There are many differences between an essay or assignment and a dissertation. Most obviously, the length (word count), the amount of time given to complete it and the fact that you choose the topic.
The key difference though is that your dissertation is a piece of work that will be adding something new to your field of study. You will be conducting research to answer a specific question. The work that goes into that will shed light on a particular issue, as opposed to demonstrating your theoretical knowledge of a subject, as you would do with an assignment.
Given these differences, your approach to completing your dissertation should be different too. To help you make a success of your work we have collated some handy tips.
It all starts with the question
Getting your question right is an important part of your dissertation process. Much will flow from this point – the methodology, the literature review and so on. It makes sense to spend some time on this, as it will be much easier to debate and assess different options at the start of your work, than try to change tack half way through.
Plan and get started
Your dissertation is a sizeable piece of work so having a clear plan and timetable will help to break things down into manageable sections and will help to keep you on track. Working back from your hand in date is often the best way to go. You will then be able to allocate time efficiently for things like your introduction, conducting your research, proof reading and so on.
It is also important to make a start on your work as soon as you can…a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. All the planning in the world won’t get the job done on its own. That doesn’t mean that you have to complete sections within the first few weeks. Being able to do various tasks in parallel will help you to maintain progress and see how topics and content link together and overlap.
Be clear on your methodology
Once you have a clear idea of your topic you should also be relatively sure about your methodology. This is an essential building block and you should consider your options carefully and be comfortable with an approach that works for you and for your question. Once you have made your decision it makes sense to share your thinking with your supervisor. They will provide help guidance before you invest too much time and effort in the wrong direction.
Do the reading and then do some more
There is no escaping the need for reading when it comes to completing your dissertation. You will need to read widely as well as the literature directly related to your question. The only way to achieve what you need is to develop a technique that allows you to speed read, use summaries and snippets and of course read whole texts. Don’t forget once you think you have completed your reading, you need to carry on and do some more.
Talk about it – use your supervisor
If you are not careful then writing your dissertation can become quite a lonely task. Of course by its very nature it is a solo endeavour but you do have help. Your supervisor is there to provide guidance to ensure you stay on track and your dissertation delivers the insight into your question that you want it to. Don’t be afraid to ask for meetings. Discussing your thoughts and ideas with someone else (see earlier comment) will help you to stay focused and not waste time in areas not relevant to your work.
And don’t forget to talk to your fellow students. You will all be going through he same process. It can be good to share your successes and frustrations and to hear about what is working for others. There is strength in the sharing of your experiences.
Getting it done
And finally, once you have your plan, your question and your methodology in place, you have made a start and you are underway with your reading, there is only one piece of advice left to give…keep going.