This post was written by an external contributor. Christian Lynn shares his top-tips for dissertation success.
It’s that time – dissertation drafts are going to have to be written sooner or later, and it’s our job to get it absolutely right.
The style you write in and the topic you choose is all up to you, but I’d like to offer a little guidance, with some helpful dissertation tips that I have picked up whilst writing assignments and articles throughout my degree. These may seem like the smallest of changes to the way you work, but in the long run, I guarantee they’ll help you out.
Books, journals, articles…
The first issue we all come across on our journey into assignment purgatory is finding the appropriate sources on our chosen subject. Many resort to Google Books, or their university library. But there are other options that provide a vast array of material for you to use.
The British Library is easily the strongest offering. If you’re in London and stuck on options for sources, take a trip to the Library on Euston Road and sign up for a readers’ membership on the ground floor. Be sure to bring proof of address and proof of study.
Once completed, you can order almost any book to a reading room from their website, and study inside the library to your heart’s content. An ideal fall-back when you can’t quite find the right text in your university library.
A mistake I’ve made on countless occasions is to read a great quote that fits right in with my argument, and then forget to make a note of it. Rather than spending countless minutes searching through the book again, whenever you read an interesting sentence, underline it.
If it’s a library book, note down the page number and the exact reference of the book you’re using, in case it’s a specific edition. Trust me, it’s a minor hack that could save you a lot of time.
Read more – and then some more
I thought, just recently, that I had developed an original analysis of a film that I was planning on using for my dissertation. I then realised, after further reading, that it had already been discussed.
It’s so important that we all keep an eye out for texts surrounding our topic, so we’re not re-treading familiar waters. So when you’re finding articles and books to study with, always search for key words, either in the index or in the search bar. We all need to find that specific avenue which is going to enable us to produce a unique piece of work.
Leave your introduction to last
Our ideas change as we write. You might discover a new theory, or the writer you were planning on referring to isn’t fitting in with your argument as well as you’d planned. Therefore, it’s best to leave the introduction until last, as its purpose is to summarise exactly what your essay is about and what topics it will cover.
Once you’ve written the dissertation, you’ll have all the answers you need: the introduction will become clearer as you write it, rather than appearing as an ominous guideline to messily refer back to.
Eureka! Get it down on paper!
When you’re brainstorming and you suddenly come up with a fantastic idea, or even start to write a passage in internal monologue as your excitement takes over, it’s vital that you take note of it.
It can be so frustrating, and such a step back in terms of your mental processing, if you had something creative and it slipped from your cranium’s fingers. Bring a notebook with you at all times, or keep your phone ready to take a reminder.
Even when typing, if you get a little flustered, write the idea down in bold as it comes to you in your head. When you come back to it, you’ll rightfully want to pat yourself on the back.
Synonyms, a writer’s best friend
Everyone has a favourite set of words to use, again and again. Furthermore, consider, emphasise, create… All terms I myself have been guilty of overusing.
The best solution to this problem is to go over the last section of your dissertation and find any words that repeat themselves. Right click that pesky verb, noun or adjective, drop down the synonyms box and browse away. It can go a long way in improving the fluidity and inventiveness of your writing, and is a useful writing resource.
Apostrophes, a writer’s worst enemy
Not so much a hack, but an easy way of saving a few marks; avoid using apostrophised words in academic writing. No matter the writer, everyone gets an ‘its’ mixed up with an ‘it’s’, or a ‘they’re’ with a ‘their’.
Plus, software such as Word rarely picks up on these errors. So it is important to stick with the distinguished form of ‘they are’ or ‘it is’. Not only will it save you some agro when editing, but it will also add a little boost on the word count for those struggling to make the exact mark.
Phone a friend
When it comes to the most important part of the dissertation, the editing, we can often go quite easy on ourselves. We wrote it, we’re naturally proud of the result, so we sometimes don’t notice its flaws.
If you give it to a friend, preferably the brutally honest one that we all have, then they’re likely to spot grammatical errors or sentences that don’t quite flow the way you’d want them to. You’re writing for an audience: the examiner. So pre-empt that by having your own audience prior to submission. It’ll help discipline your structure and style as a result.
There you have it, eight simple tips that will make a big change to your work. Put them into practice and you’ll be well on your way to writing a cracking dissertation. Good luck!