Dissertation Writing Tips
We have broken down all of our best tips, hints and tricks for you to ensure you have everything covered throughout every step of the way as you write your dissertation!
The very first step is going to be choosing the topic on which you are going to write your dissertation. This is a huge project which you will spend a lot of time working on, so you really want it to be something you are interested in.
Sometimes choosing a subject that you want to research in this much depth can be a little overwhelming. Try making a list of your interests and looking for any topical news stories, or big gaps in research, that draw you to a particular theme.
If you would like additional assistance with choosing a dissertation topic, see our Topics with Titles Service.
Research, research, research! Before you even begin writing your dissertation, you will need to read widely on your chosen topic. The more literature you read, the easier it will be to notice the gaps in the research. That is how you will find a great dissertation title.
It's never too early to start compiling an indicative bibliography (a list of sources which you think will be helpful when writing your dissertation). You may or may not end up carrying these sources with you into the writing process; it doesn't matter.
The main thing is for you to be reading and analysing the literature, as this is the only way to decide what will be useful and what will not!
Mapping out a timeline for yourself will really help you streamline the writing process. Remember to plan your blocks of work in the order of writing rather than the order in which the sections will be presented when the dissertation is complete.
It's also a good idea to write a short plan for each chapter before you begin writing, so you have a solid starting point.
Some universities will ask you to complete a Gantt Chart which will help you create a suitable timeline.
Make sure you are finding your own unique critical voice as you write. You will be well-informed on your subject by now because of all the literature you have read in preparation for writing, but make sure your own ideas shine through instead of just repeating other people's.
If you do not clearly show your own thoughts, there is a risk of plagiarism. For this reason, it's very important to make sure you cite properly in your university's preferred referencing style, such as Harvard or Oxford Referencing, to avoid direct plagiarism, and to make sure your own point of view and ideas are clear all the way through so you don't fall into the trap of indirect plagiarism.
This is when a big chunk of text is directly copied into your work without proper citation. If you are using someone else's exact words, it is vital that you make sure this is as a quote and is properly formatted as such in whichever referencing style your university uses. This can be easily fixed by making sure you are very careful to format quotes appropriately!
This is more difficult to spot. Indirect plagiarism means passing someone else's ideas off as your own. You may not have quoted them directly, but you're writing their arguments out as though they belong to you. Even if you are paraphrasing, you need to give authors proper credit for their ideas.
It is really important to make sure that you are able to point out and analyse the strengths and weaknesses of any studies and ideas you are using to inform your work.
No opinion or study is perfect, and you will pick up additional marks if you show that you understand this and have considered how any limitations might have impacted the results or conclusion drawn.
We gave lots of advice about this in the discussion section, so please do go back and revisit this as many times as you need!
When you wrote your plan before you started work, you mapped out the structure your final project will have. Now you are writing, try to make sure you keep each bit of content in the appropriate section. If you don't, it can be easy to mix up results with analysis, for instance. Check guides which relate to every separate section of your dissertation if you are not sure where a piece of information should go.
Don't worry too much about keeping to the word count while you are writing. It is much better to get all your thoughts and ideas down in writing. You can go back and edit later if you have gone over the word limit.
As you write, make sure you are checking your own university's handbook. While we offer lots of guidance on every type of common dissertation, every institution will have its own rules and customs that they will want you to adhere to. Failure to do so will end up costing you marks.
Do not forget to back up your work regularly. There is nothing worse than working hard on a piece of writing only to lose it all if your computer breaks!
It is a good idea to save your work onto a USB stick or memory card that you can carry with you. It is also a good idea to upload the newest version of your work every time you have completed something new onto a platform like OneDrive or Google Docs so that it is available even if you lose your memory stick.
Now you have completed every section of your dissertation, it is time to polish it. You should now read through the whole piece of work and proofread it, correcting any mistakes you find. Microsoft Word alone cannot be relied on to spot and fix all errors with written English!
Your review of the dissertation should not simply focus on correcting spelling and grammar mistakes. You should be making notes wherever you find something that is not clear or could be discussed a bit more.
It is often at this stage when you complete your very best analysis, as you have worked through every stage and are more knowledgeable on the subject.
You're now best-placed to be developing your arguments that bit further and to be noticing additional opportunities for independent critique.
At university level, you should be beginning to question every idea you come across. Critique is the most important part of academic writing because it is the only way to show you have understood and have engaged with the writing.
Otherwise, you are simply describing other people's work. You need to be able to notice and explain flaws in a study or alternative perspectives rather than unquestioningly accepting what a writer says.
We talk lots about critique and critical analysis in our literature review and discussion help guides.
Often, it is best to get someone else to read through your work for you. A fresh pair of eyes can help you see things in a new way and make you aware of problems you haven't spotted. Consider swapping dissertations with a friend and doing this for each other. Alternatively, you can use a professional proofreading service.
This is the right time to begin formatting your dissertation. A table of contents, page numbers, headers/footers containing your student ID number and appendices are all common features in dissertations. Your university will have its own requirements for formatting, so make sure you locate and follow these to ensure you don't lose marks!
Writing a dissertation is hard work; but it needn't be stressful. Be sure to take your time, checking through everything to ensure it's as strong as it can be. It may seem difficult, but all the hard work and effort will ensure that you write as strong a piece as possible, and you will improve your overall academic skills tremendously. If you cut corners, your writing will reflect this - but do things properly, take your time, and follow the advice above, and your work will stand the test of time.