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Managing your candidature

As a postgraduate research candidate you will need to determine your research topic, define a question to be answered and undertake your literature review.

We recommend that from the beginning of your candidature you use bibliographic software such as EndNote to manage your references in a private library

Working with your supervisor to develop your research design and a search plan will be helpful in managing your time achieving success in your research.

Selecting a research topic

Areas of new research may come from problems to be solved or obvious gaps in previous research. You may have already identified an area of interest. Or, the area of interest might have been identified after discussions with potential supervisors. Whatever the source, the research area needs to be:

  • refined to fit within the time limits, abilities and resources of the candidate, and the resources of the school;
  • appropriate for the level of the degree being taken; and
  • justifiable to the academic and general community.

The process of identifying and developing an appropriate research topic requires wide reading, including theses and dissertations, reports, journal articles, books, and reviews in related areas. This reading should complement discussions with the supervisor, research candidates and others within the University.

You are strongly advised to seek the assistance of the University’s library staff in identifying relevant literature in the area being considered for research. Information on library resources, including staff specialising in specific disciplines, can be found via the ECU library website.

Refining the problem

An essential first step in your research is to convert an area of interest or problem into a defined question that can be answered. Depending on the field of research, the problem can be defined as a question to be answered (for example in social science) or a hypothesis that can be supported or rejected (experimental sciences).

Successful research often depends on the ability of the researcher to get answers to their research problem. Confining the research problem to a well-defined question makes it easier to assess whether the objectives of the research can be achieved.

Reviewing the literature

The literature review should:

  • be well argued and clearly expressed;,
  • summarise relevant information;
  • support the feasibility of the proposed research;
  • place it in the context of the discipline or subject area; and
  • outline a conceptual framework or identify a theoretical base from the literature for the research project.

You will need to carry out a literature review in two stages. The first stage is carried out while deciding on a topic. This review will be included in the research proposal.

The second is a thorough investigation of literature relevant to your research. This review will be included in your final thesis.

The literature search involves three categories of material:

  • the specific content of the proposed study and previous research undertaken on the research topic;
  • selected concepts and theories closely related to the topic; and
  • research design, methodology, reporting, statistical processes and thesis preparation and guidelines for thesis writing.

Some research studies will actually use the literature as a source of data. Examples of such studies include investigations of methodologies, bibliometrics, analysis of literary works and some historical studies.

Reference management

We recommend that from the beginning of your candidature you use bibliographic software such as EndNote to manage your references in a private library. Endnote is available for students to download from the ECU library web pages.

Research design

The research design is critical to the success of the research project. If an inappropriate or incorrect design is chosen, you may find you are unable to find answers to your research questions.

Search plan

A search plan should be developed before starting the major review of related research and literature. Essential parts of the plan include:

  • the scope of the search and relevant descriptors;
  • the period of published sources;
  • categories of resources;
  • countries of publication; and
  • time schedules.

Where relevant, non-print materials including audio and videotapes, movie film and photographic and graphic materials should also be viewed.

  • Consider the following procedures while carrying out a literature search: record relevant information, and/or literature data, together with a complete citation of source, with page numbers, for each note or entry made the first time the particular source is used;
  • relate relevant notes made on a similar topic from the many sources; and
  • maintain a developing bibliography by completing a full and accurate bibliographic record for each source used. This data may be conveniently recorded in a bibliographical database such as EndNote.

Referencing style

A referencing style appropriate to the discipline should be used consistently throughout the thesis for in-text and end referencing. Consult with your supervisors regarding referencing style.

It is essential that you exercise great care with referencing to avoid accusations of plagiarism that can lead to the imposition of severe penalties including exclusion from the course.

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