Writing a dissertation

Writing a dissertation
Sara Steinke
Aims of session
• How writing a dissertation differs from writing
an essay
• Writing your thesis
• Structuring your thesis
• Managing your supervisor
• Preparing for your viva
Think about the following
a) Follows basic
What are the
similarities between
writing a dissertation
and writing an essay?
b) Adheres to academic
c) Involves research skills
d) Includes writing in
e) Requires analytical
reading / writing skills
Think about the following
a) Independence
What are the
differences between
writing a dissertation
and writing an essay?
b) Individual designed
piece of work
c) Personal involvement
d) Time management
e) Self-management and
f) Literature search
g) Presentation/structure
h) Methodology
Structuring your dissertation
Title page
Table of contents
Literature review
Theoretical framework / methodology
Finding analysis
Footnotes / endnotes
How to manage your supervisor?
• You will be allocated a personal
supervisor to support you while you are
writing your dissertation
• Do not delay your first meeting with
– help with narrowing your topic
– assistance with the dissertation writing
Let your supervisor know how much contact and support you would like
Accept that there are limits to the amount of help that can, and should, be given with a
dissertation studied at an advanced level
Agree together at the outset on when you will meet and how best contact can be made (for
example, by phone or by email)
Plan together some interim deadlines for the work, so that you are able to manage your time
Make sure that you know from the start how your dissertation will be assessed – what
assessment criteria will be applied to it – and that you understand these, discussing them with
your supervisor if you need to
Ask for access, where possible, to past dissertations of the kind you are being asked to write,
so that you can get a sense of their scope, structure, tone and the methodology used
Consider contributing to the setting up of appropriate support groups or pairings with fellow
students, so that you can clarify your own thinking by discussing it with others if this is
acceptable to your tutor
Find an appropriate way of mapping and monitoring your own progress; for example, by using
a checklist of tasks to be completed. Use this to help the discussions with your supervisor to
focus on areas where you need particular advice
Listen to, evaluate and respond to your supervisor’s feedback, by making notes and reflecting
on what has been said or written, then applying the feedback to the next stage of your
research or writing up
Preparing for you viva
Before the Viva
• Read your dissertation over and over
again so you know it inside out
• Does your University run a viva
preparation course? If so, get on it.
• Write out what you think the main
contributions of your dissertation are.
• Compile a list of key themes, and consider
how they relate to each other
• Write out chapter summaries of each
chapter so that you're clear on what each
chapter achieves, what its central
arguments are.
• Prepare example answers and take your
notes in with you.
• Get fellow students to ask you the
questions you dread, and have a mock
viva with your supervisor.
• Use post-it notes to flag significant pages
in your dissertations.
• Make sure you understand your
University's regulations about procedures
for corrections (minor or major).
During the Viva
• Know what you have to defend and what
you can let go.
• Examiners may ask you about 'fuzzy'
terminology to clarify their usage.
• Examiners are trying to assess your
competence in the wider field in which
you're situated, so you should link what
you've done to some of the big debates in
your field.
• Don't worry if some of the questions seem
a little aggressive or unsympathetic. You
are not being personally attacked. Relish
the chance to defend what you've worked
so hard on for so long.
• Relax and enjoy the viva. It is the first (and
probably the last) chance where you'll
have the undivided attention of two
people interested in your work.
Remember that you will know more about
the subject than they do.
Recap of session
• Identified similarities and differences between
writing a dissertation and writing an essay
literature review, methodology, self management
and motivation
• Structuring your thesis
reflections above
• Managing your supervisor
it is your responsibility; take control
• Preparing for your viva
practice and preparation
Wisker, G. (2007) The Postgraduate Research
Handbook (Palgrave)

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