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Tackling a Dissertation: Final Notes

By uczcslo, on 2 June 2016

Photo by: skdevitt | Flickr

Photo by: skdevitt | Flickr

As this is my last UCL blog, I’ve decided to round off with some key dissertation tips. Having now met my dissertation supervisor, I feel enlightened and able to provide stronger insight. Having expert advice can get you on the right track. These four tips are new knowledge to me and vital for dissertation success.

Don’t assume that your methodology is correct

Although it’s tempting to plan schedules and think of which research method you are going to use, it might be too early. For example, I immediately jumped on the idea of doing a survey and to my dismay realised that I shouldn’t just assume what I’m doing is what NEEDS to be done. After my dissertation meeting today I realised I have to figure out EXACTLY what my dissertation is trying to show. Even if your methodology feels right, it might not be the best option for your choice of topic.

Don’t focus on the numbers

When dissertation time approached I started thinking of the dreaded word count, and the amount of sources I have to trawl through. Looking at too many sources might instead hinder your progress and ability to see deeper into the dissertation topic. Focus on sources that are relevant. Don’t feel the need to add sources to your bibliography just because you want to seem like you’ve done lots of research. Get inside the sources. Have fun and get to know what you’re working with and how to use it. The word count and bibliography will come with it. It won’t seem so bad and before you know it you’ll have the word count. QUALITY OVER QUANTITY.

Leave time

When writing your first draft proposal it may feel like the finished product. It’s not. When you have your meeting with your supervisor you’ll realise that your proposal really is one of the first steps that can produce success or failure. It sets you up and helps you focus on exactly what you need to do. Learning how to approach the dissertation can be the most difficult part – I found out the hard way. Crystallise ideas and get in the dissertation zone, or you could end up writing 10,000 words of nonsense.


Commit to write every day if you can for however many months you plan to write. Read, write, edit, read, delete, write, edit… Maybe you throw in a source because you think it’s important but after more research you realise there is better out there.  Don’t reach the 10,000 word count and think you’re done. There is always room to improve.

And finally… use your supervisor to your advantage

Ask your supervisor to help you keep on track, whether it be just keeping you accountable or working together to make a good schedule. Think of them as your guardian angel for a few months. Don’t ask and you don’t receive, right?

Remember how much of your degree the dissertation is worth and POWER THROUGH!

I enjoyed blogging and hope that my blogs have entertained and helped you. It’s time for me to get cracking with my dissertation based on my words of wisdom and I’ll leave the blogs for the future MA Publishing students! Good luck!

Tackling a Dissertation: The Beginning

By uczcslo, on 4 May 2016

Photo by skdevitt | Flickr

Photo by skdevitt | Flickr

It’s May and preparation for the dissertation and final proposal begins! Below I will describe the steps to take to feel confident in the next part of the process.


1. Re-read your dissertation topic.

Having the Easter break off from studying, I know all too well that it’s easy to forget your exact dissertation title. Therefore I suggest going back to it, reading it, analysing it, and trying to get as much as you possibly can from it. By this I mean cutting it into smaller, more specific questions that you seek to answer.

2. Look at past dissertations.

You may know how to write an essay, but you may not know how to tackle a 12,000 word dissertation. Therefore you need to go to the library (or online) and find dissertations that explore similar topics. I personally am going to read a few of them and pick out any that resonate strongly with me, highlighting points and making notes in the margins about the author’s structure and approach.

3. Figure out your focus.

A 12,000 word limit makes it easy to waffle so it’s important to find a focus and discover what you truly want to find out. Make sure you know the content well enough so that you can build a strong argument. For example, my dissertation focuses on Young Adult films and their relation to their book counterparts. I need to figure out WHAT FILMS and WHAT BOOKS. Should I vouch for ultra successful books such as The Hunger Games? Or others that did not take off so well such as The Mortal Instruments? Or maybe both?

4. Find sources and READ them!

I, like many have a bad habit of skim reading most things I come across and we need to avoid this temptation and actually read everything carefully this time so that we know exactly what the source is saying. Set up a word document and MAKE NOTES under specific categories and subcategories (and remember to include their page numbers)!

5. If it’s a good source, look at the bibliography.

If you find a relevant source then the bibliography is the fountain of knowledge. Check out these sources too and see if any of them also tie in with your work.

6. Consider your survey/interview/test, etc.

Although this may not apply to all dissertations, for mine I’m planning on conducting a large survey and I need to consider how I’m going to reach those people. Ask yourself what you want to know from the research. Are you going to offer an incentive? (e.g. an Amazon voucher in return for their participation). Can you actually reach those people? Who do you want to target most? What do you want to find out? How do you make your results unique compared to data already gathered elsewhere? What questions should you ask?

I’m going to spend a lengthy amount of time on this section! I know that I need to get the survey out ASAP if I want stronger representative and bountiful results but if I don’t have the correct questions then what would have been the point?

7. Start planning the structure.

Introducing a 12,000 word essay succinctly is going to prove a challenge so you need to refer back to those specific questions singled out at the beginning and use them to build your introduction. You do not want to go into the essay full force too quickly so you also need to decide how you’re going to set it up. I think the most suitable approach would be to first define what you are studying. You don’t want to confuse your readers from the outset! I also suggest detailing bullet pointed notes and sources under sub-headings.


Stress, confusion, doubt. You need to get confirmation that what you’re doing sounds good. You definitely shouldn’t start writing it until you know that you’re not wasting your time.

9. Get confirmation. Breathe. Begin.


I know this step-by-step guide makes dissertations seem too simplistic, but it does help in recognising that this is something not to be rushed. I know a common student lifestyle choice is writing essays a few days before the deadline, but 12,000 words (in my case worth almost half my degree) cannot be rushed and you must power through! Stock up on coffee and chocolate (for those teary days) and maybe when you get through these first steps and write your first word you’ll start to realise it’s not all that bad.

Tackling a Dissertation: Baby Steps

By uczcslo, 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)!