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Dissertations 1: Getting Started: Starting Your Dissertation

A Guide

What is a Dissertation?

A dissertation is a research project completed as part of an undergraduate or postgraduate degree. Typically, a dissertation will enable you to present your findings in response to a question that you propose yourself. It is probably the longest piece of academic work you will produce. At undergraduate level, word count requirements can range anywhere from 5,000 to 8,000 words while a Masters level dissertation can be 10,000 to 15,000 words long! 

Why are you required to write a dissertation? 

  • A dissertation is a core requirement of most university degrees. 

  • The dissertation will enhance your employability. For instance, you will develop transferable skills in inter-personal communication, data collection and analysis, report writing and effective time-management.  

  • While it is demanding, writing a dissertation is your chance to explore, in depth, a topic that interests you. Therefore, ensuring you choose a topic you are passionate about will make your experience more rewarding and even enjoyable! 

Supervision Advice

A supervisor will be assigned to you to assist with guidance on how to prepare, produce and improve your dissertation.  

The supervisor’s role is to: 

  • Assist in the organisation of the project in the early stages of preparation 

  • Advise you on the feasibility of what you plan to do 

  • Advise on methods and ethics of your research  

The supervisor is not expected to: 

  • Proofread your work 

  • Provide you with a topic or research question 

  • Direct the research  

  • Ensure that a dissertation is of sufficient quality to pass: this is your responsibility 

To get the best out of your time with your supervisor, you should: 

  • Check formal requirements early 

  • Check arrangements for supervisions and how your supervisor likes to work 

  • Organise regular supervision meetings and prepare work for each one 

  • Let your supervisor know how you work best 

Using Dissertation Marking Criteria

Your dissertation, like your previous assessments, will be marked against a set of assessment criteria which is published in your module or course handbook and posted on Blackboard.  

Assessment criteria are intended to: 

  • Ensure you meet the learning outcomes. 

  • Help you understand how your work is assessed. 

  • Allow tutors to focus their feedback. They will let you know what you are doing well and what needs improvement. 

Dissertation assessment criteria usually specifies what the tutor expects in terms of: 

  • Clarity: have you expressed your ideas clearly? 

  • Relevance: does your work fit into/fill a gap in existing research/literature on similar topics? 

  • Originality: does it offer a fresh perspective on a topic? 

  • Meeting course requirements: does it meet the word count / deadlines, for example? 

Before starting your dissertation, it is essential that you check what is expected of you and how your work will be graded. It is also useful to regularly check what you have written every few weeks and after you have finished to see if you are on track to meet the assessment criteria.  


First Steps

Ready to get started but uncertain how to begin? These are normally the first steps of dissertation writing:  

  1. Choose a topic 

  1. Conduct a literature search 

  1. Devise research question(s) / hypotheses 

  1. Devise your approach (e.g. if undertaking primary research, you will need to devise your methodology, methods, etc.) 

  1. Think of a title 

  1. Plan your time 

  2. Write a proposal (if requested)

These steps are addressed in the tabs of this guide.