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Writing a dissertation

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Writing the dissertation report

The report

A dissertation is essentially a formal report with a list of contents; various sections and sub-sections; and appendices at the end.

Prepare yourself

Writing a dissertation requires hard work and discipline. Think about constraints on your time and how long you will need to write a report of the specified length. You should have: records of the literature you have reviewed; a diary or notes on the process of doing the research; and clear research aims, objectives or questions. Review your research proposal.

Time management and motivation are crucial to success: set deadlines for writing each section or chapter, write regularly, and decide on a minimum amount of words to write at each session. Try to draft each section of the report as you complete the research. Writing while the work is fresh in your mind makes it easier to do and helps to clarify each section. You might also be able to show some of your work to your supervisor to check that you are progressing well.

As you write, you may find that you decide to ignore some areas you previously thought important and develop others further. The 'Conclusion and recommendations' should be written after the main body of the dissertation. Most students will write the 'Introduction' and the 'Abstract' last - when they know exactly what is in the rest of the report.

Consider your reader(s)

You are writing for an audience, even if in reality this is just your tutor. If you assume that your work might be read by future students, you could write for their level of understanding. Alternatively, you might want to aim at professionals in your subject area. You can, of course, make assumptions about what your prospective audience might already know.

Assessment

Make sure you understand the assessment criteria for your dissertation. Check any dissertation guidelines for your course.

Style issues

  • Use formal, standard English.
  • Check all grammar, spelling and punctuation.
  • Avoid wordiness.
  • Ensure that words mean what you think they do - use your dictionary.
  • A dissertation is usually written in the third person.

Make sure that you have a plan and methodology for each of the chapters. You may change them later but start with a clear overview of the whole report and how each chapter is related to the other.

The emphasis should be on clear, objective and logical presentation of your material.

Presentation

Make sure you know how your document should be formatted and presented. Find out how to use the relevant functions in 'Word' such as page numbering and headings. For more help with this, look at our topic 'Dissertation IT kit'.

Binding

Your dissertation can either be professionally bound and lettered or well presented in a comb binding. You will usually need to submit two copies.

Lettering

The outside cover should bear the title of the dissertation, your name, the name of the University and the month/year. If professionally bound, the spine should bear your name, the course title and the year and nothing else.

Format

  • The dissertation should be word-processed.
  • A4 paper of good quality is required.
  • Line spacing and other requirements should be as specified for your dissertation - check any guidelines you have been given.