How to avoid a 'diss-aster'!

Get ahead of the game with this simple how-to guide, that will stop all and any disertation disasters

Gemma Powell
24th May 2021
Pixabay: @Comfreak
A dissertation is a crucial part of your degree so its important that its done well. These easy steps break down how to write your dissertation so it doesn't overwhelm you and you can get a good mark!

Decide Your Topic

Your degree subject will depend on how much your dissertation topic can vary but make sure you know exactly what your research will be about, giving the dissertation a direct focus. Narrow down which films, literature, experiments, or data collections will be most useful to your overall topic. It sounds obvious but at this stage, I was looking at a potential of 3 different films on the same theme. Narrowing the search made the literature review simpler.

Come up with a hypothesis or an anticipated outcome statement

As an arts student with no real primary data to collect, the concept of a hypothesis can be daunting. Instead think of it as “What is the answer to my dissertation idea?” If you are looking at a specific theme in literature for example, draw on your knowledge on this theme from other modules. This statement should not be very detailed as you have not yet read other scholar’s opinions or findings on the topic.

Literature

Secondary sources can be tricky to find. Everyone knows the trick of turning library search to ‘everything’ or using google scholar but refining the results can be quite tricky. Sometimes it requires thinking outside the box. For example, my dissertation is about identity formation in a former nation. Searching specific terms related to that nation generated very few results but general concepts on identity formation were easy to find and apply to more niche aspects.

Review each piece of literature in value and compare it to other literature sources on the same topics. Give each piece a score on usefulness in relation to your topic, but remember usefulness is not whether you agree with it. However, your opinion will be needed for the conclusion writing later on.

Planning

According to the module booklet, my dissertation plan had to include a working title, aims and scope, methodological approach, discussion of key sources of information, as well as organisation and expected conclusions. The ratings and discussion of the sources you have read will come in handy for the key sources section. The proposal planner that the library offers online broke down the main concepts into smaller more manageable questions. This is useful for those struggling with describing their ‘approach’ because of their lack of primary data gathering.

https://www.ncl.ac.uk/webtemplate/ask-assets/external/quiz-proposal-planner/v1.0.1/index.html

Deciding your structure can be hard. I battled with my supervisor, who preferred to divide it into chapters based on each film rather than each theme. This has no exact formula: you have to go with your instinct. My instinct was to follow my supervisor’s preferred layout.

Write Up

Do not write a dissertation in chronological order. It seems tempting but your introduction and conclusion have to match. If you write your introduction first, you may come up with more ideas and potentially more research that will change your conclusions. Because your dissertation is not fiction, your conclusions must also be mentioned briefly in the introduction.

To write each chapter, I gathered quotes together on similar ideas, decided the most important concepts and then began to write up. My paragraphs were composed of arguments and counter arguments of different scholars but inevitably coming to a certain conclusion based on the evidence.

Editing and Proof-reading

Ironically, my least favourite part. If you struggle with large chunks of text, put space between the lines, make the font a large size and never work for more than an hour at a time on the proof-reading process.

Keeping to your word count is hard. Cutting out unimportant statements and random tangents are the best places to start, if you need to reduce your words.

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