Dissertation writing is probably one of the most complex academic experiences. Most university degrees require for students to develop a dissertation as a final project for obtaining a degree. Writing a dissertation is essential to a student’s academic success. Not only does it bear a significant weight towards your final grade but dissertation writing is an experience which would help you grow in extensive knowledge on a topic of interest.
Dissertation writing is a difficult process which is usually highly regarded by employers. If you have successfully managed to plan and complete your dissertation then employers trust your writing and organisational skills as well as your intelligence.
A high quality dissertation is required to contain an extensive academic significance, in-depth analysis and research validity. The research and writing experience allows a researcher to develop many academic and professional skills. Dissertation writing needs to be approached carefully and in the very early days in a student’s academic career.
We recommend you start well ahead with planning your work and writing your dissertation proposal. The more your plan the better your grade will be and the more time you will have to dedicate to researching, writing and improving your dissertation.
There are a number of components which your dissertation needs to be comprised of, such as Introduction, Literature Review, Research Methodology, Findings, Discussion, Conclusion and Recommendations. A-Mentor is highly experienced in providing dissertation writing support on a wide range of topics. We are able to support your writing by conducting both primary and secondary research methodologies.
The 1st chapter of your dissertation is the Introduction. It needs to contain information on your research topic and writing approach. It is a highly important chapter which introduces the reader to the research problem and the dissertation writing strategy which the author intends to utilise to address the set research questions.
A-Mentor is highly experienced in the writing of business degree dissertations. We can provide students with the necessary support for successfully conducting your dissertation writing. We are always happy to work with new clients and very often provide invaluable guidance for your dissertation free of charge and at no obligation. Please contact us for more details and we will be more than happy to explain how our mentors can help with your dissertation writing.
An important component of your dissertation is your Literature Review. It is an extensive and complex chapter and therefore your writing needs to focus specifically on reviewing the existing academic literature on your topic of interest. Remember, that your dissertation writing is a process which requires a critical review on theories and academic concepts. One of the main issues which students experience is that they prepare a Literature Review which is overly descriptive.
The quality of your writing and the validity of your dissertation rely very much on the credibility of the academic literature used. A-Mentor can assist you in identifying the appropriate literature for your research and assist you throughout the dissertation writing process. Our mentors have completed many business degree dissertations and are highly skilful in the dissertation writing approach needed for each business topic.
Once your Literature Review is written, your work needs to focus on the Research Methodology. It is the area of your dissertation which explains how the research process is conducted. This needs to be clearly outlined as it would serve you as a guide to successfully completing the dissertation writing process.
A-Mentor is experienced in the different research approaches and strategies which your writing approach can contain, such as primary and secondary research; quantitative questionnaires and qualitative interviews. These are all important aspects on which the process of dissertation writing is dependent. Although this is the 3rd chapter of your dissertation, you need to be very much aware of your methodology prior the dissertation writing.
If your dissertation requires primary research you need to plan ahead. A-Mentor can reach different stakeholders for quantitative or qualitative research to support your writing. We have supported many students in their dissertation writing needs and are confident in the contribution we can make to your work.
Findings and Analysis
Another important chapter is your Findings and Analysis. It is the section of your work which reveals the answers to your research question. Your dissertation findings need to provide detailed information on the research results and how they relate to your dissertation writing purpose and overall experience.
It is important that this section of your dissertation contains certain quantifiable assessment of your findings in the form of statistical information, rough data, tables, charts and graphs. This information is used as a basis of your further dissertation writing and specifically in the writing of your Discussion chapter.
For more information on how we can help with your dissertation writing and the development of your research findings please do not hesitate to drop us a line. We are more than happy to explain how we can assist and see you flourish in your academia and far beyond.
The final section of your dissertation is the Discussion chapter. This is a chapter which you should use to synthesise your research findings, the academic literature and your overall dissertation writing experience. It is important that in your writing you outline some weakness which can be identified in your piece of research.
Writing about the weaknesses of your work in terms of your inability to reach enough sample for your primary research is a fair point and contributes to the greater credibility of your dissertation writing. Tutors would not mark you down if your dissertation has weaknesses but rather appreciate your expressing maturity and criticality in your writing by understanding the implications around conducting a real world research.
We understand that dissertation writing could be a highly challenging process. This is the reason why, we are here to help with your research and writing, and contribute to your academic success. All support on your dissertation provided by A-Mentor is designed for research and study purpose only. Very often even the most capable and smart students require a little bit of guidance and objective view on their ideas and dissertation writing skills. This is what A-Mentor is here for, to support and guide you while you enjoy your success in academia and far beyond.
For more details on how we can help with the writing of your dissertation, pleasecontact us for a confidential and non-obligatory discussion. We are always glad to meet new friends and exceed your expectations throughout the process.
Writing up your dissertation
This guide covers how to get your dissertation successfully written up in the time you have. It includes advice on:
• Managing your time
• Structuring your dissertation
• Writing up
• Keeping going
• Finishing off and checking through
Printable version of this guide (this is designed to be printed double-sided on A4 paper, then folded to make an A5 leaflet).
Managing your time
Don’t panic! Your dissertation might seem like an endless project, but you can break it down into a list of tasks. Having a plan for using your time to complete those tasks will get it done.
Plan an overall work schedule
Break down your dissertation into stages and plan backwards from your deadline to fit them all in.
• Start with your literature review
• Think about your methodology
• Identify primary sources
• Identify secondary sources, if appropriate
• Write as you go along
• Organise and analyse your material
• Write up
• Redraft / check / proofread
Do a little bit on a regular basis
• Decide in advance when you’re going to work on your dissertation – set aside time each week or have a particular day to work on it
• Give yourself a specific task to do in that time
• Do difficult tasks at the times of day you work best
• Do easy tasks when you’re tired / less motivated
Top tip… have a contingency plan!
No one ever sticks to their plan perfectly, and you can’t predict all the things that might intervene, so build in some extra time for “catching-up”.
Also be aware that mechanical tasks like sorting the bibliography and proofreading will take longer than you think. Computers and printers know when you’re in a hurry and will scheme to break down at the most inconvenient moment!
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Structuring your dissertation
Dissertations based on qualitative or quantitative research are usually organised as follows:
• Chapter 1. Introduction
• Chapter 2. Literature Review
• Chapter 3. Methodology
• Chapter 4. Results and Analysis
• Chapter 5. Discussion
• Chapter 6. Conclusion
• Bibliography & Appendices
If you a doing a report-style dissertation similar to the structure above, have a look at thisDissertations guide from LearnHigher – it highlights the similarities between reports that you may have done on your course and a longer dissertation.
Other dissertations may be based around discussions of themes or texts:
• Chapter 1. Introduction
• Chapter 2. (theme / text 1)
• Chapter 3. (theme / text 2)
• Chapter 4. (theme / text 3)
• Chapter 5. Conclusion
• Bibliography & Appendices
This kind of structure often can’t be finalised until you’ve done some research and found out what themes or texts you want to focus on.
It’s a good idea to write an overall plan outlining what you need to cover in each chapter.
Think of a dissertation like a series of linked essays; each chapter is self-contained and has its own purpose, but they all connect together to contribute to the argument of your dissertation.
The chapters don’t have to all be the same length – some can be longer because they are more detailed (like the literature review) and others can be shorter because they are summarising and finalising information (like the conclusion).
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Your dissertation may be the longest piece of writing you have ever done, but there are ways to approach it that will help to make it less overwhelming.
Write up as you go along. It is much easier to keep track of how your ideas develop and writing helps clarify your thinking. It also saves having to churn out 1000s of words at the end.
You don’t have to start with the introduction – start at the chapter that seems the easiest to write – this could be the literature review or methodology, for example. Alternatively you may prefer to write the introduction first, so you can get your ideas straight. Decide what will suit your ways of working best – then do it.
Think of each chapter as an essay in itself – it should have a clear introduction and conclusion. Use the conclusion to link back to the overall research question.
Think of the main argument of your dissertation as a river, and each chapter is a tributary feeding into this. The individual chapters will contain their own arguments, and go their own way, but they all contribute to the main flow.
Write a chapter, read it and do a redraft – then move on. This stops you from getting bogged down in one chapter.
Write your references properly and in full from the beginning.
Keep your word count in mind – be ruthless and don’t write anything that isn’t relevant. It’s often easier to add information, than have to cut down a long chapter that you’ve slaved over for hours.
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After the initial enthusiasm wears off, it can be hard to keep motivated – it’s also natural to feel confused and overwhelmed at points throughout your dissertation; this is all part of sustaining a longer project. Here are some suggestions to keep you going.
Break down large, unappealing tasks into smaller bearable ones. Molehills are always easier to climb than mountains!
Give yourself rewards when you’ve completed tasks – these might range from a cup of coffee, to an exercise session, or even a night out.
If you’re not in a good thinking mood, do more straightforward tasks like compiling the bibliography or doing the title page.
If you’re feeling confused about what you’re doing, try writing a short paragraph summarising what your research is about. This can help you find a focus again.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, try identifying the one thing that you need to do next; often this will logically lead to further steps, and you’ll be able to get started again.
Talk to friends or your supervisor about what you’re doing; explaining where you are in your project and how it’s going can help clarify your thinking.
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Finishing off and checking through
This stage can be time consuming, so leave yourself enough time to have a final read through of your dissertation to pick up any lingering mistakes or typos. Good presentation matters – it gives a professional appearance and puts the reader in a good mood. So it is worth making sure you have enough time to proof-read and get your layout right.
General principles are:
• Double-space your writing, do not have narrow margins, and print on one side of the page only.
• Use a font that is legible and looks professional (Comic Sans is not appropriate!).
• Check what should be included in cover pages and headers and footers (e.g. page numbers).
• Have a clear Table of Contents to help your reader, and a separate List of Illustrations or tables if appropriate.
• Consider what information should be put in Appendices and check that you have referred to the appropriate appendix in your text.
If you’re trying to track down that missing reference for your bibliography, you can always ask a member of the Library staff for help finding it.
Undergraduate dissertations are usually ‘soft bound’. This means having a soft card cover, with the pages joined together with comb, spiral, or thermal binding. You can get this done at many print shops, often while you wait.
If you choose to get your work hard bound, it can take a few days (more at busy times), so check with the printers / stationers beforehand.
What does your department do…?
Check your course or dissertation handbook for your department’s preferences on:
If possible, look at dissertations from previous years to see how they have been presented.
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For advice on other aspects of dissertations, see…
Planning your dissertation
Researching your dissertation
Managing your data
Starting a literature review
The Final Chapter – an excellent guide from University of Leeds on all aspects of undergraduate research projects.
Reading, note-taking and referencing
Download a printable version of our Study Guide on Writing Up Your Dissertation. (These guides are designed to be printed double-sided on A4 and folded to A5.)
1.03 How to write a dissertation
Your topic : Planning and research : Structure of dissertation : Content and style : Referencing
The advice given here is very general in nature: you must always check with your supervisor and with course documentation what the specific requirements are on your course.
A good dissertation will:
have a clear objective, based on a well worked out thesis or central question.
be well planned and widely researched.
show that the student has a good grasp of relevant concepts and is able to apply these in their own work.
include analysis, critical evaluation and discussion, rather than simple description.
contain consistent and correct referencing.
be structured and expressed in an appropriate academic way.
show your tutors that you have learnt something on the course and have been able to use this to produce a well argued extended piece of academic work.
A mediocre dissertation will:
have a very general or unclear title.
be poorly planned, with a narrow field of research.
rely heavily on source material, with little or no attempt to apply this to the student’s aims.
be mostly descriptive.
contain little or no referencing, perhaps in an incorrect format.
be poorly structured, with possible plagiarism of source material.
not convince your tutors that you have learnt much.
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Some tips on how to produce a good dissertation
Start thinking early on about what you would like to write about. Consult as soon as possible with your supervisor for advice on the expected scope of your dissertation. Remember that you will not simply be writing about “IT in Primary Education”, but instead will be focussing on specific aspects, perhaps trying to solve a problem, querying currently held beliefs, or arguing a particular case or “thesis”. Your final title may instead be something like:
A computer for every pupil?
A critical analysis of the over-reliance on Information Technology in current UK primary education.
This title will therefore probably need to be refined over the weeks before you agree the final version with your supervisor.
Planning and research
Your dissertation is a major commitment and will be a long way to deciding your final award. It is obviously very important, therefore, to plan meticulously.
Work out a timetable and stick to it. You really have no excuse to leave things to the last minute. There will always be problems: difficulties in obtaining books or materials; delays in receiving replies to letters or questionnaires; temperamental printers and floppy disks; mysterious dissertation-eating dogs. You must allow for these, however: none is an excuse for not handing in your work on time.
In consultation with your supervisor, draw up an initial reading list, making sure that this is wide-ranging, relevant and as up-to-date as possible. Approach this reading with specific questions in mind; if not, you will waste a lot of valuable time reading irrelevant information.
If you’re going to include some sort of survey or questionnaire, make this as wide as possible, but remember that companies and organisations are swamped with this sort of thing and the response rate will probably be very disappointing.
Most of your writing will probably need redrafting several times, and you must carefully proofread everything you write, or perhaps get someone else to do this for you. Any revisions needed will of course take time, as will the binding of your finished dissertation, if this is necessary.
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Structure of dissertation
As stated, you must check with your supervisor and with course literature what the required structure is, as there are many variations. A basic framework would be:
Title page (See Guide 1.25)
Title, your name, course name, date, name of supervisor
Abstract (See Guide 1.31)
One paragraph summarising the whole dissertation
Acknowledgements (See Guide 1.27)
Thanks to those who have assisted you
Table of contents (See Guide 1.26)
Chapters and/or sections & sub-sections with page numbers
Table of figures
Introduction (See Guide 1.23)
A presentation of your question/problem/thesis, with a brief outline of the structure of your work
The facts, evidence, analysis, evaluation and discussion. All very well structured: arts/social sciences tending towards paragraphs; sciences/engineering towards sections; business a mixture of the two.
Conclusion/findings (See Guide 1.24
Where you bring it all together, stating very clearly your answer to your central question and if appropriate making recommendations, suggestions etc.
Bibliography (See Guide 1.14)
A complete list of your sources, correctly formatted.
Any information not central to your main text or too large to be included:
for example, complete questionnaires, copies of letters, maps etc.
Other sections you may be asked to include could be terms of reference, procedure, methodology, executive summary, literature review or recommendations.
Avoid footnotes, unless you’re using a numerical referencing system. Avoid too many brackets. Use bold and italics sparingly and consistently. Avoid underlining. Avoid using “etc.”
Writing a Dissertation
From our: Study Skills library.
The aim of the dissertation or thesis is to produce an original piece of research work on a clearly defined topic.
Usually a dissertation is the most substantial piece of independent work in the undergraduate programme, while a thesis is usually associated with master’s degrees, although these terms can be interchangeable and may vary between countries and universities.
A dissertation or thesis is likely to be the longest and most difficult piece of work a student has ever completed. It can, however, also be a very rewarding piece of work since, unlike essays and other assignments, the student is able to pick a topic of special interest and work on their own initiative.
Writing a dissertation requires a range of planning and research skills that will be of great value in your future career and within organisations.
The dissertation topic and question should be sufficiently focused that you can collect all the necessary data within a relatively short time-frame, usually about six weeks for undergraduate programmes.
You should also choose a topic that you already know something about so that you already have a frame of reference for your literature search and some understanding and interest in the theory behind your topic.
There are many ways to write a dissertation or thesis.
Most universities and colleges provide very specific guidance to their students about their preferred approach.
This page, and those that follow, are designed to give you some ideas about how you might carry out your literature review, and then write each of the various sections of your dissertation in the absence of, or in addition to, any specific guidance from your university.
Organising your Time
However organised you are, writing your dissertation is likely to be one of the most challenging tasks you have ever undertaken.
Take a look at our pages on Organising your Study Time and Organisation Skills, as well as Project Management Skills and Project, to give you some ideas about how to organise your time and energy for the task ahead.
Like an academic paper for journal publication, dissertations generally follow a fairly standard structure. The following pages discuss each of these in turn, and give more detailed advice about how to prepare and write each one:
• Research Proposal
• Literature Review
• Results and Discussion
• Conclusions and Extra Sections
Particularly for master’s programmes, your university may ask for your thesis to be submitted in separate sections, rather than as a single document. One breakdown that is often seen is three-fold:
• Introduction and/or Research Proposal, which should set out the research question that you plan to explore and give some ideas about how you might go about it. If you are submitting it as a research proposal, it will be fairly sketchy as you won’t have had a chance to review the literature thoroughly, but it should contain at least some theoretical foundation, and a reasonable idea of why you want to study this issue;
• Literature Review and Methodology, which are often combined because what you plan to do should emerge from and complement the previous literature; and
• Results and Discussion, which should set out what you actually did, the results you obtained, and discuss these in the context of the literature.
You will probably have an overall word count for the total dissertation or thesis. If you are required to submit in sections, ensure that you have left yourself enough words for the Results and Discussion. It is easy to get carried away with the literature review.
As a general guide, use the marking scheme to show you the approximate split for the word count. For example, if the introduction is worth 20%, and each of the other two submissions 40%, for a total word count of 10,000 words, the introduction should be at most 2,000 words, and each of the other two around 4,000 words.
If you’re submitting your dissertation as a single piece of work, and not in separate submissions, you may find it easier not to write it in order.
It is often easier to start with the literature review and then write the methodology.
The introduction may be the last bit you write, or you may wish to rewrite it once you’ve finished to reflect the flow of your arguments as they developed.
One of the best ways to write a dissertation is as you go along, especially the literature review.
As you read each reference, summarise it and group it by themes. Don’t forget to reference it as you go!
You should be used to referencing by the time you write your dissertation but if you need a refresher then see our page: Academic Referencing.
Dissertations and academic articles used always to be written in the third person, and in the passive voice; as an example, you might write ‘An experiment was carried out to test…’
However, many journals have now moved away from that convention and request first person and active voice, which would require you to write ‘I carried out an experiment to test…’
Check with your university about their requirements before you start to write.
If you cannot find any guidelines, then ask your supervisor and/or the person who will be marking your thesis about their preferences. Make sure that the voice and person are consistent throughout.
Whatever style is preferred, aim to keep your language simple and jargon-free. Use shorter, simpler words and phrases wherever possible. Short sentences are good as they are easier to follow. Any sentence that runs to more than three lines needs to be cut down or split.
Phrases to avoid include:
Find more at: http://www.skillsyouneed.com/learn/dissertation-writing.html#ixzz3nGF5mJK2
Writing a dissertation
For a printer-friendly PDF version of this guide, clickhere
This Study Guide addresses the task of writing a dissertation. It aims to help you to feel confident in the construction of this extended piece of writing, and to support you in its successful completion.
You may also find the following Study Guides helpful:
• Planning and conducting a research project
• Planning essays
• Writing essays
• Thought mapping
• Referencing and bibliographies
Sometimes writing is seen as an activity that happens after everything else:
“The research is going well, so the writing should be straightforward – I can leave it until later”.
“I know I’m not good at writing so I keep putting it off”.
“I know I’m good at writing so I can leave it to later”.
“I want to get everything sorted out in my mind before I start writing or I’ll just end up wasting my time re-writing”.
These four very different perspectives lead to the same potential problems:
• regarding re-drafting as a failure or a waste of time;
• ignoring the further learning and clarification of argument that usually occurs during the writing and re-writing process; and
• leaving too little time for effective editing and final proofing.
The process of having to describe your study in detail, in a logical sequence of written words, will inevitably highlight where more thought is needed, and it may lead to new insight into connections, implications, rationale, relevance, and may lead to new ideas for further research.
Barras (1993:136) suggests that you ‘think of your report as part of your investigation, not as a duty to be undertaken when your work is otherwise complete’, and this Study Guide suggests that: writing is an integral part of the research process.
Getting on with the writing
The good news is that you have already started writing if you have written any of the following in relation to this study:
• a research proposal;
• a literature review;
• a report of any pilot studies that you undertook;
• an abstract for a conference;
• reports for your supervisors;
• a learning journal where you keep ideas as they occur to you; or
• notes for a presentation you have given.
In each case the object of the writing was to communicate to yourself, your supervisors, or to others, something about your work. In writing your dissertation you will draw on some of this earlier writing to produce a longer and more comprehensive account.
Check out what is required
Before embarking on any substantial writing for your dissertation you will need to check the exact requirements regarding:
• the word limit: maximum and minimum; and whether or not this includes words within tables, the abstract, the reference list, and the appendices;
• which chapters are expected to be included, in which order, and what kind of material is expected in each;
• the kind of content appropriate to place in the appendices rather than in the main text; and
• the marking scheme or guidance.
There are some conventions that guide the structuring of dissertations in different disciplines. You should check departmental and course regulations.
Below are two structures that are commonly used.
• Title page
• Contents page(s)
• Materials and methods or Literature review
• Results or Sources and methods
• Discussion or Findings
Each section or chapter has its own particular function
The title itself is an important opportunity to tell the potential reader what your research is about. You will need it to be succinct, specific, descriptive, and representative of the research you have done. There is likely to be a required format for the title page in your discipline, so you need to check what that is.
This may be one of the shortest sections of your thesis or dissertation, but it is worthwhile taking great care to write it well. Essentially, the Abstract is a succinct summary of the research. It should be able to stand alone in representing why and how you did what you did, and what the results and implications are. It is often only one page long, and there may be a word limit to adhere to. The Abstract is an important element of the thesis, and will become a document in its own right if the thesis is registered within any database. The examiners will therefore assess your Abstract both as part of your thesis, and as a potentially independent document.
It can be best to write the Abstract last, once you are sure what exactly you are summarising. Alternatively it can be useful to write the abstract earlier on, as an aid to identifying the crucial main thread of your research, its purpose, and its findings, which could then guide the structure of the dissertation.
Attending to the very restrictive word / space limit, while at the same including all the relevant material is quite a challenge. It might be useful to look at how others have managed. It is certainly an academic exercise, but perhaps not too different from the concise explanations of your research you may have had to give to relatives and neighbours over the last few years, in terms of its brevity, accessibility, and comprehensiveness.
This is your opportunity to mention individuals who have been particularly helpful. Reading the acknowledgements in other dissertations in your field will give you an idea of the ways in which different kinds of help have been appreciated and mentioned.
Contents, and figure and table lists
The contents pages will show up the structure of the dissertation. Any imbalance in space devoted to different sections of content will become apparent. This is a useful check on whether amalgamation of sections, or creation of further sections or sub-sections is needed.
Although this is the first piece of writing the reader comes to, it is often best to leave its preparation to last as, until then, you will not be absolutely sure what you are introducing. The introduction has two main roles:
• to expand the material summarised in the abstract, and
• to signpost the content of the rest of the dissertation.
The literature review, or context of the study
The purpose of this chapter is to show that you are aware of where your own piece of research fits into the overall context of research in your field. To do this you need to:
• describe the current state of research in your defined area;
• consider whether there are any closely related areas that you also need to refer to;
• identify a gap where you argue that further research is needed; and
• explain how you plan to attend to that particular research gap.
This can lead logically into a clear statement of the research question(s) or problem(s) you will be addressing.
In addition to the research context, there may be other relevant contexts to present for example:
• theoretical context;
• methodological context;
• practice context; and
• political context.
It can be difficult to identify the best order for sections in this chapter because the rationale for your choice of specific research question can be complicated, and there may be several inter-linked reasons why the research is needed. It is worth taking time to develop a logical structure as this will help to convince examiners of the relevance of your research, and that you understand its relevance. It will also provide you with a framework to refer back to in your discussion chapter, when you reflect on the extent to which your research has achieved what it set out to do.
Chapter(s) describing methods, sources, material etc
In these chapters a straightforward description is required of how you conducted the research. If you used particular equipment, processes, or materials, you will need to be clear and precise in how you describe them. You must give enough detail for another researcher to replicate your study.
Results / Findings
You will need to check which style of reporting is preferred in your field. For example a scientific dissertation would probably have very clear separation between the results and the discussion of those results; whereas a social science dissertation might have an overall chapter called Findings, bringing the results and their discussion together.
Decisions about style of presentation may need to be made about, for example:
• whether you want to begin with an initial overview of the results, followed by the detail, or whether you move immediately into the detail of the results;
• in which order you will be presenting the detailed results; and
• what balance, in terms of word space, you want to achieve across the spread of results that you have.
This is where you review your own research in relation to the wider context in which it is located. You can refer back to the rationale that you gave for your research in the literature review, and discuss what your own research has added in this context. It is important to show that you appreciate the limitations of your research, and how these may affect the validity or usefulness of your findings. Given the acknowledged limitations, you can report on the implications of your findings for theory, research, and practice.
This chapter tends to be much shorter than the Discussion. It is not a mere ‘summary’ of your research, but needs to be ‘conclusions’ as to the main points that have emerged and what they mean for your field.
This section needs to be highly structured, and needs to include all of your references in the required referencing style. As you edit and rewrite your dissertation you will probably gain and lose references that you had in earlier versions. It is important therefore to check that all the references in your reference list are actually referenced within the text; and that all the references that appear in the text appear also in the reference list.
You need to check whether or not the appendices count within the word limit for your dissertation. Items that can usefully go in the appendices are those that a reader would want to see, but which would take up too much space and disrupt the flow if placed within the main text. Again, make sure you reference the Appendices within the main text where necessary.
Designing your detailed structure
If your dissertation is well-structured, easy to follow, logical, and coherent, your examiners will probably enjoy reading it, and will be able to listen to your argument without the distraction of trying to make all the links themselves.
The only way to achieve a consistent argument throughout a piece of writing is by creating some kind of plan or map of what you want to say. It can be useful to think of the research question or topic going like a strong thread throughout the dissertation: linking all the elements of the study, and giving coherence to its reporting.
Moving from doing the research to writing a comprehensive account of it is not necessarily easy. You may feel that you know everything in your head but can’t see how you can put it into words in the most useful order. It can be helpful to break the task down into smaller, more easily accomplished elements. The process of producing your writing plan could go as follows.
1. You could start by making a comprehensive and unstructured list of all the elements and ideas that you need to include, ranging from
2. chapter headings to notes about analysis, and from ideas for graphical representation to ideas for further research. Alternatively you could choose to start at stage 2.
3. List the main chapter headings in the order in which they will appear.
4. Under each chapter heading, list a series of important sub-headings. It may be that, for example, a literature review chapter needs to be split into a review of several different segments of literature. In this case each segment can have its own sub-heading, with a synthesis that brings the findings together at the end of the chapter.
5. Under each sub-heading, list the main content that needs to be included, creating sub-sub-headings if needed. If you began by making a long and unstructured list of content, you can now feed that into the developing structure by inserting it as bullet points under the relevant headings. You need to ensure that all the content you want to include has been allocated a place.
6. As you go, you can slot in ideas, references, quotes, clarifications, and conclusions as they occur to you, to make sure they are not forgotten.
7. Check that there is an appropriate balance between and within sections, and that the structure facilitates the logical and coherent description of the research study you have undertaken.
8. Take feedback from others at this stage, before you begin to fill in the detail.
Filling in the detail
It can be a good idea to put the word limit to the back of your mind at this point, and concentrate on getting everything recorded in a document. You can always edit upwards or downwards later as necessary.
Writing as you go along
It is likely, and advisable, that you will not wait until the end of your research before starting to write it up. You may be required to produce one or more chapters for assessment part way through your research. The process described above can be used for any individual chapter you are working on. It is important to be prepared to critique and revise your own work several times. Even the early chapters submitted for assessment, and passing that assessment, may need to be revised later on. This is not a failure, but a positive sign of increased experience and skill.
Developing an argument
An important aspect running through your dissertation will be your argument for:
• why this specific topic is worth researching;
• why this is a good way to research it;
• why this method of analysis is appropriate; and
• why your interpretations and conclusions are reasonable.
You will refer to the work of others as you make your argument. This may involve critiquing the work of established leaders in the field. While it is important to be respectful in the way that you discuss others’ ideas and research, you are expected to engage directly, and even openly disagree with existing writing.
In Taylor’s (1989) book on writing in the arts and social sciences, he suggests that the following different approaches offer a range of academically legitimate ways to engage with published work.
• Agree with, accede to, defend, or confirm a particular point of view.
• Propose a new point of view.
• Concede that an existing point of view has certain merits but that it needs to be qualified in certain important respects.
• Reformulate an existing point of view or statement of it, such that the new version makes a better explanation.
• Dismiss a point of view or another person’s work on account of its inadequacy, irrelevance, incoherence or by recourse to other appropriate criteria.
• Reject, rebut or refute another’s argument on various reasoned grounds.
• Reconcile two positions that may seem at variance by appeal to some ‘higher’ or ‘deeper’ principal.
• Develop an existing point of view, perhaps by utilising it on larger or more complex datasets, or apply a theory to a new context
(Adapted from Taylor 1989:67)
It is important that you are assertive about what you are arguing, but it is unlikely that, in a dissertation project, you will be able to be definitive in closing an established academic debate. You should be open about where the gaps are in your research, and cautious about over-stating what you have found. Aim to be modest but realistic in relating your own research to the broader context.
Improving the structure and content
Once you have the dissertation in draft form it becomes easier to see where you can improve it. To make it easier to read you can use clear signposting at the beginning of chapters, and write links between sections to show how they relate to each other. Another technique to improve academic writing style is to ensure that each individual paragraph justifies its inclusion. More ideas will be presented in the Study Guide The art of editing.
You may choose to review your draft from the standpoint of a dissertation examiner, which might involve preparing a list of questions that you want to see answered, then reading through your dissertation scribbling comments, suggestions, criticisms, and ideas in the margin. If you have a marking guide then apply it to your dissertation and see if there are aspects that you can improve.
While you do this, be aware of whether you need to increase the number of words, or decrease it to reach your target. As you read you can then cross through material that appears unnecessary, and mark points that could be expanded. This will then form the basis for your next, improved, draft.
When to stop
Just as it can be difficult to begin writing, it can also be difficult to know when to stop. You may begin to feel that your dissertation will never be good enough, and that you need to revise it again and again. It may be helpful to divert your attention for a while to the finishing off activities you need to attend to:
• writing the abstract and the introduction;
• checking the reference list;
• finalising the appendices; and
• checking your contents page.
Coming back afresh to look critically at the main text may then enable you to complete it to your satisfaction. Remember the dissertation needs to demonstrate your ability to undertake and report research rather than to answer every question on a topic.
It is important to allow yourself enough time for the final checking and proof reading of the finished document.
• Devote time to planning the structure of the dissertation.
• Plan a structure that will enable you to present your argument effectively.
• Fill in the detail, concentrating on getting everything recorded rather than sticking to the word limit at this stage.
• Regard writing as part of the research process, not an after-thought.
• Expect to edit and re-edit your material several times as it moves towards its final form.
• Leave time to check and proofread thoroughly.
Barrass R. (1979) Scientists must write. A guide to better writing for scientists, engineers and students. London:Chapman and Hall.
Taylor G. (1989) The Student’s writing Guide for the Arts and Social Sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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