Dissertation Essay: Tips you NEED to know before starting your dissertation

If you're gearing up to write your University Dissertation Essay this year, here are some top dissertation tips we think all students NEED to know

Start early

While your dissertation is meant to be solely a final year project, you really should start thinking about it in the summer before you return to University. Brain storm some early ideas for possible titles, topics or areas you think would make for a good study and that interest you.

Make sure your mentor is a good match

Having a good mentor or supervisor will be a great help over the next twelve months. They should have an interest and expertise in your chosen area and be able to guide you throughout the project, but most of all you should get along with them! If you find dealing with your supervisor hard going, don't be afraid to speak up and ask to change.

Avoid comparisons to friends

Don't try and compare projects with your friends. Each and every one's final year work will be different, even if two of you are on the exact same course. If you're worrying that you may be behind schedule or going wrong, schedule a meeting with your supervisor or other University staff member.

Plan and organise your time

From the start of your dissertation project you should set yourself some deadlines and plan your work for the next year. At this stage it'll will only ever be a very rough guide but try to vaguely stick to it. Every month or so look back at the plan and make changes depending on how things are progressing, but never lose sight of the final submission deadline.

Keep records

Log and record all you do, such as websites you visit or books you read, it'll make writing your project SOOO much easier. Even if you don't specifically end up referencing them in your final write up, a 'Further Reading' list can be a nice touch.

Write as you go

Your dissertation is not an essay you want to attempt to bash out all at once a week before its due in, even if you've done all the prerequisite work.

Fortunately, most Universities will demand that you submit update reports and drafts along the way to make sure you do actually begin writing.

Even if this isn't required, DO IT! You really, really, REALLY do not want to have to write 10,000 words all in one go.

Be critical in your analysis

Cast a critical eye over your own work at every step of the way. Consider how you could improve or advance on it if you had extra time, money or other resources, or depending on what results you get.

Your project is NOT going to be perfect so be sure to concede any limitations of your research and results.

That means don't make claims that your research cannot back up: If you think you've discovered some results, consider and comment on how significant they are, if there are other possible explanations or what future research/experiments need to be done to verify them.

Remember there is no wrong answer

Don't fear or worry about your research not turning up the results you thought it would, or even any results at all. Unexpected results can be just as valuable and sometimes even moreso. You're not getting any marks for the quality of your results, that would just be unfair!

Leave plenty of time for the submission

You should allow a good week at the very least to prepare your final dissertation for submission once you've completed the writing and checked it through. Make sure your department's rules and guidelines for dissertations, such as word limits, formats and referencing styles have all been followed.

Your department will also provide instructions on how you must present your final dissertation, which will usually need to include at least two copies, bound, including all appendices such as test results. This is A LOT of printing, which you may need to pay for yourself!

Depending your course and/or project, you may also be required (or choose) to hand in things like videos or computer code on a disc or memory stick too.

Don't forget the viva! (Maybe)

NOTE: Not all Universities will hold vivas.
Once you've submitted your written project you can breathe a sigh of relief but don't relax just yet: The viva is still to come.

It's an oral presentation of your work, usually to your supervisor and second examiner or other member of University staff.

You'll have to talk for about 5 minutes about your project and answer any questions posed.

While it's quite a daunting prospect for most of us, it really isn't that scary and there shouldn't be any problems; There won't be any trick questions, just make sure you know your project inside out.

What are some of your dissertation tips? Add them in the comments below!

About the author: Thomas Brella

Thomas Brella is the founder of Student Hacks, starting the website in 2013 while studying at the University of Brighton to share tips and tricks on life as a cash-strapped student. He's now spent over 10 years scoping out the best ways to live on a budget

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