Course Organiser: Dr Hugh Rabagliati
Dissertation Information Session
An introductory session for the dissertation will be held on Monday of Week 1 (20th September) at 1pm. The session will be held on Collaborate, and you will receive more details by email.
When your project and supervisor have been arranged, you must submit the working title of your project and the name(s) of your supervisor(s) and dissertation partner(s) (if applicable) via this form, which should be submitted electronically to the Teaching Office via the Dissertation Learn page by Wednesday 29th September, 12 noon. Note that your final dissertation does not need to use this title – the declaration is for our records.
The dissertation involves engaging in a research project, and this project can take many forms. It can use quantitative or qualitative methods, and it can require you to collect new data, repurpose an existing dataset, or perhaps conduct a meta-analyses on the results of the existing literature on some topic. It is important to note that all these different kinds of projects have their advantages and drawbacks, and each draws on different sets of skills. As such, although the methods used may not be strictly comparable, the amount of work required in each will be similar.
The Dissertation is the capstone to your career in Edinburgh’s psychology department and, for many students, the most meaningful and personal piece of work that you will complete. It is an excellent opportunity to practice your acquired skills and even build new ones. This page contains some key information about the steps for completing your dissertation, including details on the Semester 1 Poster Day, on how to submit for ethical approval, on how you will be given feedback, and on how your dissertation should be submitted.
The Poster Day in Semester 1 will be an opportunity for you to get feedback from peers and staff on the design of your dissertation, as well as an opportunity to get practice communicating science. Students will make a poster describing their planned dissertation research, that will be presented at the Poster Day on Thursday 11th November. The poster sessions will take place using the Gather.Town collaboration platform. There will be a competition with a prize for the best poster. A few weeks before the Poster Day, we will release a short video describing how to produce strong, impactful posters. Note that the posters will not count towards the assessment, but they're a great opportunity to get essential feedback on your work.
Your supervisor will be available for guidance and advice on your dissertation work, and it is expected that you will hold regular meetings with him/her, at which you will receive informal feedback on progress in your project. There is an additional opportunity to get early-stage feedback from staff and peers at the Poster Day, during S1.
Formal feedback will be given on two documents: a structured report form and a 1500 word writing sample (the forms can be found on Learn). These forms should be submitted on Learn, and we expect most students to submit them between week 8 of Semester 1 and week 3 of Semester 2. However, the precise timing of your submission should be discussed with your supervisor. You and your supervisor will then discuss these documents in a specific feedback meeting where progress to date, and plans for completion and writing of the project, will be discussed. You should ensure to arrange this feedback meeting with your supervisor in advance, so that they have enough time to fully process your report form and writing sample.
The dissertation is worth 100% of the mark for the dissertation project. It will be marked by two independent markers, the first of whom will be your thesis supervisor. The second marker will mark your dissertation anonymously (he/she will not know your identity). Note that the second marker may not be an expert in your precise topic of study, and so it is important for your dissertation to be written clearly enough that a non-expert psychologist can understand it.
Keep in mind that excellent project work means asking questions: to know when to seek help from others, and whom to approach is an important characteristic of a successful research worker. Once you have graduated, you will be entitled to receive a summary of the markers' comments and supervisor report.
The Psychology Final Honours Dissertation write up should be your own individual piece of work, even if you have done the project collaboratively.
Do not hope to earn marks through quantity of words rather than quality: Your markers will be more impressed by a precise and well-structured argument than by a bloated review full of tangential information. Remember also that a description of your own research is more important than your summary of research by other people. You need to demonstrate that you can move on from just describing the literature, to evaluating it, and using that evaluation to motivate your own study.
Some useful general advice about writing the dissertation can be found below. Further information, along with examples of best practice to follow, can be found at the PPLS Skills Centre https://skillscentre.ppls.ed.ac.uk/ .
1. Try to choose a TITLE which is short and to the point, rather than a long one. It does not have to be the title that you submitted in Semester 1.
List on the TITLE PAGE the names of your partner(s) in the project, your supervisor(s) and anyone else who has materially helped in the design, execution and analysis of the work, so that it is clear what is your own work.
2. The ABSTRACT should be brief (300 words maximum). Some commentators now believe that asking for structured abstracts (with subheadings, e.g., Objectives / (Design) / Methods / Results / Conclusions) encourages the writer to sharpen up the composition and conveys more information. But this scheme is not yet widely used in journal abstracts, and for the present it is enough to make sure you cover each of these points where appropriate - but be succinct!
3. The INTRODUCTION should be short (say, 1000 to 1500 words) and you should focus on those sections of the literature that are most relevant for your particular project rather than reviewing the whole literature. It usually helps to end the introduction with a paragraph or section on 'The Present Study' (you may even separate this out with a sub-heading) which spells out what you intend to do in your study and why. This section should make clear to the reader the point of your piece of work, and the logic behind the design of your study, and springboard them into the Methods.
4. The METHODS section should not be a slavish transplant of the kind of methods sections you wrote in second year practical reports: look at the range of methods sections in published papers in the area you are working in to see what is essential and what is optional. If procedures are well known or standard, you can get away with a short description or reference, but if you have invented your own techniques describe these succinctly but in full. You may want to write the methods and results in parallel, to see which points about the design and statistics can be explained better in the methods and which can be explained better in the results. If you are collaborating with someone else on your project, do not use a co-written Methods section, even if you will say very much the same things. It is essential also to include a statement reporting the study’s ethical approval, including the name of the body (or in some case bodies) giving approval, and any reference number/s. All projects must be approved by the School (PPLS) Ethics Committee (https://resource.ppls.ed.ac.uk/ethics/).
5. The RESULTS section is one of the most important, so allocate a due amount of time for writing it up. It helps if you have worked out how you are going to analyse the data before you embark on the study (but the situation can usually be rescued, even if you have not, providing that you have used a straightforward design). Because of the diversity of Honours Dissertation topics, it is difficult to lay down firm guidelines for the analysis - the guide must be what would be acceptable in an up-to-date publication in the relevant area. Exploratory data analysis is an important precursor to good statistical analysis. Think about your data before you dive into the analysis, and decide how you can best present or summarise it (e.g., Figures vs. Tables) so that the reader can understand the important features before you get down to hypothesis testing, etc. Different studies will demand different approaches, so be aware that you are trying to demonstrate that you know what would be appropriate in a published piece of work - choose a statistical analysis appropriate in kind and level of complexity (speak to your supervisor), and show that you are aware of the complications of post-hoc and multiple testing, etc. (For example, it is often appropriate to use a Bonferroni adjustment to the critical P value if you are going to carry out statistical tests across a number of different measures; in the past, some honours students have been so delighted to find that even one comparison, out of 20+ made, "was significant at P < .05" that they disregarded the possibility that this might be the one in twenty that would reach this level by chance). Remember that analyses of the effect sizes or of the power of your study may be necessary to understand the importance of any significant or non-significant results. If you are collaborating you will want to discuss the results with your partner - but you must write your Results sections independently.
6. The DISCUSSION is also arguably a critical section in showing your own critical thinking and evaluation of your results in the light of your hypotheses. It can cover: (a) what you have discovered or achieved, and how this relates to results already in the literature, (b) strengths and weaknesses of the current study (and of any that have gone before), and (c) where now? i.e., it can suggest the next questions to be tackled in research stemming from your work. Always try to be brief and to the point - this is a discussion of what you have achieved, not a free-floating essay.
A good article on how to structure a Discussion is by:
M. Docherty & R. Smith (1999). The case for structuring the discussion of scientific papers. BMJ, 318, 1224-5, 8 May 1999
This article can be obtained at: http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/318/7193/1224, but remember that what is appropriate for a medical paper may not work as well in a fourth year thesis reporting a project involving discourse analysis or psychophysics, so treat their suggestions as hints rather than stipulations. The best place to look for inspiration is published articles in a field similar to that of your dissertation project, particularly in journals with papers of a similar length.
7. The formatting of the thesis, including CITATIONS and REFERENCES, should follow that of the American Psychological Association (6th or 7th edition) (http://www.apastyle.org/).
Your primary source of statistics help should come from your supervisor, but the department also provides statistics consulting to help you implement the knowledge gained during your research methods training.
For quantitative data analysis, once you have agreed an analysis strategy with your supervisor, then you can get further help with data processing and modelling in R by attending one of the research methods support sessions that run in the Spring. Find more details at https://uoepsy.github.io/info-resources.html. Note that our statistics tutors can only help you with statistical topics that were covered in your statistics curriculum, and so any techniques outside of that should be discussed with your supervisor, who will need to provide support.
For qualitative data analysis, once you have agreed an analysis strategy with your supervisor, then you can get further help by attending one of the qualitative methods support sessions run by Dr Cristina Marinho. Further details of these can be found at https://www.ed.ac.uk/profile/cristina-marinho
Technical support is available for your thesis work. In the first instance, please consult with your supervisor about the technical requirements of your chosen project. There will also be workshops available for students wishing to learn to use online stimulus presentation software packages such as Testable or jsPsych. Information about these will be circulated via email. If you require further information, or you need assistance with any matter relating to labs, equipment or software, please contact the department's technical support team on firstname.lastname@example.org, stating clearly what kind of support you need.
Online surveys (Qualtrics)
If you would like to use an online survey engine, our department has a license for Qualtrics, which is a powerful research tool. More information is available at http://materials.ppls.ed.ac.uk/tech-support/surveys-qualtrics/
Qualtrics can also be used to create simple online experiments, as long as you do not require collecting reaction time data or using specialised input devices.
The first-year subject pool can be used even for online studies. If you would like to use it to recruit participants, you should follow the steps below:
Request a SONA researcher account from email@example.com
Use your University of Edinburgh email address
Familiarise yourself with the SONA Researcher introduction.
Aside from participants being 18 or older, studies offering credits cannot have eligibility requirements (e.g., you cannot require that participants have English as a native language).
Ethics expiration date must match that on the ethics approval form
Credits/No Shows should be granted/noted as soon as possible
A Principle Investigator must be named prior to a study being approved
Studies that have been inactive for more than a year will be deleted from the system
Many students will wish to use psychometric tests in their research projects. Psychology houses store of tests, and – depending on COVID-19 restrictions – students may borrow some of these tests from the librarian. Some general information about choosing and locating tests, together with some information about specific types of test, e.g. personality, can be found at the following links:
Ethics Committee Submissions (Convenor, Prof Sergio Della Sala)
Ethics and student projects
All psychologists doing research involving human subjects are required to ensure their projects conform to British Psychological Society ethical guidelines. Researchers therefore submit their proposals to independent ethics committees for review.
In accordance with this, all staff, postgraduates and final honours students carrying out projects are required to submit information about their research projects to the Psychology Research Ethics Committee. The Ethics Committee will review your proposal and will, usually, either (1) approve it as it stands or (2) ask you to clarify things or make adjustments to your protocol before your study can go ahead. It is important that you submit your proposal as soon as your study design has been agreed by your supervisor, so that your data collection phase is not delayed by not having approval from the Ethics Committee. Before submitting your proposal, it is important to have your supervisor go over it, to ensure that any obvious errors or omissions are taken care of; this will avoid unnecessary work for the ethics reviewers and delays to approval of your proposal.
Preparing your project proposal for the Ethics Committee
Ethics applications are to be completed online here:
https://resource.ppls.ed.ac.uk/ethics/ . The form should be completed either in collaboration with your supervisor, or you should complete the form and then your supervisor should check it over (ask your supervisor what s/he would like you to do). Note that all applicants on the form (including your supervisor) will be required to provide an electronic signature after the form is submitted, but before the form is processed. It is your responsibility to ensure that all required signatures have been provided, as the application will not be reviewed until all outstanding signatures are received.
If your project has already been submitted to an external committee, such as Lothian Health, please indicate on the application that you have gained approval elsewhere, and hand in a copy of your approval letter with your ethics application. Along with your submission, you must include copies of any material you are planning to hand out to your participants – e.g., questionnaires or information sheets. This is important so that the Committee can see exactly what your participants are being told and what they are being asked to do.
Approval can take as long as 2-3 weeks, so plan accordingly. Once you have submitted your proposal, you will get an automatic email confirming the submission. You will receive the Committee’s response by email once review has been completed. If you do not receive any response at all after submission, check the system to be sure that you application has been fully submitted. If your proposal has been successfully submitted but you do not get a response from the committee within 3 weeks (this is very unusual), ask your supervisor to contact the head of the Committee (or send them an email yourself).
Health and Safety
Students are required to follow the health and safety rules for the department at all times. This means you are required to design your study so that you are not breaching these rules. See your Health & Safety handbook for the current guidelines on personal safety and times you are allowed to see participants in the psychology building.
Studies with children
Studies involving children may encounter significant delays because of the additional requirements regarding Disclosure Scotland. Your project supervisor will advise you on this process.
Wider information on Ethics
It is expected that you will be familiar with, at minimum, the BPS ethics guidelines, which can beconsulted on the BPS’s website:
Where students are seeking to conduct research projects in schools within the City of Edinburgh and the Lothians, there is a formal procedure that should be followed. Students should first discuss their projects with their supervisors after which the supervisor (not the students) should make a first informal approach to the relevant schools by phone or letter. At this stage the supervisor can make it clear that all projects are subject to local ethics vetting and that the students would be following through by sending the school copies of their supporting documents (see below).
If the head teacher is willing to proceed, then the students should send a brief summary of the proposed study, including an estimate of the time required for testing sessions; the age and number of children required for the study; the timescale of the project and an indication of what may be required by way of testing space and tables, electrical sockets, etc. They should also enclose a copy of a letter for gaining parental permission, and a copy of their Disclosure Scotland forms.
Note that the school may also ask students to fill out their own forms for testing approval.
These procedures apart, all students should also consult the guidelines for testing children and vulnerable adults by following the link to “Testing children” in the local-only access from the Psychology Department homepage and comply with all relevant instructions.
Please read the information below to find guidelines on the formatting and submission rules for your dissertation. Additional questions are covered in the FAQ document below. Only if your question is not answered there, email the Senior Teaching Coordinator (firstname.lastname@example.org).
An electronic copy must be submitted by 14th April 2022 via Turnitin, the plagiarism detection software. A link to Turnitin will be available via Learn. This will also link directly to Edinburgh Research Archive (see details on the archive below).
Students should be aware that it is University policy to deduct 5 marks from the final mark for each calender day that you are late with submitting your dissertation and that after 7 calender days the work will be awarded a mark of zero.
The submitted dissertation is part of the degree examination, and it will contribute to the determination of the degree awarded. This deadline is therefore firm, and only under very exceptional circumstances will the Course Organiser (in consultation with the Convenor of the Board of Examiners) agree to an extension for which permission must be sought in advance. You should be aware that for your degree to qualify for accreditation by the BPS, it is essential to obtain a pass mark for your dissertation.
As the second marking of your dissertation will be anonymous, the electronic copy must not have your name on the title page. Instead you should include on the title page your exam number, along with the name of your supervisor(s).
The dissertation must not normally exceed 6000 words (approximately 18 pages of single-sided A4, double spaced, 12 point font). This limit does not include the text of the abstract, references, tables or figures (but note that figure captions should only clarify what is shown in the figure - if you use them to cram in text that should not be in a caption, in order to avoid exceeding word limits, this may have a negative impact on your mark). Discourse analysis extracts are also not included in the word limit. Where it is desirable, for completeness, to include full sets of stimulus material, lengthy descriptions of procedure, or computer analyses etc., which would take the thesis above this limit, these should be put in an appendix. Material in the appendix will not necessarily be read by the examiners, and so it should not be used for evidence which is essential to the argument of the dissertation. Your dissertation should be your own piece of written work, even in a collaborative project.
In using computers (e.g., to store data and to word-process your dissertation), you are strongly advised to ensure that you back up your work adequately. Also, in case you encounter last minute computer or printer problems, you should have a draft copy of your thesis available well before the deadline. This copy should be identical in text to the final copy (i.e., it may differ only in format or in minor typographical respects). Further details regarding submission criteria will be circulated in due course to the course secretary.
From 2005/6, the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences at the University of Edinburgh keeps an electronic copy of your Honours dissertation for use in teaching or research in the Philosophy/Psychology Library, 7 George Square. The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 requires the University to make available to any enquirer any information held by the University, unless one of the legislation’s narrowly defined exemption applies. Information contained in your dissertation will be made available to any enquirer unless you indicate that it should be withheld.
Edinburgh Research Archive (ERA) www.era.lib.ed.ac.uk
ERA is a digital repository which showcases the research output from the University of Edinburgh to the world. This online repository contains full-text PhD Theses, MSc dissertations, book chapters, journal pre-prints and peer-reviewed journal reprints. Most of the content is available to download, and indexed by the major search engines (Google Scholar, Yahoo) which give material from ERA a higher ranking in their search results.
Putting peer-reviewed scientific and scholarly literature on the internet, and making it available free of charge and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions, removes the barriers to serious research. The School of Philosophy, Psychology & Language Sciences has its own closed collection in ERA for dissertations.
To put your research online you can do so by submitting through Turnitin in Learn where it will be automatically uploaded into ERA. Please note that unless you actively opt-out, all submissions via Turnitin will appear in our closed collection, meaning they will be available to future PPLS students and staff. You can choose to opt-out for any reason, but sometimes you will want to do so at the request of your supervisor because you intend to publish your work, or because your results feed into a larger research project. If this applied to you, your supervisor will let you know.
If you have any questions, would like to opt-out of the closed collection, or need a hand, please send email enquiries to: email@example.com