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Tackling a Dissertation: Baby Steps

By Sarah L Osborne, on 6 April 2016

As briefly mentioned in my previous commuter series, I have found temporary relief from cramped train journeys, but I am now plagued with dissertation worries. Therefore I am starting a new series called Tackling a Dissertation. Its aim is to walk students (particularly MA students) through the helpful tips and steps I have taken in order to ensure dissertation success.

I admit I’m certainly no expert when it comes to dissertations and this is my first (I was lucky to escape it during my BA), but I hope I can somewhat prepare you in the run up to putting pen to paper. I will begin with five key ‘baby steps’ I believe are important before whole-heartedly settling on a chosen topic.

1.Pick a topic you are interested in.

It’s not going to be an enjoyable few months otherwise!

Additionally, choose a topic that will put you in the spotlight of your potential dream employer. For example, there would be little point in me writing on academic publishing when I am strongly interested in trade.

2.Think about the argument early.

I tried to stick to this rule myself, flicking through articles and jotting down sentences on which topics interested me most. I committed about ten minutes a week to doing this for about 3 months in advance of the deadline. In hindsight, I wish I had committed more time and done some deeper research to check whether my topic could be expanded enough to fulfil the word count.

3.Use bibliographies to your advantage.

Bibliographies – ah! – often the bane of my life, yet now my saviour. If you find an essay/article/journal on a topic you are interested in, then pay close attention to its bibliography. They are rich in relevant content and will keep your mind active on the subject!

4.Be prepared to stumble upon information when you least expect it.

This has happened to me a few times whilst reading for other classes. I was nearly always tempted by laziness and so wanted to pretend I hadn’t seen the information. Don’t be lazy! Set up a word document or dedicate a page in your notebook for jotting down important sources, otherwise you will regret it!

5.WARNING: An MA dissertation is not the same as a BA dissertation.

Tutors have emphasised this fact heavily, and although it’s difficult for me to compare (given the fact that I didn’t do one during my BA), I think it’s a key point I should warn you about if you are embarking upon a MA dissertation. Here is a chart that demonstrates some of these potential differences! https://www.ukessays.com/dissertation/masters/differences-between-undergraduate-dissertation-and-a-masters-dissertation.php

I would love to write more but I believe I will develop more detailed advice the further into the dissertation process I go. I hope these first ‘baby steps’ are useful for future and current students. I will have more tips next month so do not fret. We do have until September after all (although don’t get carried away with procrastination on that thought)!

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