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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.