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Tackling a Dissertation: Final Notes

uczcslo2 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

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

uczcslo4 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.

8. SPEAK TO YOUR SUPERVISOR!

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.