It’s no secret that the academic advancement at university can be a little bit of a culture shock compared to earlier forms of education, such as GCSEs or A-Levels. While this can be in all ways, even in simply how things are marked and assessed, it can also be due to the work you have to do itself. One example of this, is the dissertation that you may have to do in your final year of undergraduate study. This dissertation can feel a bit overwhelming compared to what you’re used to, and you may feel that you don’t know where to start.
Continue reading for a clear guide on how to go about writing your dissertation. This article will take you through each section of your dissertation, explain what it means and how to do it.
Table of Contents
Step 1: Start with a plan for your dissertation
Planning your dissertation is arguably the most important part of it. This is because your dissertation plan is going to be your rough guide on what’s going into your dissertation and where it is.
In your plan, it can also be helpful to set yourself deadlines in order to enable you to stay on track. For more on this, check out this planning guide by the University of Edinburgh.
Your plan will need to include an outline of your main sections. These are your introduction, literature review, methodology, results, discussion and conclusion. To learn more about these, check out this article by Scribbr and check out their respective headings further down in the article.
Also, when you first start planning, it can be easier to think of dissertation in 3 main sections: the introduction, the main body and the conclusion. For this more simplified plan, you may want to think of the introduction as the part where you introduce your topic and subject area as well as your main concepts and theorists.
Then for planning your main body, you will need to make notes on the main argument and the alternative argument(s) as well as your key areas of research. For planning your conclusion, you can make notes summing up this argument and your findings as well as making notes on the unresolved areas. To learn more about planning your dissertation, check out this article by The Guardian.
Step 2: Write your dissertation introduction
The first large bulk of writing that you will need to do as part of your dissertation is your introduction. As the name suggests, within this introduction, you will have to introduce your research area and make your reader understand how and why it’s relevant within the wider topic area. Also included in your introduction is an outline of your research question and the aims of your research.
Writing an introduction for your dissertation can be a lot harder when it actually comes down to it than you may have previously thought. Due to this, you may want to write a few rough drafts before deciding on your final one. This is also because you may even find that you will want to tweak your introduction to better fit the rest of your dissertation later on.
An introduction is supposed to take up about 10% of your word count, this means that as many university programmes require about a 15,000-to-20,000-word count, the introduction may need to be between 1,500 and 2,000 words. To learn more about this, check out this article by Dissertation Sage, as well as, this article by Think Student.
There are seven things you need to do in order to write the perfect dissertation introduction. First you will need to introduce your research topic and the focus of your research, giving the appropriate amount of context, discussed the importance and relevance of this topic, while stating the problems that it addresses. Then you will also need to outline your research objectives and give an overview of your dissertation’s structure.
To learn more about writing your dissertation question, check out this article by Scribbr.
Step 3: Write your dissertation literature review
The term literature review can sound pretty confusing, and it can be hard to decipher what it means. Despite how complicated it sounds, a literature review is very simply the section of your dissertation where you summarise your understanding and then critically evaluate all of the “literature” or sources that you’ve collected around your topic.
Also, in this section of your dissertation you will need to essentially explain where there is a “gap” in the sources that you have read and how your research will attempt to fill it. To learn more about literature reviews, check out this article by Oxbridge Essays and this guide by the University of Edinburgh.
Before you can write up your literature review, you will need to conduct your research into your subject area and find reliable sources. You will then need to summarise the key points that you find in this material and then link these key concepts and theories together in order to create an outline of the pre-existing research.
Due to the nature of a literature review, you will then need to analyse and evaluate these concepts and theories, making sure to particularly identify any areas of debate. To link it back to your own dissertation, you will need to explain how these ideas and concepts can be linked to new research.
To learn more about writing up a literature review, check out this guide by the University of Kent.
Step 4: Write your dissertation methodology
The next section of your dissertation is your methodology. This should be about 20% of your dissertation word count. Based on the typical word count that is usually between 15,000 and 20,000 words, the methodology will typically be about 3,000 or 4,000 words.
To learn more about the word count of your dissertation, check out this Think Student article. To learn more about the percentage of the methodology, check out this article by Dissertation Sage.
The idea of the methodology section of your dissertation is to describe and then explain your methods. This will be about how you gathered your data and then an analysis and evaluation of your own methods.
This is done to prove the validity of your research and thus your entire dissertation. To learn more about what a methodology is, check out this article by Scribbr.
There are several elements that you will need to cover in order to create a solid methodology. First you will need to outline your type of research or research design that your dissertation is centred around.
The main two types of dissertation research are empirical and non-empirical research. To learn more about these, you can look at this Think Student article which will give you an overview of dissertations.
Then you will need to explain your research philosophy and essentially explain the assumptions that you made while carrying out your research. You will then need to describe what approach you’ve taken to research as well as what kinds of research you are carrying out.
Other than giving this overview of your method, you will also need to go into greater detail to explain what you did and to analyse and evaluate this. To learn more about how to write a methodology for your dissertation, check out this article by Ivory Research.
Step 5: Write up your dissertation results
The results section of your dissertation is pretty self-explanatory. In this section, you will need to detail the main findings from your research and analysis. To learn more about the results section of a dissertation, look at this article by Scribbr.
In order to write up your results section, you will need to record the findings of your research. This will need to be done in the past tense and must be focused on the exact question of your dissertation rather than simply including everything.
How you set out your results section will likely be dependent on what research strategy you have chosen. For a quantitative research strategy, you will likely find that it is best to focus solely on your dissertation question, your findings related to it and how you analysed them.
Whereas for a qualitative research strategy, you may find that there is less of a clear focus on your dissertation question within your results. Due to this, it may instead be best to focus on the shared themes across your findings and then to link this back to your research question.
To learn more about writing up the results section of your dissertation, check out this article by Research Project.
Step 6: Write your discussion for your dissertation
During the discussion section of your dissertation, you will have to debate and evaluate your own findings. By this, I mean that you will have to analyse and evaluate the meaning and relevance of your findings to your dissertation and subject area as a whole. To learn more about this section, check out this article by Research Project.
In order to write your discussion, you will first need to refresh your reader’s memory about your findings by summarising the key points. Next you will need to make interpretations about your results, particularly in terms of any patterns and any anomalies.
Then you will need to contextualise your findings into your wider subject area by linking back to your literature review section. In this, you will also need to prove the validity of your research while making note of the limitations within it and give ideas for future research. To learn more about writing your discussion, check out this article by Scribbr.
Step 7: Write up your dissertation conclusion
The last main writing bit of your dissertation is your conclusion. Similarly, to your introduction, it is only about 10% of your word count, which as mentioned above will only be about 1,500 to 2,000 words out of 15,000 to 20,000. To learn more about this percentage, check out this article by Dissertation Sage.
There are seven basic elements for a solid conclusion that you may want to use in your dissertation as outlined by Trzeciak and Mackay. These are a summary of your dissertation, a deduction based off it, your opinion about your subject area, a brief statement about the limitations, comments about future research and the impact of your work on future research as well as any important figures that haven’t been previously mentioned.
To learn more about these, check out this guide by the University of Warwick.
In order to actually get down to writing your conclusion, you may want to think about it as a reflection of the research you carried out. You may want to take notes for writing it as you proofread the rest of your work.
Then shape this into a functioning conclusion using at least some of the seven listed elements. To learn more about writing up your conclusion, check out this article by Dissertation Genius.