendations for further research studies, or draw out implications for practice.


It is important that a study sort adds additional material to the data that is being discussed, such as providing a summary of the weight of evidence for and against a particular position or theory, identifying key gaps in knowledge, or providing a new perspective from which to view an issue.  A  library based study can provide an excellent opportunity to consider how research done in a range of contexts relates to your own eventual work context.

Library Based Dissertation Sample Click Here


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Date published September 8, 2014 by Kirsten Dingemanse. Date updated: March 24, 2017

Sometimes you can conduct research from the comfort of your own desk, without actually going out into the “field.” But what exactly is “desk research”?

What’s desk research?

Some research questions can be answered without collecting data using qualitative or quantitative research methods. You can instead utilize existing information and data that has already been collected by others (i.e., secondary data).

Desk research may also be referred to as a literature review, but it is actually not quite the same. Literature research is focused on acquiring theoretical knowledge about a concept or topic, whereas desk research is used to gather facts and existing research data that help to answer your research question.

An example of desk research in practice


The owner of a sports equipment store senses that the store’s customer base and sales are both decreasing.

Desk research can be used to determine if this is indeed true, as well as to identify what may be causing the lower turnover (e.g., seasonality).

Possible data sources

The effect of seasonality can be explored by comparing this year’s invoices with invoices from previous years.

Were sales always down at this time of the year, or is the phenomenon new to the current year?

Comparing the store’s sales data with data available for online shops in the same sector will also reveal if the sales decline is occurring nationwide or only being experienced by the business being investigated.

The role of desk research in your dissertation

The data you collect using desk research will usually serve as the basis for your “results” section, which is where you analyze your findings. The ultimate aim is to lay the groundwork for answering your research question in the conclusion section.

In addition, desk research may also help you to prepare for field research and complement your findings.

An example of desk research that supports field research


The owner of a sports equipment store senses that the store’s customer base and sales are both decreasing.

Your desk research has revealed that online sports equipment shops in the Netherlands all had to deal with declining customer numbers and conversions last year. But what was the cause?

Preparing for your field research

On the basis of your desk research, you decide to undertake qualitative research in the form of interviews with customers to gain insight into the reasons for the decline

You learn through your interviews with customers who buy from online sports equipment shops that these individuals had a lot less money to spend in the previous year.

Complementing your field research

Statistical data from the CBSmay confirm and strengthen your interview findings.

You can thus return to desk research to support your field research.

How do you conduct desk research?

It’s best to conduct desk research in a structured manner, as a great deal of information is available.

  1. Select some good keywords/search terms. Focus on terms from your problem statement, research question and theoretical framework (if applicable). Also, try using combinations of keywords and translations (if you are researching in multiple languages).
  2. Find several relevant sources that may contain into useful information/data.
  3. Select the information that best suits your research problem or question. A disadvantage of desk research is that the information you find will often not be quite complete or not precisely match your problem. After all, the data has been collected for another purpose. It is, therefore, important that you are very critical and only use data that is both relevant and recent. It’s also vital to consider the reliability of a source. As much as possible, try to rely on data from recognized research institutes or entities.
  4. Process the information you have gathered to answer your research question. Various methods exist for doing this. For example, if you’ve found a lot of statistical data, you may be able to analyze it using the SPSS program (just as you would if you collected survey data through field research). Sometimes you can also just compare simple calculations, as in the invoice example above. However, it’s also possible to analyze the data using the theories and models that you’ve included in your theoretical framework.

Always take care to properly acknowledge your sources. Indicating where you obtained the data will ensure that you do not commit plagiarism.

Examples of information sources

Numerous sources are available for conducting desk research. The following list includes some examples to help you get started.

  • National statistical offices. Every country has its own national statistics office. For example, the website of the CBS (the Dutch National Statistics Office) contains a vast array of statistics concerning the Netherlands that can be easily searched to find data relevant to a particular topic. For example, if you are investigating the aging of the Dutch population, searching for “aging” reveals that the aging and life expectancy rates are both increasing in the Netherlands whereas country’s population growth is decreasing.
  • LexisNexis: A database for educational institutions that contains articles from reliable news sources. It may be a helpful tool for exploring, say, when a particular topic first appeared in the news or how that topic has developed. For example, if you are looking into how the media discusses crises, you could determine when the word “crisis” first appeared.
  • Google Scholar: A search engine for scientific literature.
  • Business Source Premier: A research databank for management and marketing publications, with a focus primarily on economic research fields. In addition to journals, you will also find reports related to key international companies, sectors, markets, and countries.
  • Knovel: A source for reliable reports and databases from leading technical publishers and professional organizations that focus on engineering.
  • Twitter: Twitter can be used to investigate issues such as how often a particular topic is discussed. For example, you may want to determine the average number of travelers per day who complain about the train schedule of the Dutch rail service NS. While not every traveler submits an official complaint, many complain via Twitter. Searching Twitter for “NS” or “trains” can, therefore, reveal relevant information.
  • Journals (e.g., through JSTOR);
  • Magazines;
  • Company information (such as annual reports, sales reports, and invoices);
  • Chamber of commerce reports and data;
  • Trend and industry reports;
  • Municipal or state/provincial information;
  • Databases;
  • Archives;
  • Photographs;
  • Diaries or personal journals; and
  • Newspapers or books from the period that you are researching.


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