Nations that use a British academic system require a body of work to be produced during the end of an ‘undergraduate’ or ‘masters degree’. The contents of a dissertation are used to help determine your final grade at the end of your degree.
A dissertation will also test your abilities to research and create work in response to a topic explored independently – overall, it can showcase the skills you’ve acquired during your time at university. So, how should you approach your dissertation?
The dissertation word count for most university programmes is between 15,000 and 20,000 words, however, these can alternate significantly solely based upon the course and what university you are attending. Whilst this can be used as a guide, dissertation lengths will depend on the subject you are researching and the depth that the subject area can be explored to you should aim to contain as much detail and research as possible. To reach your word count, you should make sure that your work is divided into around 4-5 chapters, including a clear introduction to your topic and a conclusion to round up the contents of what you’ve written.
Now that you’re familiar with the word count and structure of a dissertation, you may be considering what topic you’d like to explore. Read on further for some tips and ideas to help strengthen your piece.
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How can you choose a dissertation topic?
The first thing you need to do when writing a dissertation is to choose a topic. By becoming familiar with your topic or question area it will allow your researching and writing to flow effortlessly. When you choose your topic there are a few factors you will need to consider, such as:
- Your department’s requirements.
- Your areas of interest and pre-existing knowledge.
- The relevance (social, scientific and practical).
- Availability of resources to research.
- Your time schedule.
It’s vastly important to stick to the requirements of your module for your dissertation. Whilst some programmes may have stricter requirements, for example: providing you with a restricted list of topics and questions to consider, other programmes may have just provided you with a deadline and word count.
Before delving into a niche field of research, it will help to choose a broader field that you know of, researching into it and choosing something within that to focus upon. For example:( The broad area is ‘Economic History’, you will narrow it down to ‘European Economic History’.
You could also make this even more in-depth by focusing upon one place in Europe and their personal assets.) It is important to choose a small area, that is still large enough to have lots of resources like books, websites and alternate research to build a case around.
How do you create an interesting dissertation?
Choosing a topic for your dissertation can be difficult but some key factors will give you the ability to navigate around your subject area and narrow your ideas down. Once you have an idea it’s important to follow certain patterns and rules to make your work interesting. To start with, you should select a topic that you find interesting, that is also unique and different.
Once you have a topic you are passionate about, you’ll find that your motivation to complete the work will be increased. By choosing a unique research topic, it allows you to develop your original ideas and opinions which will make your dissertation more enjoyable to read.
Another major importance to deliver an interesting dissertation is to do your research. Delve deeper into the subject and don’t just include surface-level information. Research your question and topic areas before you begin writing to ensure it can not be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as this will make you struggle with reaching your word count.
You may also want to change the methods that you’re using to write up your dissertation. If you’re typing, try switching to handwriting some ideas. A change in the presentation of your work may help to get your ideas flowing again. Don’t be afraid to use your resources to plan and edit work.
During writing, one of the most important tips to create a high standard piece of academic work is to not be too vague or narrow during your explanations. This links in with the importance of research and thorough planning before you commit to a topic area, you want something that can be explored in-depth and have many different viewpoints and subcategories that you can include.
Each sentence and paragraph that you write should be a contribution to the overall piece. Depending on the topic you’ve chosen, it should aim to either, answer your question, contribute to your research or strengthen both or one side of an argument.
What should you do if you’re struggling with your dissertation?
When writing your dissertation, you’re bound to hit a point where you struggle with writing- be that in the beginning, middle or end, you’re not alone in the difficulties of this assignment. Many students that are required to write a dissertation will hit difficulties but still manage to complete and triumph with their writing.
Whilst you can research and deepen your ideas through reading other pieces and articles, there are also other ways to get over your writer’s block, such as taking time out to focus upon yourself and creating a work plan on when to add and study your dissertation.
Having a plan and a schedule allows you to separate your education and home life so that you’re not engulfed in the pressures and stress of turning in your work on time.
There are many websites and resources online that can help you create and plan your time to help boost motivation and mood. If you’re needing help with time management, check out this useful website. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a template on how to create a study schedule, press here.
For example, you could use post notes and flashcards for small snippets of information you might want to include later, write down any thoughts in rough notes, ensuring you won’t forget.
You can also draw, create mind maps and plans, colour coordinate any ideas you want to research and write about. Making your work seem ‘fun’ will boost your motivation to work significantly and will help you get back to writing.
If you struggle to connect or make contact with other students for whatever reason, there are resources online that are easily accessible, for example, ‘The Student Room’ which creates a platform for other young people to chat and ask each other questions. Also, make sure to check out any other articles on ‘Think Student’.
The last thing that you can do is to contact your mentor or course tutor for their advice. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, as they aren’t there to punish you, they will help you get back on track and guide you to a good piece of work.
What can you do if you fail your dissertation?
Once you have submitted your dissertation, it will be sent to be marked and evaluated. The pass mark for your piece of work is 50%, as with all modules and academic work. However, if under any circumstances your dissertation doesn’t reach the pass mark, you will be given an opportunity to revisit your work and resubmit a new, updated version.
Despite your opportunity to resubmit your dissertation, there are a few significant implications that will affect you. As resubmission occurs during the end of the programme you’re studying, if you’re a student studying in the UK with a Visa then this may impact you and cause a few problems.
If this applies to you, whether you are working on your dissertation or have already submitted it, make sure to contact your supervisor/tutors to explore your options and possible issues beforehand.
Alternatively, if you are studying without a Visa and there are no other possible issues regarding your educational background, resubmission could still have an impact on you.
Resubmitting will mean that your university graduation will be delayed– unless an improved version can be submitted very quickly. With all resubmissions, the highest mark that you can achieve for the new dissertation is 50%.
Remember – if you have fallen behind, work out if there is anything that can be worked out to get you caught up, if not the deadline may be able to be adapted to give more work time. It’s important to remember that your tutors and university want you to succeed, meaning they’ll do anything that is in their power to help you.
Advice for new dissertation writers.
After reading this article, I hope that you have clarity over the subject of dissertations. They can be tricky to approach and to achieve the grade you’re aiming for, but with a clear topic, confidence and managing your time appropriately you will be able to create a great piece of work.
Whilst you should still remain aware of deadlines and word counts, you should make your key focus upon writing about a topic you are passionate about, wording your dissertation in a clear, easy to read way. Write and research a piece that you would enjoy reading yourself, if you’re not happy with and passionate about the subject you have chosen it will show within your work.