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Tips for your dissertation

28 June 2022

Depending on what degree you decide to study, you may or may not have to do a dissertation at the end of your programme. Most humanities and essay-based subjects will encompass such a piece of work, and if you are completing a joint degree then you may have the option of choosing which subject within which to write your dissertation. Most students, no matter how many 2000 and 3500 word essays they write beforehand, will not have much real practice for such a large piece of written work that will ultimately make up a large portion of your degree’s marks, and so here are some tips from someone who has written one before, to help you with yours.

In my eyes, the most important thing for ensuring an organised and successful approach to your dissertation is planning every step of the way. Whilst some students find it easier to write off the top of their head and reference later when it comes to shorter written assignments, a dissertation is simply so large that trying to retroactively find evidence to support your claims will likely be futile. This approach is often used when you need to write large amounts of words in a short space of time, however the substance of your argument is unlikely to be particularly informed unless you have an extensive wealth of knowledge on the topic prior to the assignment. Your planning should be detailed and strictly followed to meet personally set deadlines. This does not mean that your initial ideas should be rigidly followed, as your research may lead you down a different route, however your timeframes for gathering evidence, writing and editing your work should be organised, attentively followed and allow for flexibility due to external commitments you might have. It is also important to set realistic timeframes for yourself. Do not expect to be able to write 4000 words of high-quality arguments in an evening and still get a semblance of a healthy night’s sleep.

Having touched on this earlier, it is important to remain flexible with your answers to your proposed question as well as the question itself being changeable. I am not referring to a wholistic change in topics of your dissertation, rather that as you research different areas of the question and are exposed to more arguments, you may find your own opinion changing, with your previous arguments evolving into a more complex view. This is a good sign for your project, as it proves that you have widely research the question and are now well-informed enough to form your own view that is a culmination of others’ arguments, written and artefactual evidence. Finally, when using a source to support an argument, be sure to analyse the legitimacy, accuracy and potential agendas of that source. In doing so, you will receive higher marks due to your demonstration of greater critical thinking, rather than taking evidence at face value. Be sure to reference every fact or piece of evidence that you use as you research it, not only to build up your bibliography, but more importantly to make sure that you know where you got it from 3 months later when editing the final essay that includes hundreds of different references.