What is a Dissertation in the UK?

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In the UK, it can be hard to figure out what university is all about and how different it is from previous levels of education. Some people say it’s harder, some say it’s easier but what you really need to know is what you actually do and study at university. Especially if you try comparing it through the different modules, it can be hard to consider as it will depend on the type of degree you study and where you go. However, one common feature of degrees in the UK is the dissertation. This can help to give you an insight into the level of a university degree compared to previous qualifications.

In short, in the UK, a dissertation is a type of research project that can be undertaken at university by both undergraduate and master’s degree students. The research of your dissertation may be done first hand through lab work or other investigation. Alternatively, it can be done through analysing and evaluating the research or arguments of others. Your final dissertation will be a long academic report that answers your question. It can range from about 5,000 to 50,000 words depending on the level you take it at and your university.

Continue reading to learn more about what a dissertation at university involves. This includes more about the different types of dissertation and the different forms of research, as well as the finer details such as the word count and how it differs from a thesis.

What is a university dissertation in the UK?

To put it simply, in the UK, a dissertation is a research project that can be taken as part of a bachelor’s or master’s degree. This research project will normally be based around a question or at least a specific theme that you as the student come up with yourself.

Then you will need to answer this question using your research and produce an extended academic report. To learn more about what a dissertation is and how to get started, check out this guide by the University of Westminster.

The word dissertation itself comes from the Latin word “dissertare” which means “to debate”. This has been taken into English quite literally and so its original meaning can help to give you a different perspective when looking at a dissertation.

As it means “to debate”, that is also what you have to do during your own dissertation. You will have to argue for different ideas that relate to your question. To learn more about this, check out this article by the Royal Literary Fund.

Are there different types of dissertation in the UK?

As mentioned above, you can take a dissertation at two different levels in the UK, undergraduate degree level or master’s degree level. Due to the differences between these dissertations, it could be argued that they are the two types of dissertation that you can take in the UK.

The main difference between a dissertation at undergraduate level and one at master’s degree level is the word count and the depth. This is because at undergraduate degree level the most you will typically write for your dissertation is about 15,000 words, whereas at master’s degree level it could be up to about 50,000 words. While this is not always the case, the difference in these figures is huge and therefore so is the amount of work that you will have to put in.

On top of that, a master’s dissertation is a lot more intense than undergraduate study. This is due to several factors but the main one is that you have to complete your master’s dissertation a lot more independently. For more information about the differences between undergraduate and master’s dissertations, check out this informative article by Ivory Research.

What are the types of dissertation research?

When carrying out your dissertation, you will soon find that there are different ways you can go about your research. The two main ways are empirical research and non-empirical research.

A dissertation with empirical research will require you to carry out the data collection first-hand. This means that in order to answer your dissertation question you will have to carry out primary research.

This may include lab work or some other form of investigation, which may even involve members of the public. This type of research is especially for scientific-based degrees, which can even include social sciences, such as psychology.

A dissertation with non-empirical research will be based on research and data that has already been carried out. This means that you will have to research, then analyse and evaluate, pre-existing arguments and debates within your field. This type of research is especially for subjects included in the humanities, such as history.

For more information about these types of research, check out this article by Top Universities.

How many words is a dissertation in the UK?

When it comes to writing a dissertation, one of the first things you need to know is how to structure your dissertation. The most important part of this is knowing what your word count needs to be.

Please note that the word count of your dissertation can vary quite a bit from university to university, and even between different departments at a university. Due to this, the figures below will mostly just be a rough guide and you will need to check with your own university to see the word count they set for their dissertations.

For an undergraduate degree, you will often have to write somewhere between 5,000 and 15,000 words for your dissertation. Due to being at a higher level, a master’s degree has a higher wound count. For a master’s degree, you may have to write somewhere between 10,000 and 50,000 words.

To learn more about how many words there are in a university dissertation in more depth, you can also look at this Think Student article.

While this can seem like a lot, this will be broken down into specific sections, such as the introduction, research philosophy, methodology, ethics and reflection on findings sections. Due to having a clear aim for each bit, these sections can make it easier for you to meet the word count. For more on the structure of a dissertation, check out this guide by the University of Westminster.

How much is a dissertation worth in the UK?

At whatever level you take a dissertation, it makes up an important part of your degree, especially at master’s degree level. This is especially as a dissertation can be worth quite a significant part of your degree, although the specific amount will depend on your university.

At undergraduate level, a dissertation will normally range from 30 to 40 credits in your final year. As you typically need to take 120 credits each year, this means that your dissertation will be worth 25% to 33.33% of your final year.

The effect this will have on your final grade will depend on how your university calculates these. Many universities in the UK use a weighted grading system, meaning that your final year will be considered more strongly than your first and second years. For more on the weighted grading system, check out this Think Student article.

At master’s degree level, a dissertation will normally be 60 credits out of 180 credits in total. This is a third of your total credits and it may even cover as much of your final grade. However, this will be up to how your university calculates your final grade.

For more information about the credits of a master’s degree dissertation, as well as plenty of other dissertation tips, check out this guide by Northumbria University.

When are dissertations due in the UK?

As each individual university or even university department sets their own deadline, when a dissertation is due can vary greatly between each one. Due to this, it is best to go directly to your university if you want to find out.

However, undergraduate dissertations tend to have deadlines at the end of their second term. Check out this article by Ivory Research for a guide to dissertations, which includes information on deadlines.

Master’s degree deadlines are typically in August or September. Although this is true for most universities, it is best to check with your individual institution for exact dates. You want to make sure you are working towards the correct deadline!

What is the difference between a dissertation and a thesis?

When considering university terms, it can be hard to figure out what each specific term means and how they differ from each other. This is especially true for the terms dissertation and thesis, as if you already have some knowledge of each term, they can appear to be very similar or even the same.

To put it simply, the difference between a dissertation and a thesis depends on what country you live in. In the UK, the main difference is that a dissertation is a part of an undergraduate and a master’s degree, whereas a thesis is a part of a doctorate degree, such as a PhD. For more information about PhDs, check out this Think Student article.

This in itself brings about a range of other differences, such as in terms of word count, the research methods and even the depth of study between a dissertation and a thesis. As mentioned above, for a master’s dissertation, you will typically need to write between 10,000 and 50,000 words.

For a PhD thesis, you may need to write between 70,000 to 100,000 words, depending on what your university has set for your course. Another kind of doctorate degree, known as a professional doctorate, may only need about 40,000 words for the thesis. For more on these word counts, check out this article by Scribbr as well as this guide by the University of Essex.

However, in other countries, the terms dissertation and thesis may be used interchangeably, meaning that you could use either term for whatever level of study it is. Also, in some countries, such as the US, the terms dissertation and thesis are used in the opposite way to how they are in the UK.

This means that for undergraduate and master’s level you would refer to this research project as a thesis and for higher levels, such as a PhD, it would be a dissertation. To learn more about the differences in general, check out this article by Scribbr.

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