Study Guide - Dissertations
Your aim should be to write a piece that contains elements of originality or distinctiveness, that is, something that is more than a summary of other peopleís ideas. There are a number of advantages to writing a dissertation:
- You will have greater control over and flexibility in the use of working time
- Mistakes can be corrected through the assistance of the supervisor
- It reduces the pressure during exam time
- It results in the creation of a piece of work, which can be taken away and shown to prospective employers
- Above all, it allows for the detailed study of a subject of particular and perhaps long-standing interest
- Write a dissertation proposal - identifying the key question you wish to address - 200 words. Use the form provided by the department.
- Take this proposal to an academic you would like to act as your supervisor. If they approve of your proposal they will sign it. Then leave the completed form outside the departmental office. Steps 1 and 2 should be completed by the end of the second term.
- Register for the dissertation module in the same way.
Seven Steps to Success
Step 1 - The preparation
- When is your dissertation due in?
- How must it be presented?
- Who is your supervisor?
- What kind of research are you required to do?
These practical pieces of information will affect your approach to your dissertation. Read your dissertation module handbook through carefully to make sure you know exactly what is expected of you. If anything is unclear ask your supervisor.
Step 2 - Your chosen subject
- Choose something manageable - nothing too large-scale or greatly time consuming.
- Choose something in which you are interested. This will help to motivate you and give you encouragement to study.
- Choose something, which doesnít overlap too much with other assessments you have submitted. For example, if you have already handed in an extended essay on a topic, donít choose it for your dissertation topic - you could be accused of self-plagiarism.
- Discuss your choice, and your reasons behind it with your supervisor who should be able to give you an indication of the feasibility of the study.
Step 3 - Your supervisor
- Check that things are going OK
- Give you advice
- Point you in the direction of relevant source materials.
- Tell you what to do,
- Chase you up if you fall behind, or
- Read and correct your dissertation before you submit it.
A dissertation is a piece of self-directed study, so your dissertation supervisor cannot get too involved with the work you are doing, and is likely to be one of the people who mark it. However, your supervisor can be of great use in giving you guidance, support, and advice, and you should make the most of this important resource.
Ultimately students must take responsibility for their own studies.
- Your subject area will give you guidelines about how much of your supervisorís time you are entitled to.
- Make good use of your supervisor - prepare for your meetings, and turn up when you have arranged to do so. Submit an agenda so that the supervisor can prepare for the meeting and which will also remind you of what you wanted to discuss.
- Be sure to maintain contact with your supervisor - donít hide from him/her because you havenít done as much work as you had anticipated.
- You may want your supervisor to comment on a piece of work, which you have completed. It would be helpful to let them have this in advance.
Step 4 - The plan of work
A good way of starting is to try and do a rough, long term plan. This could include time planning for the following things:
- By when do you want to have each chapter completed?
- How much time will you need to complete any primary research?
- When do you want to have all your research work completed?
- How long will you need to write up your dissertation and check it for errors?
- Will you need to get your dissertation bound in any special way? Is this going to take time?
By making a rough plan of the above long-term goals, you can often make your dissertation a much more controllable task. Remember to be pragmatic about time scales; allow yourself plenty of time in which to complete tasks. If your timetable doesnít go to plan, simply reorganise it. Flexibility is very important in dissertation preparation and writing; your work will not always go smoothly, so you need to regularly review your goals and adjust them accordingly.
If you intend to use questionnaires, interviews, or conduct experiments for your dissertation, give yourself plenty of time in which to get these done. Writing to request an interview with someone two weeks before your dissertation is due in will rarely be of any use; the person may not even agree to be interviewed, which would leave you stuck, with no time to approach someone else.
Step 5 - Ready, steady go!
- Always keep your eyes open for material.
- Whenever you read something or take notes on a source, always take down full bibliographic details. This will save you time later when compiling your references and bibliography. Using an index card system is useful for this.
- Focus your reading once you have a general background picture of the subject - make sure everything you read is for a purpose, not just for the sake of Ďdoing somethingí.
- Donít avoid reading just because your project will contain a lot of fieldwork - you will still need to refer to other research in your field, and may even end up having to rely on written materials more heavily than you had first thought. It is a good idea to put your research into context in relation to the work of others.
Try and start writing up as soon as possible. There is no rule, which says you must first do all your research, then spend three weeks writing it up. Writing as you research gives a sense of achievement, and can help avoid any last minute panic attacks.
Step 6 - The write up
- References and bibliography - what format should they take? Different disciplines have different requirements.
- Layout - do you have to include an abstract? Are you allowed appendixes?
- Margin sizes, font, general layout of the dissertation.
- Prefer the short word to the long.
- Prefer the single word to the roundabout expression.
- Prefer short sentences and paragraphs to long.
- Never use a foreign, slang, or jargon word unless there is no equivalent in everyday English.
- Punctuate sparingly, and remember there is more to punctuation than the full stop and the comma.
- Never use an exclamation mark except for the purposes of quotation.
Step 7 - Hints for success
- a clear statement of your subject
- an explanation of why the research is worthwhile
- an outline of methods used
- an indication of the restrictions of the study
- a summary of the chapters to follow
- thanks to any person or group who gave you special help
- each one should answer a major question
- each chapter should contain lots of answers to smaller questions
- use sub-headings to guide your reader
- develop points carefully, step by step
- each chapter should make sense if it were to be read on its own
- give chapters introductions and conclusions as well
- are designed to let you include material which could not be fitted easily into any chapter