Top tips on writing your dissertation

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Top tips on writing your dissertation

As postgraduate students at City, we are also working on ours. So we have put together some tips on how you can write a good dissertation, effectively plan your research projects, and find relevant resources as we have transitioned to online studies.

Published Thursday, 13th August, 2020 in University news

While exams have finished, many of us are still studying online and working on our final dissertation.

As postgraduate students at City, we (Kullanit Nititwarangkul, Mphil/PhD student in Cultural and Creative Industries at the School of Arts and Social Sciences and Thomas Kilduff, Masters’ student, Department of Library and Information Science) are also working on ours, so we have put together some tips on how you can write a good dissertation, effectively plan your research projects, and find relevant resources as we have transitioned to online studies. As we are writing our dissertations, we have gathered some of these tips from the Academic Learning Support webinars offered at City, our supervisors, and colleagues.

What should be included in a dissertation?

Structures of a dissertation may vary according to your courses and programmes. There are also different expectations depending on whether you are an undergraduate, masters or PhD students. This guide will give you a general idea of how you can structure your dissertation as good structuring is key to a quality dissertation.

  • Generally, a dissertation should have an introduction to outline the context of your research, explain what you want to find out from your research and what will your research question focus on. You should also explain why you have chosen the research question or why is it important to conduct this research. In some cases, you could also outline what you think your answers to your research question will be e.g. by including a hypothesis statement, main arguments, and key points. The introduction should provide an overview and outline of the dissertation e.g. how will it be structured and what information will be included in each section. We suggest that after you have outlined this section, make sure that you have revised it again as you are finishing your dissertation so that your introduction tells the whole story.
  • Identify previous research conducted in the relevant areas, concepts, and theories that you may use to support your research. Generally, these will be included in the literature review section. Don’t just copy and summarize other authors’ work! Provide critical analysis and critiques to their works, such as comments on their methodology and gaps in their conceptual frameworks and theories. You should show how the works of different authors and previous research may be related to each other and why they are useful for your research project. We find that a lot of the times we have found ourselves updating and revising these resources as more and more literature and studies can be found as you are reading and writing!

Read also How to write dissertation .

  • Explain how you have collected your data to answer research questions in detail! These could be how are your participants recruited, what data collection methods were used (e.g. interviews, questionnaires, focus groups, content analysis etc) and how you analysed your data. You should also discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the methodology you have chosen e.g. issues of reliability and validity of research, to show that you have addressed the gaps in your research. Explain what questions have not yet been answered or covered by your research methods and what further research can be conducted in the future to fill these gaps.
  • Most importantly, don’t forget to address any ethical issues that your research might have raised and overcome especially if your research involved human subjects e.g. privacy and confidentiality of participants’ data, etc. You should have also obtained a research ethical approval from the Ethics Committee.
  • Present and analyse your results/findings. You can do this in multiple ways depending on your research questions and programmes.  Some dissertations may merge the findings and analysis sections together and some may have them as separate sections. But generally, you should present and highlight your findings and show that you have analyzed and interpreted them with the support of the analytical methods and literature you have found.For example, you could discuss why the results are the way they are e.g. why is there an increase/decrease in a variable? Or why is there a correlation between two variables?  In some dissertations, this section. Don’t lay out ‘all’ the findings and everything you have found e.g. the entire interview transcripts, but the important points you have found. Some of these findings can also be included in the ‘appendix’ section, if necessary.
  • Provide a summary and conclusion of your dissertation to inform the readers of the key findings from your research. You should also discuss issues related to your results e.g. by addressing the questions and issues that your research has not yet answered. You can also close with how your research findings can be applied in real-life setting or to solve real world issues.

Tips for writing a good dissertation

  • Make sure that your dissertation is well organized and clearly structured – It is a good idea to plan out the overall structure of your dissertation first before writing it out so that it is easier for readers to follow as this is generally a long piece of writing.
  • All your writing should be related to your research question. Remind yourself all the time of what your research question is –you could have it next to you whilst writing!
  • Good engagement with literature – It is important that you have thoroughly researched previous literature and related works in your fields of research. You should engage with a variety of resources, not only a few theorists and academic articles. You should also demonstrate critical thinking and evaluation of the literature throughout your writing e.g. by providing your own arguments and criticisms while reviewing the literature.
  • Comprehensive and accurate – Make sure that your writing is clear and easy to follow to ensure that readers understand your research aims, arguments, explanations, and the importance of your research. Before submitting, check your grammars and spellings to make sure that it is accurate and ready for submission. Find out more from this guide from the Academic Learning Support team on how to improve your academic writing.
  • Avoid plagiarism and maintain academic integrity – You should not use information or copy from other students’ and authors’ work as you are writing your dissertation. Third-party authors’ writings (e.g. services and agencies) should not also be part of your dissertation. It is important you maintain academic integrity as defined here.
  • Referencing –Make sure that your referencing is accurate (e.g. refer to correct sources and publications) and consistent in format (e.g. if you are using Harvard referencing then use it consistently for all references). When you are quoting other authors’ works, make sure that you correctly reference their works, both in the main text of your dissertation and in the bibliography. You can learn more about referencing from this guide.
  • Time management and planning – It is important that you plan out the timeline of your dissertation and project to ensure that you can complete it in time for submission. Plan how long you will take to complete your data collection, do your readings, and write each section of your dissertation. You should also buffer some time into your plans for proof-reading and unexpected circumstances. Don’t wait to submit your dissertation too close to the deadline as there could be unexpected technical difficulties and circumstances!
  • It is also a good idea to take some breaks, while you are writing your dissertations so that you feel more refreshed during the day.
  • Keep in touch with your supervisors throughout the process of writing your dissertations. It is also a good idea to schedule your meetings with them at a consistent frequency e.g. bi-weekly or monthly to provide updates,  ask any question, and discuss what you are expected to do for your dissertation.