Research Project

Research Project

Research protocol for M MED Degree 

Written by Prof W H Wessels, Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine, Durban: 1992; Revised by Prof D L Mkize, Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Health Sciences, Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, Durban: 2002

Requirements for M MED Dissertation

The dissertation must show that the candidate:

  1. understands the nature and purpose of his/her investigation
  2. is sufficiently acquainted with the relevant literature
  3. has mastered the necessary research techniques
  4. has acquired a thorough understanding of scientific methods
  5. can collect and analyse the data
  6. is capable of assessing the significance of his/her findings.

In addition, the work must be satisfactory in terms of literary style and presentation and the research must exhibit some degree of originality. 

Steps in Research Planning

  1. Identify the area of research
    1. 1.1 from clinical experience
    2. 1.2 from journal articles
    3. 1.3 from letters to the Editor
    4. 1.4 from congress papers
    5. 1.5 from the internet
  2. Read around the topic
    1. 2.1 Get copies of key articles
    2. 2.2 Make reference cards
  3. Restrict the field
  4. Cover all aspects of the restricted field
  5. Formulate a hypothesis
  6. Decide on research methodology
    1. 6.1 Retrospective or prospective
    2. 6.2 Blind, double-blind, double-blind with cross over
    3. 6.3 With or without control group
    4. 6.4 With or without placebo (ethics)
  7. Eliminate flaws in methodology (Ask knowledgeable person to find flaws)
  8. Use rating scales – avoid impressions
  9. Decide on statistics and numbers (Consult Institute of Biostatistics)

Common Pitfalls

  1. Taking too little trouble to explore current and completed research in one’s field. This may lead to choosing a subject which is not really of interest, or one which has already been exhaustively researched.
  2. Trying at all costs to be ‘different’ in one’s choice of subject: difference just for the sake of difference can lead one into a jungle.
  3. Choosing a subject which is too grandiose, probably for fear of accusations of triviality. According to American surveys this is the most common mistake made by inexperienced researchers.
  4. To think that one first does the research, then starts documenting it. Ideally these are parallel processes.
  5. Being vague about the matter to be investigated i.e. describing an area of interest to you rather than identifying a particular problem. Drug abuse amongst teenagers is an area of research interest; examining the possible relationship between specified situations is a defined research topic.
  6. Giving a general description of the project without answering the questions which show whether analysis and planning have taken place.
  7. Being vague about methods, for example, saying ‘Established methods will be used’.
  8. Treating examination of the literature as a once-off exercise, to which one devotes oneself for months on end before starting on the project proper; good researchers do a rapid initial sifting to identify key texts and thereafter, for the entire duration of the project, keep eyes open for publications and other information which may be useful.
  9. Not showing convincingly that the project is feasible.
  10. Claiming that no previous research on the problem in question has been done; this only creates the impression that one has not read enough, and not talked to enough people in the field. No project proposal has absolutely no antecedents.
  11. Stating that the need for the proposed project clearly exists, without giving the reasons for believing that to be true.
  12. Claiming that the previous research was poor, or inadequate in other ways, without proving exact support for the claim.
  13. Claiming that your project will provide ‘the’ solution to a problem. Particularly in the human sciences, there is usually no one answer, and sometimes no answers at all, just deeper insight into the matter in question. Of course, deeper insight is in itself valuable and it may in time contribute to the establishment of better ways for human beings to manage the challenges of life.
  14. Not having enough budget for your research.

Reference Books

  1. Epidemiology: A manual for South Africa. Katzenellenbogen J M, Joubert G, Abdool Karim S S.
  2. Rating Scales in Mental Health. Sajatovic M, Ramirez L F.

Format and Submission of the Thesis


1. Title, principal investigator, co-investigators, institution.

2. Summary

3. Introduction

  1. 3.1 Background information
  2. 3.2 Motivation/Rationale for the study
  3. 3.3 Aim/Purpose
  4. 3.4 Objectives
  5. 3.5 Hypothesis

4. Literature review 

5. Methodology

  1. 5.1 Definition of terms
  2. 5.2 Study design
  3. 5.3 Study population
  4. 5.4 Sampling
  5. 5.5 Instruments
  6. 5.6 Pilot study
  7. 5.7 Data collection
  8. 5.8 Data analysis
  9. 5.9 Consent form
  10. 5.10 Ethical consideration

6. References

7. Appendices 


  1. Head of Department
  2. Ethics committee (Website)
  3. Department of Health
  4. Hospital Superintendent
  5. Other authorities e.g. Department of Education

Arrangement of Contents

  1. Preliminary pages
      1.2. Fly cover

    1. 1. 3. Title page
    2. 1. 4. Abstract
    3. 1. 5. Supporting services
    4. 1. 6. Preface
    5. 1. 7. Acknowledgements
    6. 1. 8. List of contents
    7. 1. 9. Glossary
  2. Text
    1. 2.1. Introduction
    2. 2. 2. Review of literature
    3. 2.3. Patients and methods (Informed Consent)
    4. 2.4. Results
    5. 2.5. Discussion of results
    6. 2. 6. Conclusions
  3. References
  4. Appendix

Acceptance of candidate/topic

Before acceptance the Head of Department must be satisfied that:

  1. Research proposal is viable
  2. Candidate is capable of such research
  3. Suitable supervision is available (co-supervisor if needed)
  4. Adequate resources are available

Responsibilities of candidates

  1. Submit a research protocol
  2. Work closely with supervisor
  3. Know common- and faculty rules
  4. Submit reports when required
  5. Finish research timeously
  6. Write up dissertation in allotted time.

Responsibilities of supervisor

Supervisor must advise on: 

  1. 1. Relevant literature
  2. 2. Other researchers in the field
  3. 3. Research techniques
  4. 4. Evaluation of findings
  5. 5. Read and criticize draft chapters
  6. 6. Form and structure of thesis
  7. 7. Scholarly presentation of thesis
  8. 8. Ensure regular meetings with candidate
  9. 9. Submit report to Deputy Registrar (Medicine) on completion of thesis
  10. 10. Oversee corrections recommended by examiners.

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