I can’t believe how fast the summer has passed! It’s nearly September, which means people are going back to university soon. If you’re heading into your final year, you probably have a dissertation to write, which has always been looming in the back of your mind ever since first year, but now the time has come to actually write it… how do you do that?
Lucky for you, I graduated this summer and submitted my dissertation back in May. I got a 1st on my dissertation which I am over the moon about, considering the emotional trauma and messed up sleeping pattern that I am still trying to recover from.
After thinking about what went right and what went wrong, I have a few tips to share to make sure that you ace your dissertation!
n.b: I studied a Bachelor of Arts in Media and Communications. I wrote a 10,000 word empirical dissertation on representations of race, culture and femininity. My advice reflects my own personal experience and is most useful for people studying a humanities subject.
So, how do you get a 1st on your dissertation?
1. Write about a topic that you love, but most importantly, a topic that you actually understand
You can be passionate about a topic, but not fully understand it. For example, I really wanted to write my dissertation on YouTube, but I had no research question, no research aims and no logic behind choosing YouTube as a topic other than the fact that I really liked watching YouTube videos. Your research question needs to be specific, and it needs to be something that allows you to visualise the aims, themes, what potential conclusion you might come to and HOW you are going to find that conclusion.
If the topic you are thinking about doesn’t give you a straightforward answer to those questions, scrap it and choose a topic that you actually understand how to write.
2. Prepare by looking at dissertations from past students
Email your tutors if you don’t have access to past dissertations, I’m sure they will be more than happy to send some over. This really helps give you a sense of what you actually have to write. It can be scary thinking about how you’re going to write 10,000 words or more, so the sooner you familiarise yourself with what a dissertation looks like, the more comfortable you’ll feel about writing one.
3. Talk to every single one of your lecturers that could possibly help
EVERY! SINGLE! ONE!
Before the end of your first semester back, make sure you are setting up meetings with any lecturer that you think will help you choose a research topic, inform your chosen research topic or perhaps specialises in your topic and can really help guide your dissertation in the right direction.
Your lecturers are very smart, published academics, so please ask for help and don’t let the year pass without talking to at least three different lecturers that can give you some advice.
4. Give yourself deadlines
Whether its week by week, term by term, month by month, give yourself a deadline to complete a certain task. My literature review was set as an assignment, so that had to be completed by December, then I set other deadlines on a monthly basis:
February: data collection
March: analysis chapters
April: conclusion, introduction, appendix and referencing (always do this last)
May: dissertation due
5. Set up regular meetings with your supervisor
What helps with achieving deadlines is setting up supervisor meetings in advance. If you have given yourself until the 24th January to finish your methodology, set up a supervisor meeting around the same time so you know you can’t show up empty handed.
6. Write as many drafts as you can
The more drafts you write and show your supervisor, the better understanding they will have of what your dissertation is about, so they can give you more specific feedback and help guide you towards a 1st class grade.
7. Overwrite your dissertation
Its always better to overwrite than underwrite. One of my friends wrote 30,000 words (crazy, I know). I wrote 12,000 words. Our word limit was 10,000 words.
It’s so much easier cutting out content than trying to think of things to say when you don’t have anymore material so don’t limit yourself or force yourself to stop an argument, just write and then cut later.
8. Use key authors and theories for the entirety of your dissertation
It’s all about depth. It’s better to explore the different aspects of a particular theory, instead of talking about 5 different theorists in one paragraph.
Set up the framework in your literature review by using three to four main theorists and use those same theorists throughout the entirety of your dissertation. Build on your literature with a few new theories here and there, but the main focus should always stay the same.
9.Understand what you have to write!
The aim of a dissertation is to see that you can independently come up with a research question that needs an answer. You are being marked on your ability to answer your research question with extensive background reading, research, depth of analysis and sophisticated writing.
You also have a mark scheme. Use it. Highlight it. Memorise it. If you have ticked off everything that is on your mark scheme, you should be well on your way to a 1st class dissertation.
10. Find a friend that motivates you
Everything is better with a friend by your side. Someone to share the stress, the late nights, complaints, the victories and finally, the end of your dissertation. If you are friends with people who rarely attend uni or leave everything to the last minute, that is not good energy to be around so find a library buddy that encourages you to carry on when you feel like everything is going wrong.
11. Make it fun!
Sometimes it’s hard to see how your dissertation will ever be finished, how it will ever look like a proper research project instead of just 10,000 words vomited on a page. One thing that I really enjoyed was spending time writing my acknowledgements, choosing a cover image and making my cover page look amazing! It really made me feel like I was nearly at the finish line, I could see my dissertation come to life and I found myself even more eager to finish than before.
I hope these tips help you! I can only write so much, so if you’ve enjoyed this post, let me know and I’ll write another blog post breaking down all the different sections of a dissertation.
follow me on twitter: @notesatdusk