The final year of any degree is the most significant. Many of you will be specialising in your chosen fields, which, for the majority, will include writing a dissertation. I know the thought of writing a dissertation is daunting and submission season is a whirlwind, so this article aims to break down a few ways for you to check, reference and submit your work.
Read, read and read!
Once you've written your dissertation make sure you go back and read it all. Leaving it for a few hours or even a few days, and then coming back to it later is the best way to read your work with a clear mind. You may come across lengthy sentences, weird phrases, spelling mistakes, punctuational errors... the list is endless. Without reading your dissertation at least a couple of times, you won’t spot any of this.
Print out your dissertation – I know this can be expensive, but it is often easier to read on paper than on screens. Use a coloured pen to annotate. Share copies among your family and friends; different readers will have different perspectives. Spending months consumed with your own thoughts and ideas for your dissertation may at times make your writing illegible for your readers. Having others read your dissertation will ensure clarity in your communication and often they will be able to suggest areas for improvement.
Remember to reference
I spent at least two to three full days referencing. I only completed this step after a few drafts. A common misconception is that your supervisor will not check your referencing – they will. It's very easy to spot incorrect referencing. At the time of writing your dissertation, it is perfectly fine to add references. You can do this by writing the name of the source or the author's name as you go along. Familiarise yourself with the referencing format you should use. For law students, the OSCOLA format is common but be sure to check this with your university. Cite sources full or short where required.
Go over the guidelines and check with your supervisor
This may be a good time to schedule some time with your supervisor. I know during lockdown it can be tricky but they will be on hand for virtual meetings. If you have any final burning questions now is the time to ask. If you have time to go back and edit using the feedback they have given, make this your priority. Their advice can mean the difference between obtaining a merit or a distinction.
Ensure that your dissertation meets the university guidelines. Presentation can impact the grade you get. At the end of the day, the aim is to produce work that is of a publishable standard – your supervisor is there to help you to achieve this. Ask if you can see what a first-class dissertation looks like because it might offer you ideas on how to structure it, what to include and where to check references. Don't copy, just be inspired.
Timing is key
Do not leave your dissertation until the last minute. It will be much harder to ensure you have met the guidelines if you leave yourself no time to review your work. You've probably heard of people writing their dissertations in 24 hours – chances are, they already have skeleton chapters or nearly completed chapters. Some may be waiting for their dissertation to come to an end – but the longer you focus on your dissertation and consistently make progress, the more you'll have to discuss at interviews and your work here can even form the basis of future research you may wish to undertake.
It's exciting to be working towards the end of your degree. A dissertation should not only feel overwhelming, you should also feel like you're having fun. At the end of the day, for academic subjects such as law, a dissertation is usually a way for students to demonstrate their creativity.
You should now be ready to press submit.