Almost all universities require students to undertake a piece of independent research. This is often referred to as a dissertation or thesis. Because the dissertation relies more on the initiative of the student, and because it is usually a substantial piece of work, it often causes students a great deal of stress. Here are some hands-on tips to help you tackle the dissertation.
Tip 1: Start early – do not delay in getting the dissertation under way. A little bit done on a regular basis really does make all the difference. Set aside two to three hours a week to begin with. In no time at all you will have made substantial progress, which will serve to motivate you even further.
Tip 2: No data = no dissertation. While ideally the research process requires you to come up with a topic and then decide what data you need, in the real world I would never embark on a research project without first considering access to data. In many instances it makes sense to start with reflecting on what data might be relatively easily available to you that you could build a dissertation around.
Tip 3: Starting early means starting to write early too! Some tutors give the advice that you ‘write-up’ the dissertation at the end. This is nonsense. It does not matter if you have to redraft your work, 99% of writers do this. The dissertation is something that should come together gradually. The process or writing itself will get you to think through the material you have been reading and working on.
Tip 4: Make sure the data analysis and interpretation are linked to the literature review. To do so the literature review needs to have clear themes, or better still a theoretical framework (a collection of key concepts and how these relate to one another). Remember that your study needs to relate to the body of knowledge that already exists.
Tip 5: Tell the reader what your aim and objectives are and then in the conclusion tell them how you have met them. People who mark lengthy pieces of work often start by trying to get an overview of it. One way of doing this is to read the introduction and then the conclusion. You should make it clear to the reader that you have done what you said you set out to do. It is surprising how often students fail to do this!