A dissertation is an important and exciting piece of work because it brings together all the research, writing and task management skills you have developed during your course. Use the resources on this page to help you plan, write and format your project appropriately.
Choosing a topic
A dissertation differs from a traditional essay in that you are often allowed to choose your own topic. It is important to keep a narrow focus. In other words, try to be as specific as possible to ensure your project is “doable”.
It is likely your dissertation will take a significant amount of time to complete so it is wise to choose a topic that sparks your curiosity, so you can sustain your interest during both the reading and writing phase.
Try and identify a gap in the literature – could you make an original contribution, or look at a widely researched area from a different angle? Be aware that your title, or even focus, may change the more you read and delve into the topic.
Planning your research
Depending on your subject and type of dissertation, you may need to seek ethics approval, your tutor will be able to advise if this is the case. Given the size and nature of a dissertation, you may wish to consider time management strategies, such as creating a Gantt Chart or adopting the Pomodoro technique. You can read more about planning and time management on our Getting Organised pages.
Online survey tool
Your tutor may be able to recommend suitable online survey tools for collecting data. Remember when collecting any personal data you will need to seek ethics approval in advance taking into consideration anonymity, confidentiality and GDPR. Take a look at our guide to using online surveys.
- A dissertation introduction is not too dissimilar to that of a traditional essay. It is an opportunity to expand on your abstract, detailing the what, why and how of your argument.
- Some students find it helpful to leave this section until last. It is normal in the initial stages to not be sure of the direction of your dissertation, or exactly what it is you are ‘introducing’.
- It is also wise to start your individual chapters with a mini introduction of their own. Ideally these will lead on from the conclusion of the chapter before, while giving an indication of the content to come and how it links to your overarching research aims.
- A conclusion is not just a summary of what you have written, rather a chance to articulate what it is you have found. In other words, what were the main points that emerged from your research? What are the significance of them?
- You may also wish to detail any scope you have identified for future study, whether for yourself or scholarly peers reading your work.
- Similar to your chapter introductions, it is also usually expected that each section of your dissertation will have its own conclusion.
Most dissertations will have a literature review of some form. Its purpose is not only to show that that you understand the academic work surrounding your chosen topic, but also to identify what is unknown or not agreed upon. You do not need to cover every piece of literature in the field, rather contextualise where your topic fits in. The review should shed light on why your topic is significant and worth researching.
During your reading, you should be able to identify recurring themes and authors. This will help structure your literature review. While it is not advised you quote individual authors at length, it may be useful to group those who share similar ideas or were writing at the same time.
For example: Numerous authors have argued X (see for example, Smith, 2010; Jones, 2009 and Bloggs, 2001).
Your department may have specific expectations with regards to layout, font size and pagination and this information will be detailed within your module area on Blackboard. It is important that you leave enough time for your final, and professional, finish. Your dissertation is a culmination of your academic writing skills developed at university – take pride in it.
Useful guides and toolkits
- Dissertations – Choosing a topic
- Dissertations – Introductions, conclusions and literature reviews
- Guide to using online survey tools
- Dissertations – A professional finish