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Dissertations are a longer research project on a topic that (hopefully) interests you. They are an opportunity to demonstrate the research skills you have developed throughout your degree. Being in charge of a longer research project can seem overwhelming, but breaking it down and working on it consistently bit by bit will make it manageable. Different disciplines have different requirements for dissertations, so always check with your department and supervisor for what you need to do.
When starting out on your dissertation, it’s a good idea to know what is involved. Have a look at this guide which outlines the whole process:
Be informed. Look in your module handbook and check any guidance and deadlines you have been given.
When selecting a topic and narrowing it down to a question, you need to consider the time, resources, and interest you have in that topic. Use this checklist to help you decide:
Sometimes you are asked to write a proposal before finally deciding on your topic. The purpose of a proposal is not to cover everything but to show that there is enough literature and time to cover what you want to do. See this short guide for more information:
Struggling to find a research question? Don’t worry, research questions often evolve and develop as you do some initial exploration of the literature. Look at this simple guide to get started:
Also see these videos for some creative strategies to help:
Some long- and short-term planning is essential when working on a larger project. Have a look at this video for advice on planning your dissertation with some flexibility for the unexpected!
A key aspect of dissertations is demonstrating your wider reading and your ability to find a range of suitable sources. Have a look at this guide to creating, refining and saving your search strategy:
A dissertation will involve reviewing the literature that relates to your topic. See our guide for more on what literature reviews are and how to do them:
Having a clear idea of what you want to find out and how you will find this out makes researching much easier. Look at this guide to prompt you to think about the primary and secondary research you may need to do:
A dissertation will involve selecting, justifying and explaining the process that you use to gather your data and find an answer to your research question. This is usually called your methodology. Look at this comprehensive guide to the methodology of a dissertation:
The structure of your dissertation will vary depending on your subject, so always check your module information and if in doubt, ask!
Many dissertations in science subjects follow a report-style structure:
In the social sciences, the findings and discussion may be combined and organised more thematically:
In the arts and humanities, the structure may be entirely thematic, with each chapter on a different theme:
The writing process can seem intimidating, but you can think of each chapter as roughly the length of an essay or short assignment, and you can write those! Look at this guide for more advice on the writing process:
Most people end up using Microsoft Word to create their dissertation but one thing that can prove challenging is that the formatting requirements are sometimes more complex for dissertations than for other assignments. Microsoft now has a searchable training website where you can get help to get the most out of Word. YouTube is also a good place to go if you want to be shown how to do less familiar things. In addition, we’ve created short video guides for two of the most common formatting issues:
Save yourself time and make your dissertation look neater by using headings to create a contents page. This video shows you how:
Use section breaks if you want to make one section of your dissertation behave differently to another. This is really useful if you want to put a table or picture in your dissertation in a landscape orientation rather than portrait, or if you need to change the style of page numbering after the first few pages. This video shows you how to do it.
Your dissertation is a chance to showcase your skills, so your markers will be looking for a professional text, demonstrating accurate referencing and well-presented writing. Look at this video for tips on a polished finish:
Your Academic Liaison Librarian is a good contact for help with finding sources for your dissertation:
and the Library have also compiled a comprehensive list of study resources on dissertations: