This is the soundest piece of advice a former student, who has survived their dissertation, can give to another student about to embark on theirs.
Before you get started, you have to go to ‘Dissertation Camp’, a collection of seminars at your university which teach you structure, research methods and hypothesis construction etc.
YOU MUST GO TO THESE CLASSES. This cannot be said enough. These classes are designed to teach you, through group work and lecturing, how to write a dissertation and how to tackle it before being assigned a supervisor who can help you with your individual area of research.
It is a very bad idea to assume that you know what you are doing. These seminars can inform you on how to organise your word count, how to construct a dissertation question and topic and how to find the right resources.
But the most important thing they teach you is: how not to fail.
You do not want to be writing your dissertation, get half way through the research and then wonder what should go in the methodology. Be honest with yourself, do you know what the difference is between the presentation and the discussion of data? Does your dissertation even require a methodology? Do you need to collect primary data? How many hypotheses do you need to test? Does your dissertation require appendices? If so, how many does it need? What kind of literature review do you need to write? A thematic one? A chronological one?
Trust me; these are questions that need to be answered in the seminars rather than a month before the deadline. Furthermore, you do not want to be stressing out about your dissertation on top of all the other assignments you have to do for your degree.
The simple fact is, different universities and degree subjects have their own ways of doing dissertations, so it is worth going to these classes just to familiarise yourself with how they want you to format your work. It is very annoying to know that you lost marks on your dissertation because you were not aware of your university’s standards.
You might think the internet can help you in this regard and in many ways it can. But beware; sometimes using the Internet can make matters even more complicated. If you typed ‘how to write a literature review’ into Google, you would come up with a number of different methods of writing one. How would you know which one to use?
Your tutor will hopefully give you old dissertations from previous students to read in order to highlight what it takes to get a first standard as opposed to a 2:2 standard dissertation. In any case, past dissertations are readily available at your university library. If they’re really on the ball, they’ll invite one of last year’s students to visit and explain how they tackled their dissertation. If they don’t, then find someone to talk to! Ask your tutors for names of last year’s students and search for them on Twitter or drop them an email to ask them for advice.
You should also check out some of the books you can read on dissertation writing. You don’t need to read them cover to cover, just use them as guides to refer to when you get stuck and something to help you organise your workload. Here are some great books you can get for a relatively cheap price on Amazon.
- Writing Your Dissertation: The bestselling guide to planning preparing and presenting first-class work by Derek Swetnam and Ruth Swetnam – £6.89
- Writing a Dissertation for Dummies by Carrie Winstanley PhD – £7.79
- Writing your dissertation in fifteen minutes a day by Joan Bolker – £10.39
- How to write dissertations & project reports (smarter study skills) by Jonathan Weyers and Kathleen McMillan – £7.14
If you are short on cash, then just pop over to your university library and browse through the research guides and dissertation writing resources they have available for you. Make sure you get these quick as your classmates and half the university will probably all be doing their dissertation at the same time as you!
It might seem as though dissertation writing requires as much intensive reading and research as it will take to actually complete the work in your topic, but do not get demotivated! By attending the dissertation writing seminars and flicking through a few helpful books, it will not only get you informed on what you need to do, but it will also keep your mind relaxed about the whole affair.
Get in touch with us via Twitter or Facebook to share any dissertation writing guides you have found particularly helpful, or let us know how helpful your university has been in giving you dissertation advice.