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How to Create an Effective Thesis Statement in 5 Easy Steps
Creating a thesis statement can be a daunting task. It’s one of the most important sentences in your paper, and it needs to be done right. But don’t worry — with these five easy steps, you’ll be able to create an effective thesis statement in no time.
Step 1: Brainstorm Ideas
The first step is to brainstorm ideas for your paper. Think about what you want to say and write down any ideas that come to mind. This will help you narrow down your focus and make it easier to create your thesis statement.
Step 2: Research Your Topic
Once you have some ideas, it’s time to do some research on your topic. Look for sources that support your ideas and provide evidence for the points you want to make. This will help you refine your argument and make it more convincing.
Step 3: Formulate Your Argument
Now that you have done some research, it’s time to formulate your argument. Take the points you want to make and put them into one or two sentences that clearly state what your paper is about. This will be the basis of your thesis statement.
Step 4: Refine Your Thesis Statement
Once you have formulated your argument, it’s time to refine your thesis statement. Make sure that it is clear, concise, and specific. It should also be arguable so that readers can disagree with it if they choose.
Step 5: Test Your Thesis Statement
The last step is to test your thesis statement. Does it accurately reflect the points you want to make? Is it clear and concise? Does it make an arguable point? If not, go back and refine it until it meets all of these criteria.
Creating an effective thesis statement doesn’t have to be a daunting task. With these five easy steps, you can create a strong thesis statement in no time at all.
This text was generated using a large language model, and select text has been reviewed and moderated for purposes such as readability.
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Dissertations are a part of many degree programmes, completed in the final year of undergraduate studies or the final months of a taught masters-level degree.
Introduction to dissertations
What is a dissertation.
A dissertation is usually a long-term project to produce a long-form piece of writing; think of it a little like an extended, structured assignment. In some subjects (typically the sciences), it might be called a project instead.
Work on an undergraduate dissertation is often spread out over the final year. For a masters dissertation, you'll start thinking about it early in your course and work on it throughout the year.
You might carry out your own original research, or base your dissertation on existing research literature or data sources - there are many possibilities.
What's different about a dissertation?
The main thing that sets a dissertation apart from your previous work is that it's an almost entirely independent project. You'll have some support from a supervisor, but you will spend a lot more time working on your own.
You'll also be working on your own topic that's different to your coursemate; you'll all produce a dissertation, but on different topics and, potentially, in very different ways.
Dissertations are also longer than a regular assignment, both in word count and the time that they take to complete. You'll usually have most of an academic year to work on one, and be required to produce thousands of words; that might seem like a lot, but both time and word count will disappear very quickly once you get started!
Find out more:
Key dissertation tools
There are lots of tools, software and apps that can help you get through the dissertation process. Before you start, make sure you collect the key tools ready to:
- use your time efficiently
- organise yourself and your materials
- manage your writing
- be less stressed
Here's an overview of some useful tools:
Digital tools for your dissertation [Google Slides]
Setting up your document
Formatting and how you set up your document is also very important for a long piece of work like a dissertation, research project or thesis. Find tips and advice on our text processing guide:
University of York past Undergraduate and Masters dissertations
If you are a University of York student, you can access a selection of digitised undergraduate dissertations for certain subjects:
- History of Art
- Social Policy and Social Work
The Library also has digitised Masters dissertations for the following subjects:
- Centre for Eighteenth-Century Studies
- Centre for Medieval Studies
- Centre for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies
- Centre for Women's Studies
- English and Related Literature
- Health Sciences
- History of Art
- Hull York Medical School
- Language and Linguistic Science
- School for Business and Society
- School of Social and Political Sciences
Dissertation top tips
Many dissertations are structured into four key sections:
- introduction & literature review
There are many different types of dissertation, which don't all use this structure, so make sure you check your dissertation guidance. However, elements of these sections are common in all dissertation types.
Dissertations that are an extended literature review do not involve data collection, thus do not have a methods or result section. Instead they have chapters that explore concepts/theories and result in a conclusion section. Check your dissertation module handbook and all information given to see what your dissertation involves.
Introduction & literature review
The Introduction and Literature Review give the context for your dissertation:
- What topic did you investigate?
- What do we already know about this topic?
- What are your research questions and hypotheses?
Sometimes these are two separate sections, and sometimes the Literature Review is integrated into the Introduction. Check your guidelines to find out what you need to do.
Literature Review Top Tips [YouTube] | Literature Review Top Tips transcript [Google Doc]
The Method section tells the reader what you did and why.
- Include enough detail so that someone else could replicate your study.
- Visual elements can help present your method clearly. For example, summarise participant demographic data in a table or visualise the procedure in a diagram.
- Show critical analysis by justifying your choices. For example, why is your test/questionnaire/equipment appropriate for this study?
- If your study requires ethical approval, include these details in this section.
Methodology Top Tips [YouTube] | Methodology Top Tips transcript [Google Doc]
More resources to help you plan and write the methodology:
The Results tells us what you found out .
It's an objective presentation of your research findings. Don’t explain the results in detail here - you’ll do that in the discussion section.
Results Top Tips [YouTube] | Results Top Tips transcript [Google Doc]
The Discussion is where you explain and interpret your results - what do your findings mean?
This section involves a lot of critical analysis. You're not just presenting your findings, but putting them together with findings from other research to build your argument about what the findings mean.
Discussion Top Tips [YouTube] | Discussion Top Tips transcript [Google Doc]
Conclusions are a part of many dissertations and/or research projects. Check your module information to see if you are required to write one. Some dissertations/projects have concluding remarks in their discussion section. See the slides below for more information on writing conclusions in dissertations.
Conclusions in dissertations [Google Slides]
The abstract is a short summary of the whole dissertation that goes at the start of the document. It gives an overview of your research and helps readers decide if it’s relevant to their needs.
Even though it appears at the start of the document, write the abstract last. It summarises the whole dissertation, so you need to finish the main body before you can summarise it in the abstract.
Usually the abstract follows a very similar structure to the dissertation, with one or two sentences each to show the aims, methods, key results and conclusions drawn. Some subjects use headings within the abstract. Even if you don’t use these in your final abstract, headings can help you to plan a clear structure.
Abstract Top Tips [YouTube] | Abstract Top Tips transcript [Google Doc]
Watch all of our Dissertation Top Tips videos in one handy playlist:
Research reports, that are often found in science subjects, follow the same structure, so the tips in this tutorial also apply to dissertations:
Other support for dissertation writing
The general writing pages of this site offer guidance that can be applied to all types of writing, including dissertations. Also check your department guidance and VLE sites for tailored resources.
Other useful resources for dissertation writing:
Appointments and workshops
There is a lot of support available in departments for dissertation production, which includes your dissertation supervisor, academic supervisor and, when appropriate, staff teaching in the research methods modules.
You can also access central writing and skills support:
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- Schools & departments
Dissertations and research projects
General advice and resources to support you throughout your research-based dissertation or project.
This is a general resource to help you with the basics of organising and writing a research-based dissertation or project. The Go further section at the end includes advice on work-based dissertations and signposts other resources.
You should consult your course or programme information, including online sources, and project supervisor or programme director for subject-specific guidance.
Dissertations and research projects are an opportunity to focus on particular question, and plan and undertake your own research to explore it further. Many students really enjoy being an independent researcher and becoming the expert on their work. The format varies depending on the disciplinary context, subject area, your research questions and the project. You may be reviewing the literature, analysing a novel, developing and testing a new method or doing a work-based project. However there are some common factors:
- They are an independent piece of work. You will be working under supervision to some extent and may be collaborating with others, but ultimately you are submitting a piece of independent thought and writing.
- They tend to have a large word count. This is to allow you to do sufficient in-depth analysis and discussion of the topic.
- They require a large investment of time, thought and energy throughout the process. As a significant body of academic work, you need to maintain effort whilst reading, researching, thinking, writing and redrafting it.
Choosing your dissertation or project
Whether you are choosing your dissertation from a selection of topics or you are proposing your own, there are a range of factors to consider. For example:
- What is the starting point for your work, i.e. previous or related research?
- How feasible is your project / proposal?
- Do you have enough time and resources to complete it?
- Will it be of an appropriate academic level?
A key questions to ask is “How interested am I in this topic?” You will be working on your dissertation or project for some time, so having a genuine interest in the topic will help to keep you motivated. If you have any questions specific to your topic or project, you should ask your supervisor, programme director or another member of staff who teaches you.
Planning your dissertation or research project
A research-based dissertation or project is a large piece of work requiring a high level of critical analysis. To achieve this you will have to allow time, not just for the researching phase, but also for the writing and editing stages. You will need to give yourself plenty of time to:
- Read around your topic and undertake background research;
- Digest and think about what you are learning and writing;
- Complete experiments, fieldwork, interviews or project placements;
- Analyse data, findings or results, and interpret them;
- Think about and decide on your conclusions.
Taking a project management approach to your dissertation or research project might be a more effective way to successfully complete it. The Time management page has tips and tools for organising your time.
Time management webpage and tools
The dissertation and project planner can be used to think about the different stages and help give you an overall view of the process. There are some general points and questions to act as prompts, spaces you can add your own notes in and some useful tips and resources.
Dissertation and project planner (pdf) Dissertation and project planner (rtf)
Writing your dissertation
You should not underestimate the time that should be allocated to writing your dissertation. Writing will involve planning, background research, drafting, redrafting, and proof-reading and editing.
First draft : Your first draft is about getting words on the page. For example, it may sketch out your first thoughts, arguments and potential structure. You can review these and use them to check: are you focussed on the right topics and questions? Is your structure and line of thought sensible? This is also a good time to set up your format requirements (e.g. page layouts, references).
Redrafts : Redrafting is where you expand and refine your ideas and argument. You may also find that as you are writing the direction of your argument changes; for example this could be due to your literature research producing new avenues of thought or your experiments turning up unexpected results. This is a good time to review the focus of your initial question, and whether your arguments or conclusions are still sensible.
Final draft(s) : Your final draft(s) is where you cast a critical eye over your work and assess how effective it is in communicating your argument and conclusions - does it answer the question? You should also check that your presentation, spelling and grammar are appropriate and polished, all your references are included, and your are following the appropriate format guidance.
It is a good idea to take a break between writing and reviewing your work. Try to leave at least a day between writing before you pick it up again, the longer the better. This allows you to look at your work with an analytical eye, looking for ways to improve. Imagine you are reading your work as someone who is not so familiar with the topic: would a reader be able to follow and understand your argument? Do your ideas link? Have you signposted on from one section to the next? Remember also to look back at your question/title, does your dissertation address it? Does it follow a logical structure?
To check the flow of your argument or line of reasoning you can test pieces of your text using set criteria. To help revise and restructure your text you can make a reverse outline. Both of these techniques are available on our Editing and proofreading page.
Editing and proofreading
Producing a professional document
Information Services provide information and guidance about how to produce a thesis or dissertation using Microsoft Word.
Producing a thesis or dissertation using Microsoft Word (EASE log in required)
Thesis Hub: Producing your thesis or dissertation in Word
Choosing a reference manager
A referencing management tool can help you to collect and organise and your source material to produce a bibliography or reference list.
Referencing and reference management
As part of your research you will produce and use research data in a variety of forms from quantitative and/or qualitative research. This may be data you generate yourself or obtained from other researchers, data repositories or public records. You need to make choices about what you use, handle your data correctly and document all of this process.
The University’s Research Data Service helps staff and students be effective with their research data before, during and after their project. They have created an introductory handbook on Data Mindfulness for taught students writing a dissertation. This handbook is accompanied by a set of short videos. Together these cover topics including what data is, how to store it, file organisation and dealing with your data after your hand-in. There is advice in the handbook on working with sensitive data and issues such as privacy, confidentiality and disclosure.
Data Mindfulness handbook
Data Mindfulness videos
Many courses and programmes, particularly at Postgraduate level, offer the opportunity to carry out a work-based dissertation. These opportunities vary between Schools and Programmes but will typically involve students tackling a research question identified by an organisation such as a business, a public sector organisation or a charity. A work based dissertation project can be invaluable for your employability and for career development.
If you are interested in carrying out a work-based dissertation you may need to start planning earlier than you would for a more traditional academic dissertation. If your Programme offers this opportunity, you will be given this information at the start of Semester 1. If you would like to source and set up a dissertation project with an external organisation yourself, you will need to speak with your Programme Director or Course Organiser first.
You can draw on resources developed by the Making the Most of Masters project.
Making the Most of Masters
Work-based projects – advice for students
There are a variety of study guides available on dissertation and project writing. Books aimed at postgraduate students can also be useful for undergraduates. Our IAD Resource List has a selection available in University libraries.
Study Skills Guides
Dissertations 1: getting started: starting your dissertation.
- Starting Your Dissertation
- Choosing A Topic and Researching
- Devising An Approach/Method
- Thinking Of A Title
- Writing A Proposal
What is a Dissertation?
A dissertation is a research project completed as part of an undergraduate or postgraduate degree. Typically, a dissertation will enable you to present your findings in response to a question that you propose yourself. It is probably the longest piece of academic work you will produce. At undergraduate level, word count requirements can range anywhere from 5,000 to 8,000 words while a Masters level dissertation can be 10,000 to 15,000 words long!
Why are you required to write a dissertation?
A dissertation is a core requirement of most university degrees.
The dissertation will enhance your employability. For instance, you will develop transferable skills in inter-personal communication, data collection and analysis, report writing and effective time-management.
While it is demanding, writing a dissertation is your chance to explore, in depth, a topic that interests you. Therefore, ensuring you choose a topic you are passionate about will make your experience more rewarding and even enjoyable!
A supervisor will be assigned to you to assist with guidance on how to prepare, produce and improve your dissertation.
The supervisor’s role is to:
Assist in the organisation of the project in the early stages of preparation
Advise you on the feasibility of what you plan to do
Advise on methods and ethics of your research
The supervisor is not expected to:
Proofread your work
Provide you with a topic or research question
Direct the research
Ensure that a dissertation is of sufficient quality to pass: this is your responsibility
To get the best out of your time with your supervisor, you should:
Check formal requirements early
Check arrangements for supervisions and how your supervisor likes to work
Organise regular supervision meetings and prepare work for each one
Let your supervisor know how you work best
Using Dissertation Marking Criteria
Your dissertation, like your previous assessments, will be marked against a set of assessment criteria which is published in your module or course handbook and posted on Blackboard.
Assessment criteria are intended to:
Ensure you meet the learning outcomes.
Help you understand how your work is assessed.
Allow tutors to focus their feedback. They will let you know what you are doing well and what needs improvement.
Dissertation assessment criteria usually specifies what the tutor expects in terms of:
Clarity: have you expressed your ideas clearly?
Relevance: does your work fit into/fill a gap in existing research/literature on similar topics?
Originality: does it offer a fresh perspective on a topic?
Meeting course requirements: does it meet the word count / deadlines, for example?
Before starting your dissertation, it is essential that you check what is expected of you and how your work will be graded. It is also useful to regularly check what you have written every few weeks and after you have finished to see if you are on track to meet the assessment criteria.
Ready to get started but uncertain how to begin? These are normally the first steps of dissertation writing:
Choose a topic
Conduct a literature search
Devise research question(s) / hypotheses
Devise your approach (e.g. if undertaking primary research, you will need to devise your methodology, methods, etc.)
Think of a title
Plan your time
Write a proposal (if requested)
These steps are addressed in the tabs of this guide.
- Next: Choosing A Topic and Researching >>
- Last Updated: Aug 1, 2023 2:36 PM
- URL: https://libguides.westminster.ac.uk/starting-your-dissertation
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Students in the School of Economics at the University of Nottingham consistently produce work of a very high standard in the form of coursework essays, dissertations, research work and policy articles.
Below are some examples of the excellent work produced by some of our students. The authors have agreed for their work to be made available as examples of good practice.
- The Causal Impact of Education on Crime Rates: A Recent US Analysis . Emily Taylor, BSc Hons Economics, 2022
- Does a joint income taxation system for married couples disincentivise the female labour supply? Jodie Gollop, BA Hons Economics with German, 2022
- Conditional cooperation between the young and old and the influence of work experience, charitable giving, and social identity . Rachel Moffat, BSc Hons Economics, 2021
- An Extended Literature Review on the Contribution of Economic Institutions to the Great Divergence in the 19th Century . Jessica Richens, BSc Hons Economics, 2021
- Does difference help make a difference? Examining whether young trustees and female trustees affect charities’ financial performance. Chris Hyland, BSc Hons Economics, 2021
- The impact of Covid-19 on the public and health expenditure gradient in mortality in England . Alexander Waller, MSc Economic Development & Policy Analysis, 2022
- Impact of the Child Support Grant on Nutritional Outcomes in South Africa: Is there a ‘pregnancy support’ effect? . Claire Lynam, MSc Development Economics, 2022
- An Empirical Analysis of the Volatility Spillovers between Commodity Markets, Exchange Rates, and the Sovereign CDS Spreads of Commodity Exporters . Alfie Fox-Heaton, MSc Financial Economics, 2022
- The 2005 Atlantic Hurricane Season and Labour Market Transitions . Edward Allenby, MSc Economics, 2022
- The scope of international agreements . Sophia Vaaßen, MSc International Economics, 2022
Thank you to all those students who have agreed to have their work showcased in this way.
School of Economics
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Connect with the University of Nottingham through social media and our blogs .
Planning your final year project
Explore what you need to do for your dissertation and how to make the most of your time.
You usually need to write a dissertation or research project in your final year. This is a major piece of work that is typically between 5,000 and 12,000 words.
You'll need to spend time preparing, researching and writing your dissertation. Most subjects encourage you to start your dissertation research before the end of your second year. You should start thinking about dissertation ideas before you leave university for the summer.
How dissertations are different to other assignments
Cottrell (2003, p. 201) describes the differences between dissertations and other university written assignments by comparing dissertations to reports. A dissertation may have many features of a report (including an abstract) and usually requires continuous prose in most sections. Both require analytical and critical reading and writing, and new material or approaches that you've created to test out theories, hypotheses or methodologies.
Cottrell explains the differences between dissertations and other academic assignments as:
- Independence in respect of the nature and scope of the work.
- Personal commitment and involvement in the task.
- Time and task management to structure progress.
- Self-management and motivation to keep going.
- Literature searches are more extensive.
- Presentation; grammar, punctuation, binding all need time and attention to detail.
Whilst these clearly apply to other forms of written assignment, it is the extent, scope and depth that characterise a typical dissertation.
What does the dissertation process typically include?
Barnes (1995, p. 117) offers a possible sequence of activities to produce a dissertation:
- Decide on a topic that interests you.
- Try several working titles.
- Formulate your main research question and working title.
- Discuss the ethics and methodology of your research with a lecturer.
- Set up the project; making appointments to interview (if appropriate).
- Gather and analyse the data.
- Construct a timeline for writing and editing a basic draft.
- Check with a critical friend/colleague or supervisor.
- Write final draft and proofread.
- Print final copy and submit in time.
There are variations to this sequence, dependent on the exact nature of your subject and any specific decisions made by your department or faculty. It's useful to draw up a timeline based on your project. This could be in the form of a Gant chart, especially useful for business projects.
What help is available?
Consider the resources for your course and department. Published details of your dissertation requirements probably include guidance on structure, presentation, your academic teaching team, and specific arrangements for supervision.
Your faculty librarian can help you with aspects of research including sourcing primary literature and referencing. Read more at the library website .
The Academic Skills Unit (ASK) can offer you additional support through group or 1:1 tutorial sessions on subjects like critical thinking, writing, note-taking techniques and time-management.
Cottrell, S. (2003). The Study Skills Handbook (2nd ed.). Basingstoke: Palgrave Barnes, R. (1995). Successful Study for Degrees (2nd ed.). London: Routledge
Download our dissertation introduction revision sheet
Download this page as a PDF for your dissertation revision notes.
Top tips for dissertations
These tips are general pointers that will apply to most dissertations. For more discipline-specific advice it is essential to consult course and unit handbooks and your assigned dissertation supervisor, as well as attending any lectures and seminars on research and dissertations.
1. Start early
Start thinking early about possible topics, and read through departmental guidelines carefully. Good dissertation choices usually arise from lots of reading, talking and thinking about areas of your subject that you find interesting. You can change your mind several times before finalising your aims. Keep your supervisor informed.
2. Record your sources
Keep full records of all your reading. Referencing tends to be marked very strictly in dissertations, and you can save yourself a lot of time and effort if you assemble the reference list / bibliography as you read, rather than leaving it until the very end of the process. (You can easily delete any sources that you do not ultimately use.)
3. Be realistic
Don’t be too ambitious. It’s usually better to research one very specific idea thoroughly than to attempt to tackle a big theme (or many ideas) and not be able to treat it (or them) in depth.
4. Know what you want to say
To help you focus your thoughts and devise hypotheses, research questions and objectives, think of answers to this question: what would you like your readers to understand by the end of the dissertation?
5. Save your work
A dissertation is a major undertaking. Create a timetable that allows you to meet deadlines without putting yourself under unnecessary pressure. Make back-up copies of your drafts as you go.
6. List your objectives
Create clear research objectives and then choose appropriate methods that will (hopefully!) enable you to meet those objectives. You could even draw up a table for yourself to link each objective to possible methods.
7. Think ahead
Before selecting particular research methods, think carefully about how you will analyse (i.e. get results and meaning from) the data that you want your methods to give you. If, for example, you think that interviews might be a suitable method for one or more of your objectives, stop and think about how you are going to summarise and present interview data.
8. Back up your decisions
You should be able to justify every choice you make in your dissertation. There should be good, academic reasons for your choice of focus, of reading, of methodology, and of analytical techniques. Know why you did things the way you did, and make sure your reader knows why too.
9. Don't worry if your results aren't what you expected
Don’t worry if you don’t find out what you thought you would. Unexpected results are normally just as valuable as (and sometimes more valuable than) those you anticipated.
10. Be aware of your research limits
Remember to consider the limitations of your research. You are expected to think carefully and write fluently about the reliability and validity of your findings.
11. Plan your time
Plan for plenty of time to edit and proofread your drafts, and remember to allow time for binding, if that is a requirement.
12. Feel good
Feel proud of yourself. This will probably be your first ‘publication’, and one day a future student may well read and reference your work for their dissertation.
Writing: flow and coherence
Writing clear sentences
Explore our top tips for writing clear sentences and download our help sheet.
Dissertations and major projects
- Planning your dissertation
- Researching your dissertation
- Managing your data
Managing your time
Structuring your dissertation, keeping going, finishing off and checking through, useful links for dissertations and major projects.
- Study Advice Helping students to achieve study success with guides, video tutorials, seminars and one-to-one advice sessions.
- Maths Support A guide to Maths Support resources which may help if you're finding any mathematical or statistical topic difficult during the transition to University study.
- Academic writing LibGuide Expert guidance on punctuation, grammar, writing style and proof-reading.
- Guide to citing references Includes guidance on why, when and how to use references correctly in your academic writing.
- The Final Chapter An excellent guide from the University of Leeds on all aspects of research projects
- Royal Literary Fund: Writing a Literature Review A guide to writing literature reviews from the Royal Literary Fund
- Academic Phrasebank Use this site for examples of linking phrases and ways to refer to sources.
Writing up your dissertation makes it sound like this is the last big step that you do, but it is a good idea to start writing as you go along, as the writing process will help clarify your thinking. It is also reassuring to have some words down on the page. You may have other coursework due so it is important to protect your dissertation writing time.
The guidance on this page takes you through the whole writing process from managing your time to those crucial mark-gaining final checks.
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
- 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
- Managing time for your dissertation (video) Watch this brief video tutorial for more on the topic.
- Managing time for your dissertation (transcript) Read along while watching the video tutorial.
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).
- Structuring your dissertation (video) Watch this brief video tutorial for more on the topic.
- Structuring your dissertation (transcript) Read along while watching the video tutorial.
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. Consider using a reference management tool such as EndNote or Mendeley to store the details of the materials you will want to use and to add them to your text.
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.
Save your work! Remember to save your work frequently to somewhere you can access it easily. It's a good idea to at least save a copy to a cloud-based service like Google Docs or Dropbox so that you can access it from any computer - if you only save to your own PC, laptop or tablet, you could lose everything if you lose or break your device.
- Writing up your dissertation (video) Watch this brief video tutorial for more on the topic.
- Writing up your dissertation (transcript) Read along while watching the video tutorial.
- Literature reviews LibGuide Expert guidance on researching and writing your literature review.
- Doing your literature review (video) Watch this brief video tutorial for more on the topic.
- Doing your literature review (transcript) Read along while watching the video tutorial.
- Managing references An overview of different systems for managing your references.
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 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.
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 your Academic Liaison Librarian 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.
- Finishing your dissertation (video) Watch this brief video tutorial for more on the topic.
- Finishing your dissertation (transcript) Read along while watching the video tutorial.
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7 steps to writing a dissertation
While you may be experienced in revising and writing essays, your dissertation requires careful planning, extensive research, and time management to succeed
Your dissertation is a key part of your degree course and a testament to your ability to conduct research, analyse data, and write a clear argument. Dissertations can be challenging, but they are also rewarding experiences that allow you to explore a topic in-depth and make a significant contribution to your field of study.
To achieve your academic goals, it is important to act on feedback, use your supervision time to your advantage, and demonstrate a strong knowledge of your subject. Whether you're writing an undergraduate, Masters , or PhD dissertation, these seven steps can help you stay on track.
1. Choose your topic wisely
Selecting the right topic is the foundation of a successful dissertation. It is important to choose a topic that is:
- Relevant to your academic discipline and interests. This will ensure that you are passionate about your topic and have the necessary background knowledge to conduct meaningful research.
- Intriguing and thought-provoking . A well-chosen topic will inspire you to ask interesting questions and develop original insights.
- Specific enough to allow for in-depth analysis, yet broad enough to provide enough research material. A topic that is too narrow may be difficult to research or produce meaningful findings, while a topic that is too broad may be difficult to cover in the allowed time and word count.
Consider your career goals and what topics are relevant to the field you hope to work in after graduation. It's also important to be open to change, as it's common for students to modify their dissertation topic as they explore the subject more.
Once you have identified a potential topic, seek guidance from your supervisor. They can help you to refine your choice, identify relevant sources, and develop a research plan.
2. Check what's required of you
Read your marking criteria carefully. It is also important to consult the module guidelines and follow the instructions on any additional parts to your main assignment, such as a project plan, literature review or a critical reflection.
Neal Bamford, associate lecturer at London Metropolitan University, reports that his marking process always begins by 'distilling criteria to what students need to provide and how many marks this is worth.'
'Several dissertations I mark don't include a project plan in their submission. This is worth 20% of the overall mark, so students lose out on a significant portion of their grade'.
Before you begin to plan, make sure you understand what's expected of you. Find out:
- what academic writing looks like in your discipline
- the word count
- when and where you must submit your dissertation.
3. Conduct in-depth research
Research at this stage in the process is often referred to as a literature review. This is where you are expected to gather relevant sources, articles, and studies from libraries, and online academic resources to identify the existing research on your topic and to develop your own research questions.
'Form your own opinion and argue for it using research. A history of the topic is always helpful, as it shows that you understand how things got to this point in time,' says Neal.
Be sure to take careful notes on each source and organise them for easy reference. You need to critically evaluate and analyse the sources to ensure their credibility and relevance to your research. This will be helpful when citing your sources in the writing stage.
Don't forget to seek guidance from your advisor throughout the research process. They can provide you with valuable feedback, relevant sources, and support.
4. Develop a strong thesis statement
A well-defined thesis statement is a roadmap for your dissertation. It should concisely state your main argument or research question and provide a clear direction for your paper. Your thesis statement will guide your entire writing process, so take the time to fully understand it before you begin to write.
When writing a thesis statement:
- Be specific and focused - avoid broad or vague statements.
- Remember that your thesis needs to be arguable - it should be a statement that can be supported or proved false with evidence.
- Make sure your thesis is realistic - you need to be able to research and write about it in the allotted time and space.
Once you have a draft of your thesis statement, share it with your supervisor and other trusted peers. They can provide you with feedback and help you to refine your statement.
If your research disproves your original statement, it can be a disappointing experience. However, it is important to remember that this is a normal part of the research process.
'Many of my students believe that if they don't find the answer they're expecting, then their work is worthless,' says Neal.
'This is not the case. You don't have to find the answer to produce valuable research. Documenting your process and conclusions, even if they are inconclusive, can help others to avoid repeating your work and may lead to new approaches.'
5. Proofread and edit
After working on your dissertation for such a long time, it can be tempting to end the process once you have finished writing, but proofreading is an essential step in ensuring that it is polished and error-free.
To help with the proofreading process:
- Read your dissertation aloud . This can help you to catch errors that you might miss when reading silently.
- Change your environment to see your work with fresh eyes.
- Focus on one thing at a time such as grammar, spelling, or punctuation to avoid getting overwhelmed.
To edit your dissertation, begin by reviewing its overall structure and flow. Make sure that your arguments are well-organised and that your ideas are presented in a logical order.
Next, check your grammar, spelling, and punctuation carefully. You can use a grammar checker, but it is important to proofread your work yourself to identify stylistic or subject-specific errors.
'Make sure you understand the reference style your university prefers. Formatting and labelling of images, tables etc. is vitally important and will be marked,' says Neal.
You should also ensure that your dissertation is formatted using the correct font, font size, margins, and line spacing.
6. Seek feedback and finalise
Once you have made your final revisions, seek feedback from your advisor or board members.
To get the most out of your feedback, be specific about what you are looking for. For example, you might ask for feedback on the overall structure and flow of your dissertation, the strength of your arguments, or the clarity of your writing.
Be open to feedback, even if it's negative. Remember that your advisor is there to help you improve your work, so it's important to take the time to understand and implement the feedback you receive.
Once you have addressed all the feedback, you can prepare your final submission. It's important to follow the guidelines carefully before submitting. Be sure to hand in your dissertation on time, as late submissions may be penalised or even rejected.
Online hand in is the most common method of dissertation submission, and you will typically need to upload a PDF file to an online portal. Follow the instructions carefully - you may need to provide additional information, such as your student ID number or the title of your dissertation.
Some institutions still require dissertations to be submitted in hard copy. If this is the case, you will need to submit a bound copy of your dissertation to your department office. You may also need to pay the binding fee.
Be sure to check with your advisor or department office for specific instructions on how to submit your dissertation in hard copy. You may have to submit multiple copies of your dissertation, and you be required to to include a title page, abstract, and table of contents.
Find out more
- Read our 5 ways to manage student stress .
- Discover how to write an essay .
- Consider our 7 time management tips for students .
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