The whole point of a dissertation is to showcase your abilities in researching a topic, compiling and analysing data, and formulating conclusions. These rather daunting points may cause the average student to procrastinate with a pint at the pub, instead of reading through academic journals. However, I hope the following six things to consider and organise will make the complex dissertation writing more manageable. So without further ado, let’s jump into it!
1. Research topic
The sooner you start thinking about the research topic the better, and there is no better time than during semester, while lectures are still running. You’ll quickly identify the classes and topics where you have a natural interest, and where your interest might fall short. And why would anyone choose a topic that doesn't excite them? Having a personal interest not only engages you, but is also a motivating factor throughout your dissertation process. Should you be struggling with the research topic, consider looking into your course materials, academic papers, or seek help from your supervisor. After all, your supervisor is there for a reason!
2. Literature review
Having formulated your research topic and the question you want to answer, now comes the fun part of diving into numerous academic journals within that field. The goal of the literature review is to find relevant publications, analyse them and explain your findings. You do this to position your research within already existing knowledge. This can be done in 3 steps.
Step 1. To search for relevant literature, type in the keywords relevant to your research topic to libraries for academic journals. There a plenty or websites available at your disposal:
- Google scholar
- Connected papers
- Semantic scholar
- University intranet/library
Step 2. After downloading the academic journals that seem relevant to your topic, you are likely to come across these issues:
- Documents are scattered all over your computer or somewhere in a cloud folder
- You have to open each document one-by-one and repeatedly CTRL+F to find the relevant information in order to deep-read
- You end up downloading the same academic journal several times because you lost the previous one somewhere
To avoid these issues and speed up your literature search, use a document analysis tool such as Lateral. This will help you store all your academic journals in one location, and allow you to search across all or multiple documents at once. Check out this article to see how Lateral can help you research your literature review!
Step 3. Use Lateral to quickly organise your literature search, and easily identify patterns, debates, contradictions, or even gaps in your academic field. To see the tool in action, and how a student makes her dissertation easier click here.
3. University requirements
Each university and faculty will have different expectations regarding the format of a dissertation, so it’s important to get acquainted with these rules to avoid simple mistakes. Make sure you understand:
- If a dissertation acceptance certificate is required
- Expected language and word count
- Expected page and text formatting
- Tables, figures and captions
- Approved appendices
- The faculties’ ethics protocol and module handbooks
- When and where you must hand in the dissertation
Being on top of these basic requirements early on will help you map out the structure of your dissertation, and prepare you for adding in the written text.
4. Learning while writing
As you start writing your dissertation, it can be helpful to set a weekly word count target (for instance, 1500 words per week), to increase your motivation and productivity. As you write, you start learning more about your topic, and this can change the way you formulate your analysis, interpretation and emphasis. These changes only strengthen your dissertation, as your scope of work will be influenced by a longer process of reading and knowledge development.
Also note that the editing of the dissertation can take place in the early stages of the writing process, not just at the end. As you continue to read new academic knowledge to create a stronger dissertation, it is imperative to keep track of the sources you have been reading. It can be difficult to remember from where you developed your ideas when your folders are piling up with academic journals. One solution that keeps all your documents in one place, and lets you store extracted snippets of text in neatly-categorised columns, is Lateral. Below screenshots are from inside the Lateral software, and shows how important snippets of text can be saved both when searching across all documents at once, or when highlighting text in the document view function.
5. Critical mindset
During your writing process, it is crucial to have a critical mindset not only towards your own writing, but also towards the external sources cited in your dissertation. You need to show that you are able to question different arguments, and can use evidence to support your own theories. Having a critical mindset will help you:
- Interpret arguments of others and their data
- Build strong arguments for your own dissertation
- Synthesise your thoughts with those of other academic writers
This brings us to a crucial point: An assessor cannot give you any credit for forming strong arguments, unless you have provided adequate evidence of how you reached a conclusion.
6. Final editing stage
The final editing process is vital to make sure all your hard work results in a well-structured and polished product. Students often plan only a couple of days for final edits, however this stage is not to be underestimated in terms of time! You need time to check and polish the logical flow of your work, proofread all pages, make sure you have the correct spellings of theories and sourced writers, and that you adhere to your University standards of overall dissertation layout.
Lateral is also an extremely helpful tool to systematically organise all the key-findings you developed through your dissertation. By uploading the final version of your dissertation, you can save your key-findings of text into columns, which naturally can be exported for sharing purposes.
And there you have it, six things to consider and organise before you write your dissertation! I hope this blog post has been helpful, and will bring you some overview of what to expect before getting started on arguably the most important academic project you will work on.
If you choose to use Lateral in speeding up your literature review and getting better organised across your academic arguments, you can sign up here.