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Undergraduate dissertation tips

Undergraduate dissertation tips

Bethany Barrett

04/03/2022

Reading time: three minutes

Many final-year students will have started their dissertations alongside their final-year modules in September but January is when the pressure to make real progress on it really hits.

Up until now, you've probably done some research into your chosen topic, perhaps narrowed down your dissertation to a more specific research area or question. If you’ve had internal deadlines to meet, you may have even started to put pen to paper.

With January exams now behind us (thank goodness), your attention can now return to a more ordinary sort of work routine and a major part of this in your final year is your dissertation.

This blog post will detail my dissertation writing experience to help you feel a little less alone in what can be a somewhat isolating experience.

Research

I found the process of research to be somewhat backwards emotionally. When I first delved into my chosen subject, I felt pretty confident that I got to grips with the key issues quickly. But the more I researched, the more confused I seemed to get, and my list of research was never-ending!

For centuries, humans have been aware of this problem, with Aristotle famously penning the phrase "The more you know, the more you realise you don’t know."

This issue makes narrowing down your area of research key. You will have a word limit (as well as a time limit, albeit this is much longer with a dissertation than with other essays!) so you can't discuss everything you may want to.

This in turn means you don’t have to research absolutely everything. Knowing when to draw the line and stop is key – you can always return to research a niche point in more depth later.

Top tips for dissertation

Perhaps my biggest piece of advice to remember when writing your dissertation is to put it into perspective. It might feel immense at the time – and it is because it will probably be the largest piece of research you have had to conduct so far in your academic career – but it is only an undergraduate dissertation.

Read this LCN Blog for further guidance on what to write in your dissertation: ‘Dissertation time – what to write.’

The examiners aren’t expecting you to produce a ground-breaking piece of research, complete with original thinking and a flawless list of resources. You do have to try and be critical of the area and provide analysis and description but remember your limits and don’t overcomplicate things by trying to sound like an academic.

Finally

Something I wish someone told me this time last year is just start writing. Disappointing, I know. You, too, have probably already been told this. But I want you to listen to it. Nobody except you can write your dissertation for you (cheating aside).

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be protesting that you haven’t finished all the research you wanted to do, or that you’re not clear enough on your plan to start writing yet. But what you write now does not have to even feature as part of your final submission. By putting even just your initial rough thoughts down on paper/ screen, you will clear your thought process around your plan up. The more you write, the clearer it will become. Also, the word count does go up quicker than you think it will, I promise.

Now you may go forth and pen your revolutionary debut work – good luck (and no, I wouldn’t swap with you for the world).

Read this LCN Blog before submitting your dissertation: ‘A checklist for submitting your dissertation’.