It's October, Freshers is over, uni students are settling down and getting into the swing of working and assignments and for third years, the dissertation is looming. For a lot of students in their final year, dissertation is currently just a word being batted around and for others, their deadline is in a matter of weeks. Whatever stage of the process, you are all getting closer and closer to the biggest essay of your academic career, so here's some tips from someone who, this time last year, was just finalising theirs. 1. Write about something you're genuinely interested in.
When choosing your diss topic, it's best to go for something you have an interest in, however small that interest may be. Even if it's just something you're curious to know the answer to or something you have a knowledge base in already, writing about something you're not bored to tears with is the way to go. Writing such a big document is tasking enough as it is without you making it harder by choosing a topic you hate.
2. Start early.
This might be the last thing on your mind but starting work on your dissertation way ahead of time is the best start to third year you can make. Some courses and universities are very regulated in contact hours with tutors and most diss proposals have to go to boards to be signed off before you can start writing. However, you can still do work without starting the actual typing of the document beforehand. It might feel like work before you even know if your topic is going to go through board, but when it does go to board, having done some research beforehand is an absolute god send. I did the bulk of my diss during my summer between second and third year, as did several members of my class and believe me, we were a lot less stressed when it came to the deadline than the members of my class that left it a bit later.
3. Write a good proposal.
Most dissertations will require a proposal of some form, even if you university doesn't require a document to go to board, which is often an essay in itself. Even if your proposal is just a simple declaration of your intentions for your tutor, making it as detailed as possible with all of your ideas and thoughts and where you intend to source your information will help you in the long run. Having a clear objective to refer back to is a god send when the words are blurring on the page and will help you organise the structure of your essay.
4. Think about your answer.
If like mine, your dissertation is based on a question rather than a comparison, think about what you expect the answer to the question to be. My tutor made me do this when discussing my topic with me, I mentioned the title and he asked me what I thought the outcome would be. This really helped because not only did I immediately have an answer for him, the answer did end up being the one I thought it would be. Having an idea before you start writing will allow you to focus your writing, work on a contradictory argument and will essentially form your conclusion. Happy days.
This is THE most critical of the writing process when it comes to your dissertation. You cannot write a convincing argument without having something to back up your ideas and your dissertation looks pretty weak if you haven't got a pages full of references and a body full of citations. Get online, google reading material on the same topic as you're discussing and don't palm anything off as not being entirely relevant. If it looks vaguely on the same vein as you're writing, print it out, bookmark it and have a look at it, you'll be surprised what golden information you can find in the most unlikely of sources. Don't limit your research, find books, find articles, find video clips and journals and publications, use everything.
6. Read your research.
This might sound stupid but reading your research carefully is massively important to writing a good dissertation. I printed all of mine out and then read it like a massive book which might not be to everyone's tastes and does cost a lot on ink and paper but however you do it, make sure you read it all in depth. Highlight everything that's good or might be useful, bin everything that isn't, don't clog up your head with too much information and make sure you save ALL of your research material. It's the worst thing when it comes to referencing when you have to go and re google all your facts and quotes.
7. Be careful.
Research, facts, quotes and backing up your own work is vital to writing a good dissertation and I don't know of any tutor or university that will mark an essay well that doesn't include this information. However, you have to be SO careful about plagiarism and copyright when working on your diss. It's such an easy mistake to make if you aren't educated on how to cite and reference properly and dissertations are processed through software that looks for content too similar to something already written. It's a serious offence in universities that can cause major consequences so make sure you don't do it. Each university has different rules on plagiarising so make sure you know yours. Make sure in your work when using somebody else's words you clearly display quotation marks and you cite the author and the year it was written something like this (Rees G, 2015).
8. Collate your research.
Once you have all your research collected, go back through your material, highlight everything you're going to use and organise it. If a quote is too long, find the most appropriate part and use that, if you have 87528372847 statistics, outline which are the most relevant to what point you want to make. Make sure your research is organised before you start writing and it will make finding the information you want to back up your point so much easier.
9. Basic plan.
You'll probably have a rough idea of how you want your essay to be set out before you start writing and it will become pretty apparent hot it's going to flow once the words start being put down on paper. Starting with a very basic plan will make it easier to flesh out your ideas when it comes to writing something more substantial. My essay was about should children be encouraged to read by any means which was a general ebooks vs print books debate. My basic plan was essentially titles like this;
How Children Read.
The Rise of the digital era.
Advantages of ebooks.
Disadvantages of ebooks.
Advantages of print books.
Disadvantages of print books.
How schools and libraries evolve with ebooks.
This very neatly roughed out all the ideas I had in a way that was coherent and provided me with themes in which to flesh out my work.
10. Secondary plan.
Working off your basic initial plan and your new titles, start noting down ideas and things you want to discuss and section them into your themes. I am a firm believer of noting everything down under the appropriate headings before trying to begin your writing because as the ideas flow and the words start forming, you will think of more and more things and you don't want to loose sight of your plan, start writing randomly or incoherently or worse still, forget some of your ideas amongst everything else in your brain.
11. Detailed plan.
Once you have your headings, once you have your ideas scribbled down, you need to work on a detailed plan. It is so vital to make a really detailed plan because it makes your life so so much easier when it comes to sitting down and writing the essay. Make sure you collate all your ideas, all your scribbles, all your plans together and then use the research you have collected to back up your work. Your research should have by now slotted nicely into themes which relate to your titles of your plan, thus making it super easy to attach the relevant quotes/information/statistics to back up your own words. My final detailed plan was in the end six pages long (not a millions miles off the page count of my diss) but it was so detailed and outlined so much of what I wanted to say that when I sat down to write the actual essay, it only took me 4 hours from start to finish.
12. Writing the actual damn thing.
The plan is done, the research is done, the proposal seems like a lifetime ago and now you have to actually commit to writing 5000, 10,000, 20,000 words and everything in between. There is little advice I can give on writing the actual essay because every one is so unique and personal to the author, and that extends to the writing itself. Some like me might be able to remain focused enough to sit down and smash the whole thing in one sitting, some might need days, some might need weeks but whatever way works best for you, however you do it, keep going and don't put it off.
13. Utilise the drafting system.
All universities are different in the way they approach the dissertation writing system and some are much more stringent than others but whatever the system of the establishment you attend, utilise what they give you. I was lucky enough to be on a course that allowed me to submit as many drafts and revisions as I wanted so I submitted draft after draft until I and my tutors were happy with it. Don't just write your essay once, read it, read it again, tweak it and make sure it's 100% perfect in every word.
Everyone says make sure you reference as you go along but I don't know anybody that did. Everyone hates referencing so everyone puts it off until the end but as long as you have your research material to hand it shouldn't be too horrific. Each university uses it's own referencing system so make sure you find out what yours is and make sure you stringently stick to it. A lot of universities won't let you use referencing software (which you can easily find with one google search), but if yours is a bit more lenient, use it for all it's worth because it's SO much easier.
15. Format and hand in!
Again, all universities have a different formatting system for how they want their dissertations to look across the board so make sure you find out what yours is and stick to it. Having it bound is also different in each establishment, might cost you, might be able to submit it online, whatever it is, however you do it, make sure you do it in enough time.
I hope this guide of tips for dissertation writing helps at least one lost student who has no idea where to start. And if it gives you faith I know a little about what I am talking about, I had a 2:1 for my own dissertation which I wrote just a year ago. Have faith third year students, there's not long left!