While working on your dissertation, you are likely to take a theoretical or practical approach, even these two methods are equally important in social sphere of research. Considering an undergraduate dissertation, you will be required to conduct a research basing on a theoretical or practical approach to the subject you have chosen.
While carrying out any original research, you are expected to have a valid theoretical background, and any theoretical study you are undertaking has to relate to something happening in the world. Usually, a theoretical research comes to be abstract simply highlighting the ethical, philosophical, and cultural aspects of the subject. Besides, you may investigate your subject using an applied theoretical approach emphasizing social, political or economic issues, for instance.
Considering a mainly practical research approach in social sphere, one is usually about to explore the subject with the help of case-studies, surveys, observations, an action research or a review of already conducted studies and their results.
Thereby, when you are writing a dissertation, its type completely depends on the topic you have to research. Look at the following table providing a few examples of different methods to approach a topic simply to get understanding of it:
Examples of Theoretical and Practical Approaches to Working on a Dissertation
Type of Study
Hypothesis or Theory
Non-empirical with examples
Reporting / reflection
When working on an empirical dissertation you are expected to collect data. For instance, to gather the opinions of in translators a police service, patients at a GP’s surgery, children in a play center or volunteers in a refugee camp, you have to come up with ways of interviewing the individuals involved regarding their personal reflection or review of their current activity. There are different ways you may collect your data: from interviews and observations to questionnaires and focus groups.
However, you may prefer to gather necessary information by undertaking another approach such as reviewing and analyzing already existing data from other standpoints, drawing necessary comparisons or making striking parallels.
Deciding to work on a non-empirical dissertation should not be considered as an easier process. Supporting your argument throughout the whole piece of writing is a difficult challenge. However, it will be the right choice for you if you find it enjoyable to spend time in the library reading, evaluating, and discussing theory.
If you feel that making the university library your home for weeks is quite challenging task, you should opt for a more empirical research subject to explore.
The most important theories in your discipline such as gender or feminism may be a solid basis for an abstract discussion of your dissertation. Often, such subjects as psychology and sociology are focusing on particular type of theory putting it in their center. Thereby, you may easily discuss the peculiarities of the gender theory perfectly as your dissertation topic, for instance.
As a rule, a dissertation basing on the major theories, such as education, often follows an applied approach. However, working on a piece of writing, one may use solely theoretical method, especially if it is a research in the educational philosophy.
This type of the dissertation is likely to be chosen by you if you are proceeding with empirical or a non-empirical study. However, different disciplines may require you to use different approaches and methods to write a narrative dissertation.
A considerable number of science subjects expect you to focus on a laboratory report while writing a dissertation including the detail of the aspects of organizing, planning, doing, and analyzing a complex experiment. For example, in physical geography, a researcher has to spend some time in wild and windswept gathering necessary data for analysis. Obviously, students will do some laboratory work and undertake field trips as an essential part of the dissertation research process. Moreover, you can even include a biography passage of piece of the classic writing to illustrate the examples in your dissertation.