Honours thesis in psychology

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Finding a supervisor[edit]

  1. Once you receive an offer, you are welcome to approach potential thesis supervisors to discuss possible projects and supervision.
  2. However, final allocations of students to supervisors are not made until after Honours Thesis Workshop 1, by the end of O-week, Semester 1.
  3. You may not get your preferred supervisor/topic due to the need to balance staff workloads.

Getting started[edit]

  1. Have an initial discussion with your supervisor about how you will work together, including such things as what you expect of each other, when and how often you are going to meet, and contact details.

Developing a topic[edit]

  1. Generate (brainstorm) and discuss possible topics.
  2. Try to phrase the topics as research questions.
  3. Consider the pros and cons of each question, including conceptual and methodological issues.
  4. Narrow down the selection of topics (e.g., by merging or grouping some questions, dropping questions, or writing new, improved questions).
  5. Do some background reading (e.g., identify about 4 to 10 key articles).
  6. Decide on final topic - express the topic as clear research question(s)
  7. Define key (independent and dependent) variables.
  8. Draft hypotheses.

Preparing a research proposal[edit]

Overview[edit]

Honours courses at different universities may or may not formally require a Research Proposal. In any case:

  1. Developing a research proposal and getting peer review is a critical step in a scientific research project.
  2. It is better to find out about potential research design flaws early on, while they can still be addressed, than to find out later (e.g., from examiners).

Format[edit]

A research proposal can take different forms depending on the Honours course. For example it might be:

  1. An oral presentation at a meeting of the supervisors and their other students such as a lab meeting.
  2. An oral presentation to the other members of the Honours class.
  3. A poster presentation (as used at University of Canberra).

In the first two cases, you would be expected to speak for at least 10 minutes and to accompany your talk with some audiovisual material (such as PowerPoint slides). You would also be expected to answer questions on your proposal.

In the case of University of Canberra's poster, you are expected to present:

  1. Electronically by creating a new discussion thread post with an attached file via Moodle.
  2. A hard-copy poster. Provide easy-to-read, key details about about the proposed study to help reviewers understand the study and provide critique. Keep it simple. There is no need for glossy printing or lamination. For example, 9 A4 sheets (in a 3 x 3 layout) consisting of large font (min. 18 pt) bullet-points prepared as a word-processing document could be very effective.
  3. A 5-minute verbal précis of the proposal to reviewers and interested fellow students.
  4. Copies of relevant additional information (e.g., draft survey).

Reviewers will discuss your proposal with you and provide some written comments for further discussion with your supervisor. Obtain at least two reviews from academic staff. Fellow students may provide additional feedback. If appropriate, make adjustments to the study's focus and design.

Sections[edit]

These sections are recommended for research proposals (check with your supervisor for further advice):

  1. Title page
    1. Working title
    2. Student name
    3. Supervisor name
    4. Date
  2. Introduction: A brief review of the literature and justification for why the topic is important.
  3. Aims & Hypotheses: Concise statement of research question(s) (aims) and briefly how these aims fit into the literature area (justification of your aims). Clearly state the study’s hypotheses (Note: Hypotheses need to be testable – see also Analyses).
  4. Method:
    1. Design: Describe the research design (e.g., experimental, quasi-experimental, or non-experimental, between-subjects or within-subjects, etc.). Consider potential confounds and how they will be dealt with (internal validity).
    2. Participants: Consider the target population, sampling frame, sampling technique, anticipated return rate, sample size and power (demonstrate how the sample size is adequate for your design). Note whether you or your supervisor have a dependent relationship with this target population. Describe how participants will be recruited.
    3. Materials/Measures: Describe how the independent and dependent measures are to be operationalised and the psychometric properties of proposed measures.
    4. Procedure: How will the study be carried out? How will the data be collected? What steps will be followed with participants? What will be done with the data?
    5. Ethical issues: Summarise potential ethical issues and explain how they will be dealt with. Consider whether approval is required from the University’s Committee for Ethics in Human Research or any other organisation.
    6. Costs: Provide details of any project costs, such as equipment, and how these will be paid. Where possible, students are encouraged to use free materials.
  5. Analyses: Summarise the planned data analytical techniques for addressing the hypotheses.
  6. Timeline: Outline key project milestones and their due dates, including ethical clearances. See timeline for more information.
  7. References
  8. Appendices: e.g., a copy of the instrumentation to be used, informed consent statement


Applying for ethical approval to conduct the research[edit]

Before doing any research, permission is needed from an appropriate human/animal research ethics authority in the local jurisdiction (e.g., IRB, HREC). In psychology research, the individuals researched are humans or other animals. All universities have special committees to consider whether research is ethically sound. When the research is on humans, such committees are called something like "Human Research Ethics Committee" (HREC). When the research is on animals, such committees are called something like "Animal Research Ethics Committee" (AREC). These committees typically have their own application forms for describing the proposed research, using many of the same topics as listed preparing a research proposal.

The research supervisor(s) should help in the preparation of the ethics application. There may also be classes which provide general guidance about ethical principles for research.

For more information, see:

Developing a literature review[edit]

What is a literature review?[edit]

A literature review identifies a particular research question, establishes its importance, and summarises, reviews, and critiques key theory and research. Finally, the literature review weighs the strengths and limitations of the existing literature and recommends future directions.

Present an APA style manuscript which presents a review of key theoretical and research literature about the topic/problem and which is ready for submission to a journal for publication.

Writing a literature review is like creating a map - the main features must be clear, plus appropriate details should be included. The research question serves as a lighthouse beacon.

Drafting process[edit]

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Here is a suggested stage-by-stage drafting process:

Topic development[edit]

  1. Specify and clarify the final topic in conjunction with the project supervisor.
    1. Brainstorm (cast the net widely initially).
    2. Sort through, merge, discard, and prioritise these ideas.
    3. Whittle down
  2. Express the topic as a:
    1. research question
    2. draft title
  3. The topic should be unique. The review should:
    1. identify a gap/problem
    2. contribute a useful review to the existing literature

Guided reading[edit]

  1. Reading can go on for ever, so it is important to become systematic.
  2. Develop a bibliography of key references about the topic.
  3. Identify, say, the most important 20 references. These citations should probably include:
    1. Major literature reviews (especially recent systematic and meta-analytic reviews).
    2. Highly cited, peer reviewed, published articles relevant psychological theory and specific research studies.
  4. Access these references.
  5. Read the references, making notes about key points relevant to the topic.

Plan[edit]

Develop a 2 to 3 page outline of the chapter and discuss with the thesis supervisor:

  1. Example plan
  2. Develop a 2 to 3 page plan for the literature review, structured in a logical, unfolding sequence. The structure should include:
    1. Title
    2. Abstract
    3. Major headings (and possibly sub-headings)
      1. Aim for approximately 3 to 6 major headings (each with 2 to 5 sub-headings (if used)) including:
        1. General introduction (heading not used in APA style)
          1. ~2-3 pages or 300-500 words
          2. Introduce and describe the topic/problem, establish its importance, familiarise the reader with key terminology/concepts, show familiarity with the key literature, establish the research question, and orient the reader to the direction of the review.
          3. Include major citations
          4. By the end of this section a reader should be clear about the purpose, need for, and focus of the review.
        2. Major content headings which will provide a critical review of key theory and research
        3. Conclusion
    4. Word-count: Allocate an estimated word count for each of the major sections and overall
      1. This will help to ensure a balanced plan which will fit into the overall word count
      2. It also helps with "chunking" the drafting process into smaller sections.
      3. The literature review is worth 40% of the 10,000 to 12,000 word thesis; on a proportional basis then the literature review could be 4,000 to 4,800 words, but often it is longer, up to perhaps ~7,000 words.
    5. References
    6. Indicate any questions about aspects of the plan which you'd like to flag for discussion.
  3. It can be helpful to model the literature review on a favourite article (or thesis) - have a close look at the heading structure.
  4. Consider using the '[1]' in which the review starts broadly and gradually narrows down to focus on a specific problem.
  5. Seek feedback about the plan for the thesis supervisor, discuss, and revise the plan.

1st draft[edit]

  1. Turn the plan into a first draft by fleshing out the dot points into paragraphs.
  2. Aim for a "Pass" standard.
  3. May include specific comments or questions students want to address to supervisor.
  4. Seek supervisor feedback.

2nd draft[edit]

  1. Turn the 1st draft into a 2nd draft by rewriting, addressing supervisor feedback.
  2. Aim for a "Credit" standard.
  3. Seek supervisor feedback via electronic Comments and Tracked Changes.

3rd draft[edit]

  1. Turn the 2nd draft into a 3rd draft by rewriting, addressing supervisor feedback.
  2. Aim for a "Distinction" standard.
  3. Seek peer/other feedback via electronic Comments and Tracked Changes.

4th draft[edit]

  1. Turn the 3rd draft into a 4th draft by rewriting, addressing peer/other feedback.
  2. Aim for a "High Distinction" standard.

Tables and figures[edit]

  1. Use of tables and figures to illustrate theories or conceptual ideas can be an effective, powerful way to communicate (e.g., Example conceptual path diagram)

Marking criteria[edit]

  1. Consider the draft against the marking criteria:
    1. Presentation 10%
      1. Quality of written expression, spelling, punctuation, and grammar
      2. APA style
      3. Overall impression
    2. Title/Abstract 5%
      1. Appropriate title
      2. Concise summary of problem, relevant literature, and conclusions
    3. Critical review of relevant theory 40%
      1. Importance, relevance, and context of issue established
      2. Theoretical or conceptual framework established
      3. Appropriate scope (depth and breadth)
      4. Appropriate quality and quantity of citations
      5. Consideration of alternative perspectives
    4. Critical review of relevant research 40%
      1. Appropriate emphasis on the most important and relevant research
      2. Appropriate scope (depth and breadth)
      3. Appropriate quality and quantity of citations
      4. Critical interpretation of the research and its implication
    5. Summary/conclusion 5%
      1. Summary of literature
      2. Implications and recommendations
  2. Make revisions to more clearly address the marking criteria.

File management[edit]

  1. Smart word-processing techniques from the outset will pay off down the track.
  2. Folder structure: Use a systematic folder structure for each step/part of the thesis; e.g.,
    • 00 Proposal
    • 01 Ethics
    • 10 Literature review
    • 11 Research article
    • 20 Appendices
    • 30 Final version
  3. Versioning
    1. Prepare the thesis sections as separate documents, with major drafts saved as different files using a systematic numbering system e.g.,
    2. Literature review 1.docx, Literature review 2.docx etc. or
    3. Literature review_2016_04_21, Literature review_2016_05_04 etc.
  4. Backup, backup, backup
    1. Make sure there are external copies around in case something goes pear-shaped.
    2. e.g., use automated cloud-based backup storage or manually email your latest versions to peers and/or supervisor

Word processing[edit]

  1. Use word processor style settings from the outset - spend time researching and reading about this and trying it out - it will pay off in the long-run; mainly this will involve
    1. Using Heading 1, 2, 3 etc. styles for headings (this will facilitate consistent styling and generation of Tables of Contents)
    2. Similarly, style-based captions for Tables and Figures could be used.
  2. Consider using a downloadable APA style template e.g., Paul Rose

Citation management[edit]

  1. Source citations and reference list generation can be done manually or use citation management software; regardless, be organised and systematic from the outset in collecting, using, citing, and referencing key sources.

Relationship to the research article[edit]

  1. The focus of the literature review may well be similar to, but its purpose should differ from, the research study.
  2. The literature review and research article have different purposes and functions.
    1. The literature review provides a critical review of theory and research about a specific topic and makes recommendations about future directions.
    2. The research article identifies a gap in the literature and reports about an original study designed to address this gap.
  3. There may be some overlap between the literature review and the introduction to the research article. However, there should be several important differences including:
    1. The literature review will be longer than the introduction to the research article.
    2. The literature review may be broader in scope than the introduction to the research article.
    3. The introduction to the research article should state specific research question(s) and/or hypotheses to guide the study.
  4. Avoid presenting duplicate sentences in the literature review and introduction to the research article (self-plagiarism).

Developing a research article[edit]

Overview[edit]

  • This workshop is optional but recommended for all students. Supervisors are welcome.
  • This workshop discusses development of the main sections and content of a psychological research study manuscript for publication, and the publication process.
What are the similarities between constructing a house and developing a research article?

General tips[edit]

  • Model the manuscript on one or more top-level examples
  • Get peer-review e.g.,:
    • Supervisor
    • Fellow students
    • Family
    • Online social networks
    • YourTutor
  • Pay attention to the marking criteria

Structure and content[edit]

Formatting[edit]

Use APA style, paying particular attention to:

  • Page format and orientation
  • Margins
  • Running head
  • Page numbering
  • Font type and size
  • Heading styles
  • Paragraph style
  • Quality of written expression
  • Spelling
  • Grammar
  • Citation style
  • Tables
  • Figures
  • References

Title page[edit]

  • Provide an APA style Title page for the manuscript (a separate title/cover page is needed for the whole thesis)
  • Use student number instead of author name (for blind review)
  • Strive for an accurate, cogent 10-15 word title

Abstract[edit]

  • Probably the most important yet poorly written section of manuscript
  • Like the first few seconds of a job interview, the Abstract makes an early impression on the reader
  • Deserves more drafting than any other section
  • 150 - 250 words
  • An Abstract reader should be able to walk away with a clear understanding of the study, its findings, and the implications.
  • Keywords - include up to 5

Introduction[edit]

General introduction[edit]
  • ~1 page introduction to, and overview of, the topic/problem, explaining key constructs and their possible relations.
Body[edit]
  • May be organised with several headings
  • Critical review of key theory and research with regard to a problem or question
  • Avoid extraneous matters - provide a disciplined focus around a central purpose
  • Set up a narrative that leads logically into the research question and hypotheses
Conclusion and hypotheses[edit]
  • Conclude the critical review narrative
  • Consider clearly stating a research question
  • Propose and outline rationale for hypotheses to be tested

Method[edit]

Participants[edit]
  • A common problem is a pedestrian description of the sample
  • Strive to offer clear insight into who participated in the study
Materials[edit]
  • Provide clear, sufficient description of the materials that allow:
    • Understanding of results and their interpretation
    • Replication
  • Avoid extraneous detail
Procedure[edit]
  • Provide clear, sufficient description of the procedure that allows:
    • Understanding of results and their interpretation
    • Replication
  • Avoid extraneous detail
Design or Analysis[edit]
  • Optional - usually only for complex designs or unusual analytic techniques

Results[edit]

Data screening[edit]
  • Provide a brief, high-level overview of the process using to screen the data
Analyses for each hypothesis[edit]
  • Generally, avoid presenting extensive descriptive statistics etc. which are not tied to addressing specific hypotheses
  • Use the hypotheses as the key organising structure
  • Explain how each analysis was conducted and why and present and explain the results in a clear, understandable way
  • Avoid interpretative discussion

Discussion[edit]

  • The Discussion book-ends the article, along the the Introduction. It should be possible to read from the Introduction and into the Discussion, skipping the technical Method and Results sections, and be able to understand the research study, its findings, and implications.
  • A common problem is quickly-written, insufficiently drafted, and somewhat pedestrian or immature Discussion sections.
  • While some summary of results is appropriate, focus on the forest rather the trees, and interpret the results in light of the theories and previous research considered in the Introduction.
  • Include a conclusion, with recommendations about practical implications and future research directions

References[edit]

  • Check that all citations are referenced and all references are cited.
  • Use APA style, including the latest doi formatting.

Appendices[edit]

  • Optional, use sparingly e.g., for measurement items that haven't previously been published
  • Only include what a journal would realistically consider publishing
  • More extensive appendices can be included for the thesis itself, but not for the research article manuscript (e.g., a full copy of a questionnaire)

Thesis preparation[edit]

Overview[edit]

  • The thesis preparation workshops are optional but recommended for all students. Supervisors are welcome.
  • The workshops discuss the final stages of thesis preparation, including overall thesis structure, marking criteria, submission, examination, and the publication process.
Developing and carefully going through a checklist for thesis preparation is recommended before submitting. What do you think should be included?

General tips[edit]

  • Work on the pre-pages, literature review, research article, and any overall appendices in separate documents, then put together as a single PDF at the end. Consider:
    • What PDF merging software are you going to use? Practice using it, so you don't have last minute technical problems. Options:
  • Consider printing out the penultimate draft and reviewing - this will likely help to identify areas for improvement that wouldn't have been identified electronically
  • Ask the supervisor to have a look over the final package
  • Seek peer review from as many others as possible - consider providing targeted questions to reviewers to help get focused reviews. For example, some reviewers might be best used by focusing on spelling and grammar etc., others may scrutinise use of APA style, and others may be able to provide bigger picture feedback about how easy the concepts are to understand.
  • Self-examine the thesis against the marking criteria. In general, the correlation between self-marking and examiner-marking is reasonably high if you try to be objective. Chances are, if you make objective use of the marking criteria, you will be aware of the main areas of strength and weakness in the thesis.
  • Decide whether to:
    • embed tables and figures (involves more work in order to avoid splitting across pages and probably later in moving to the end of the manuscript prior to journal submission)
    • place tables and figures at the end (as per APA style, but probably not as user friendly for a reader)
  • Submission documents - don't underestimate the preparation for what's required at the point of submission:
    • A single PDF of the thesis coversheet
    • A single PDF of the thesis for sending to examiners
    • A word processing copy of the thesis file(s) so that the word count can be checked
    • A copy of the final data set, along with either the final syntax or the final output - or equivalent for qualitative theses, so that the results can be verified if queried by examiners
    • Receipts and request for reimbursement in hard copy to Faculty of Health admin office

Structure[edit]

It is important to be clear about thesis structure and purpose of each section:

  • Pre-pages
    • Thesis title page
    • Acknowledgements
    • Table of contents
  • Literature review
  • Research article
  • Appendices (optional)

Post-submission[edit]

  • Make an appointment with the thesis supervisor for as soon as possible after marks and feedback are released to debrief the project and plan next steps towards submitting for publication
  • Thesis marks and feedback for on-time submissions by the original due date will be provided on the official Semester 2 university results release day
  • Consider depositing the thesis into the university research repository so that it is publically available and has a permanent URL. This does not undermine or preclude journal publication.
  • Consider applying for a psychology Honours thesis publication award
    • Identify a target list of peer-reviewed academic journals and rank them
    • Revise the research article (and/or literature review) based on examiner feedback, debrief with supervisor, and target journal author requirements
    • Submit the literature review and/or research article to a journal for publication
    • Apply for a thesis publication award by 30 May in the year following thesis enrolment
  • Provide feedback about your experience of this course via the Student Experience Survey

Accessing past theses[edit]

To access past theses, options include:

  1. Ask your supervisor - s/he may have spare copies of past theses that you can borrow
  2. Ask your supervisor - s/he can arrange access to the hard copy library of past theses - 2008-2009 thesis titles and supervisors

Submitting[edit]

  1. Submission is fully electronic

Help[edit]

  1. Post on the Moodle discussion forum
  2. Ask your supervisor

See also[edit]