My advice for writing a great dissertation

Dissertations can be tough but there is plenty you can do to avoid a last minute rush

Written by Paddy Duffy


If you are in your final year at college or university, a dissertation is probably looming somewhere in the distance. It can be an intimidating experience writing such an epic piece of work, but it’s also hugely rewarding once it’s all done and dusted. The following tips will help get you through the dreaded dissertation.

It might seem self-explanatory but make sure you pick a title that you’ll really be interested in. You’ll find it much easier to get the right research items if you already have prior knowledge of your subject.

There’s no such thing as spending too much time on research, unless you’re still researching the night before the deadline. Seriously though, if you put aside at least a few weeks in your schedule for reading up before you put pen to paper, then it’ll make it much easier once you do start writing. The level of research you have to do for a dissertation is the main difference between it and a regular assignment, so you’ll need to have a litany of primary sources as well as reading what other people say. That can be pretty exhaustive, so make sure to give yourself plenty of time.

A dissertation is 8,000 – 10,000 words, much longer than any other coursework, so you may get to somewhere around 4,000 words and think “Why the hell aren’t I finished!” Structure is key to writing a dissertation, lay out a definite plan and do one piece at a time. There are times during the dissertation that you’ll wonder if you’ll get out the other side with your soul intact, let alone a good piece of work, so for the sake of your sanity only write a few hundred words at a time.

Start work on your dissertation at the beginning of final year. It is not the type of assignment that can be completed in a week!

There’s so much stock put on your dissertation that it can put the fear of God into you, which to be honest isn’t a bad thing as it gets you working earlier and harder than if it were a regular assignment. If you can possibly submit a draft to your lecturer then do it, it’ll be one of the best things you ever do as you’ll be told plainly where you need improvement. Also, when you’re writing it, try to edit and change as you go along, as it’ll be quicker than mulling over every paragraph at the end. Your thesis tutor is there to help you with this process. Arrange to meet him or her regularly and listen to the advice given.

When it’s all sorted and you’ve made those much-awaited finishing touches, ensure that your masterpiece is well presented, structurally and aesthetically. Have the dissertation bound at a printers and make sure your formatting and paragraphs and the like are all okay. It’s as tedious as hell but make sure your bibliography and footnotes are well presented and your sources easily traced. Check with your department’s style sheet to see how they want them presented, as it can vary from faculty to faculty.

Generally though, the sequence goes:

  •       Author (First name first in footnotes, surname first in bibliography)
  •       Book title, then the following in brackets:
  •       Publishers, Place of Publication, Year of Publication
  •       Page Numbers (where applicable)

Get someone else to read over the final draft and check for typos and grammatical errors. Finally, the dissertation is a long haul but all that hard work will pay off once it’s over. The very best of luck!

Our work is supported by