Dissertation: How to prepare, plan and write

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What is the biggest challenge when doing your postgraduate studies?

Most of the students will tell you it’s writing their dissertation. It’s that time of the year when you will need to start thinking and working on your thesis topic. It can be overwhelming, but don’t worry you’re not alone in this! We want to help you through this process, that’s why we have worked with Dr David Rush from Talent Development Centre and academics from across departments to find you the best tips in preparing, planning and writing your dissertation.

How to choose your research question?

Focus on the topic you’re interested and would like to know more about
Writing a dissertation can be a long process. However, dissertation work also has a positive side. You have a chance to experience what it means to be a researcher! You can spend time working on your favorite topic and broaden your understanding of the specific topic. As the result of this hard work, you’ll be producing an academic research paper that contributes to the specific research field!

Be ambitious but realistic when you choose your topic
Find a question which is achievable and doable; speak with your supervisor if you’re not sure about the suitability of your topic, and use their expertise in the academic area. But don’t be put off from the risky topics – they are current and meaningful! The best way to know if your topic is suitable is to confirm your idea with your supervisor. Write down all and any ideas which come to you, you will never know what will be useful in the end. Keep on writing down your research question, this way you can confront the problem and find the best way to describe and express it.

What to focus first?

There is no perfect way of doing this. It depends on you and how you work and how you approach things in the best way you can. But having a timetable, laying the step you need to take out will help you keep track of your progress and help you avoid leaving everything to the last minute. Some departments request this timetable to be submitted, so make sure you check your department requirements.

Start by collecting everything you have so far on your topic. It can be readings, lecture notes, TV documentaries you have watched, or any other information you have from reliable sources. It will set up a baseline, help you map out where gaps need to be filled in show you that it is possible to do all the work in the long run too. It’s important to have a clear starting point and a clear strategy to move forward.

Don’t feel pressured to work on it constantly and reach big achievements quickly. It is important to take breaks and do something for yourself. Even thinking about it for 15 minutes per day helps. Little but often rule applies here, just don’t forget to take notes every time!

How to find and collect information?

Ask yourself questions like what exists out there? What do you need? Where can you get it? And who you’re going to ask?
Think about and write down what information you might need and how you could get it. Don’t feel intimidated to only do quantitative data analysis, you can choose the type of research methods you feel comfortable doing. Remember that all research has equal validity within the topic.

Speak with your supervisor about the theoretical arguments and data that you could use. Usually, they will be able to supply you with lot's of great ideas, useful articles, websites and databases, which could all benefit your work. The University also offers many support services to help you with the search. Use your subject librarian and their one to one services, they can provide you with detailed information about where to find what you are looking for. Ask your peers and other academic staff for any ideas where you could find relevant information. To help you out more, the Talent Development Centre is having many workshops throughout the spring term which specifically focus on writing and structuring your thesis work.

How to prepare for supervisor meetings

Always prepare!
Have clear ideas about what you want from every session, but don’t feel like you need to know everything about your topic. Have clear questions prepared about what you want to acheive, the difficulties you are having and how any processes work. Find out from your supervisor beforhand to see if you need to send the draft of your work before you meet. Don’t just send over an unfinished draft though and expect your supervisor to correct it or write it for you. This is your job! Supervisors are only here to support and guide you throughout the process.

It’s your responsibility to get in touch with your supervisor and update them on your progress.
Don’t feel embarrassed to ask for help and support if you need it. If you don’t ask your supervisor will assume that you’re doing fine! Honestly is the best policy and it will help you build a good relationship with your supervisor too. If you haven’t get response back from your supervisor don’t be afraid to send a reminder email or two, supervisors are busy people and it’s helpful to remind them if they haven’t answered your email or forgot to provide you with some feedback.

Make sure you use as many opportunities as you can to meet up with them and ask your questions.

Remember we’re all in this together!


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