The following is an in-depth guide on how to write a dissertation. We have broken down all the various components into their individual parts to help start you with your writing. Each part is addressed in detail, using various videos and images to help illustrate key points. This guide has been written in plain English, avoiding a lot of the confusing jargon which often accompanies scholarly guides. The intention is to provide learners with a comprehensive but easy to understand go-to resource which can be used as a virtual working manual to aid in completing a dissertation. By following this step-by-step guide, you will be able to work through your dissertation in easy to manage stages, progressing with clarity and confidence.
The dissertation is a long-form academic project or thesis. It is an in-depth piece of critical writing in which students are given the opportunity independently to develop an extended piece of research in a specialty of their choosing. Here, you, the learner, take responsibility for the direction of your study. In this way, the dissertation is unique from all other assessed university work because students are given an unprecedented level of intellectual and academic autonomy. The exact requirements of your dissertation will depend upon the course subject and qualification for which you are studying.
So, we now know that the dissertation is an extended piece of self-directed research, let us consider what this entails exactly. The dissertation is usually your last stage of your studies and gives you a chance to demonstrate your skills in collecting, analysing and forming conclusions about your own research. Broadly speaking, there are three key aspects to a dissertation. Firstly your dissertation is expected to be a piece of independent work. You will of course have the support of your dissertation supervisor, but the work is primarily directed, managed and overseen by yourself. Secondly, the dissertation needs to be original. This can be achieved in a variety of ways. For instance, it might come from original research questions or an original argument or insight into an area of concern, or it might derive from originality in the method you choose to carry out the study finally dissertation.
Most importantly, dissertation writing should be reflective. This means you need to look at your own work with a critical eye. Obviously, there will be critical reflection present in your findings. However, you are also expected to go beyond this and reflect on the research process itself. This means you should seek to identify the limitations of your study as well as discussing other problems you faced as a researcher. All academic research is subject to some limitation or other. You will invariably encounter difficulties in your own study. So this reflective component should be fairly easy to undertake.
An undergraduate dissertation is usually between 8,000 to 12,000 words. Traditionally speaking, a dissertation contains five chapters:
We shall discuss each of the above in closer detail in subsequent sections. But for now we will give a brief overview of how the individual chapters work, individually and together.
The Introduction chapter is there to set the scene. This chapter establishes the context of your research and describes the problem or issue you studied. It provides a rationale for the study. So, you might for example discuss why the topic is important, what is to be gained from studying it, and who will benefit from the research (i.e. professional practitioners or other researchers). Also, the Introduction provides a formal statement of the research questions associated with his study.
The Literature Review provides a fairly comprehensive account of the theoretical concepts related to your topic. This may include a review of related studies which have examined topics similar to yours. You will need to discriminate between content so as to include only the literature most relevant to your project.
The Methodology discusses the research design you have chosen along with the assumptions associated with that design and a rationale for what it has been selected. Usually the Methodology will provide a step-by-step breakdown of the methods and techniques you use to collect and analyse your data. Where applicable, the chapter would also entail discussion of the ethical issues associated with the project.
The Results chapter should be a narrative which presents the evidential findings of your research as clearly as possible. The point here is to transmit information in a way that other researchers understand exactly what your study discovered and why.
The Discussion is where major interpretation of the data generally occurs. Hence the Discussion is arguably the most important section of the dissertation. Here, you should aim to connect the findings to the original research questions and Literature Review. Perhaps you will introduce new ideas which shed further light on the findings, enabling better interpretation. This is also the best place to offer a reflective account of your study (its limitations and difficulties). If you are undertaking applied research, the Discussion also offers recommendations you wish to make for further research.
The dissertation is a truly unique part of the university experience. It is the most personal piece of work you will do. This is because you are in control, the master and commander of your own scholarly journey. Of course, this might be a bit daunting to start with though. But as you progress with your writing, it will begin to become extremely rewarding. Think about it: learning how to write a dissertation is your opportunity to say what you want to say, on a topic you think is important, that you care about. You get to shine a light on a perhaps wholly new area of inquiry. Moreover, this is your best chance to be unrestricted, to really throw yourself into something that you have a passion for. This can be a very agreeable, even enjoyable experience. Far too much attention is paid to the potential difficulties of the dissertation. True enough, it will likely be challenging; but, anything worthwhile is. Overcoming the challenge is where the sense of achievement comes from. Nor does this have to be an ordeal. Do not feel like you have to suffer through dissertation writing. This really is the wrong way to think about it. Rather, you should concentrate on the benefits it offers to your personal development. You should allow yourself to enjoy the process, enjoy the research. Allow yourself to enjoy producing something you are proud of, in being able to immerse yourself in study and produce good work.
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