For many of us students, the fun and excitement of university is almost over. Lectures are finished, exams are complete and the pressure is off! All we need to do now is sit back, relax, enjoy summer, catch up on all the TV shows we missed, book that holiday, enjoy the summer sales and take it easy! ...But wait, what do we do about that dissertation!?
With so many fun things to do this summer and with university coming to an end, it is easy to forget or, probably more appropriately, try to forget that mammoth piece of writing that is due in just three (2 for some) months time - and if you are like me, it is far too easy to shove it to the back of your mind and just spend the weekend at Glastonbury, stay in and watch endless TV shows on Netflix, or catch buses up and down the country to look for Pikachu! procrastinating and waiting to see if the university forgets and just lets you graduate anyway. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. So with so much invested in your degree already and with so much to do, where do you even begin!? Not to fear, UKuni is here! We have compiled a how to guide for planning and writing your dissertation - which is guaranteed to get you motivated and finish your degree in a flourish of meaningful prose! Just check out our guide below and hold off on looking for Mew-two for just a few more weeks.
Stages for writing a dissertation
Just like every piece of work everyone’s stages will be different - Although I think we have all shared the universal stages of panic at the beginning. This is guaranteed to disappear once you start typing. So where do we begin? The main point to remember is this:
Although it may be easier to think and talk in terms of ‘stages’, writing a dissertation is in reality one continuous process; so try not to think of it in stages. Instead, think in terms of on-going intellectual processes of research, analysis, and knowledge-production with which you are deeply involved. And to start that process, you have to have a question.
No concrete question yet?
Don’t worry, if your question is still vague keep working hard on it. Read what interests you and try to think of new ways of looking at certain problems or ideas, try to find what is missing in a study, or thinking about what you would want to know or read about - It is intellectual labour after all! If it takes time, don’t worry; a good question can always take time to develop.
Remember to work with what you have and what you have already done. This way you will be able to have a firm grasp of your topic and be able to really explain clearly your reasons for choosing your question and demonstrate more effectively your intellectual ability. Perhaps more crucially use these questions/ideas/arguments to draft a working ABSTRACT - This is a great starting point and will help you make a better draft outline to show your supervisor.
When writing your abstract, it is important to think about one question: ‘so what?’.
Try to think about:
Why is this topic worth researching?
Why are you asking these particular research questions?
What do you want to find out?
How does your research complement existing scholarship?
Why is your dissertation worth reading?
Once you have a firm grasp of this, you are ready to go!
Research Questions and Literature Review:
First, and this goes without saying, you should think about what you are interested in and what about this project interests you - keep looking for the ‘so what’ factor. Why are you studying it? What motivates you to write about this topic and what do you want to know? Write these down as concretely and in as much detail as you possibly can.
This will help to identify where the weaknesses/gaps/strengths are and point you in the right direction for further research/interviews/reading.
But the main thing is to remember: ‘do not panic!’
Of course, lecturers understand that you will not be able to review everything within your field. Try to base your research on earlier, closely related research. You can critique it, add your own ideas and use it to explain why it is necessary to add to the study of your subject, or indeed, why it should be researched at all. Engage with the material and use your previous expertise and knowledge and highlight the gaps in already existing research.
Integrating the literature review:
Remember, writing begins with reading: hone those critical reading skills and keep your notes nice and organised. Remember to create a balanced and rounded debate: all the relevant arguments and counterarguments. Try to use the PEE formula when thinking of paragraphs and chapters: Point, Evidence, Explain. And don’t forget the most important point of all is to make your own voice heard e.g. Via section/chapter conclusions.
Starting to write a dissertation, the First stage - Produce a structured outline
Once you have your title and have gone through the whole existential process of asking ‘why’ and ‘so what’ you can start working on the framework. Starting from the title, work down from an overall title to chapter title to section/sub-section headings will provide:
A constant point of reference, mapping unknown territory for the reader
A structural guide for the writer
A point of reference for you and your supervisor to discuss progress and new ideas
What to include in your sections/chapters?
As a rough outline you should have the following sections:
3. Literature Review
5. Presentation & Analysis of data
Of course, this is just a rough guideline and different subjects/degree majors will have different requirements, but these are the general sections.
How to add content to your structure?
Start by arranging your ideas and arguments in order, and make sure they flow. Split chapters into sections linked by a common theme, this provides clarity and direction for your work and will take the stress and panic away whilst you are writing.
Chapter headings and subheadings are all organizers which are there to convey a sense of key points in the chapter; they should be substantive, informative, and relevant. Try to avoid over/under organization of chapters - so don’t create too many unconnected or wordy titles, keep it brief. And make sure to avoid repetition and ambiguity. When writing in English, many teachers prefer their students to avoid repetition as much as possible, so try to use more varied and creative words instead of the same adjectives and verbs.
Make sure your chapters have a logical progression to keep the argument on track, refer back to the main title in subtle ways, this can be a good tip to keep both you and your work focused. One way is to refer back to the main question/thesis argument in the conclusion of each section - This will help you tie it all together at the end. One way to make sure that argument is clear and concise is by writing a stellar literature review.
With the methodology it is important to make very clear the rationale for data collection: justification for primary vs. Secondary.
It is also important to make clear the stages of data collection and context - why did you collect data in this way? Try your best to aim for ‘triangulation’ of data, i.e. Cross-checking information from multiple sources. Once you have all this sorted there is just one section left, and this is where you really get to standout - so make it count.
For the conclusion, remember to explain the main findings of your research, and relate them back to your original argument/question and make clear the connections between all parts of your work - synthesis and tie together!
What you mustn’t forget is that a conclusion is much more than just a summary and it shouldn’t bring in or add any more information. Consider the implications of your findings, i.e. Their meaning, significance, and consequences and don’t forget to make further recommendations for future practice or research.
So there you have the basic guide to writing a dissertation! Good luck guys and remember to check back for more updates on university life, how to get by in the world of work and news on upcoming events.