Guide to writing a dissertation
This Study Guide addresses the task of writing a dissertation. It aims to help you to feel confident in the construction of this extended piece of writing, and to support you in its successful completion.
You may also find the following Study Guides helpful:
Sometimes writing is seen as an activity that happens after everything else:
“The research is going well, so the writing should be straightforward - I can leave it until later”.
“I know I’m not good at writing so I keep putting it off”.
“I know I’m good at writing so I can leave it to later”.
“I want to get everything sorted out in my mind before I start writing or I’ll just end up wasting my time re-writing”.
These four very different perspectives lead to the same potential problems:
- regarding re-drafting as a failure or a waste of time;
- ignoring the further learning and clarification of argument that usually occurs during the writing and re-writing process; and
- leaving too little time for effective editing and final proofing.
The process of having to describe your study in detail, in a logical sequence of written words, will inevitably highlight where more thought is needed, and it may lead to new insight into connections, implications, rationale, relevance, and may lead to new ideas for further research.
Barras (1993:136) suggests that you ‘think of your report as part of your investigation, not as a duty to be undertaken when your work is otherwise complete’, and this Study Guide suggests that:
Getting on with the writing
The good news is that you have already started writing if you have written any of the following in relation to this study:
- a research proposal;
- a literature review;
- a report of any pilot studies that you undertook;
- an abstract for a conference;
- reports for your supervisors;
- a learning journal where you keep ideas as they occur to you; or
- notes for a presentation you have given.
In each case the object of the writing was to communicate to yourself, your supervisors, or to others, something about your work. In writing your dissertation you will draw on some of this earlier writing to produce a longer and more comprehensive account.
Check out what is required
Before embarking on any substantial writing for your dissertation you will need to check the exact requirements regarding:
- the word limit: maximum and minimum; and whether or not this includes words within tables, the abstract, the reference list, and the appendices;
- which chapters are expected to be included, in which order, and what kind of material is expected in each;
- the kind of content appropriate to place in the appendices rather than in the main text; and
- the marking scheme or guidance.
There are some conventions that guide the structuring of dissertations in different disciplines. You should check departmental and course regulations.