Student

HOW TO DISSERT

(a.k.a dissertation or long/short project)

Many of those in the UK will decide to undertake a dissertation in the final year of their undergraduate degrees (you can also do these in your masters or PHd’s). Alternatively, if you don’t wish to do a dissertation, you can choose to do a long or short project. Both are pretty much very similar to a dissertation expect, they’re shorter and a long project and a dissertation may require you to do an oral presentation later. All of these have have quite a few elements in common.

In my final year, I decided to undertake a short project. Initially, I was tempted to carry out a long project- I mean it ‘looks good’ but my advice? Don’t carry out a long project unless you feel like you can write 10000+ words on your chosen topic and have the confidence to do so. I didn’t. But I decided I would be happier in producing a short project where I was happier with the quality of the work, rather than having to deal with the stress of struggling to find words to meet the word count.

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Below are a few tips and lessons I learnt whilst undertaking my short project which I hope you guys will find useful. I am by no means and expert in the matter, but the whole process of writing a research project and undertaking research can seem daunting and if I can ease that feeling a little, then I’ll be one happy duckie.

1. START EXPLORING IDEAS EARLY, ALWAYS BE ON THE LOOK OUT.

One thing I was quite proud of myself for in my project planning was the fact that I started looking for ideas early. Even if you feel like you’re not finding THE ONE, the important thing is that you are already exploring and subconsciously, you know what you’re looking for. Make sure your ears and eyes are awake during lectures because you never know what will come your way. I was quite lucky in that I struck gold in one of my lectures, and finally managed to decide on a topic.

2. REFINE YOUR QUESTION/HYPOTHESIS

Now that you have your topic- you do need to refine it. It’s no good deciding on doing your project on child language acquisition and leaving it at that. There’s so many avenue’s to venture, what particular aspects are you concerned with? Do a mind map and think about all the possible areas you can look into within that topic. My research looked into Tip of the Tongue states (TOTs), and I decided to compare the number of occurences of the TOTs between monolingual and bilingual people. Immediately, I felt like it narrowed down my topic because the last thing you needed was a very broad topic to look into.

3.  IS IT REALISTIC? WOULD YOU BE ABLE TO UNDERTAKE YOUR OWN RESEARCH/EXPERIMENT/STUDY?

Be wary of who your target group is. Generally, you want to avoid vulnerable groups like children and the elderly as it will be much harder to obtain consent for one person let alone a whole group. Try not to make your research that you intend to carry out too complicated and keep it as simple as possible. If you don’t see yourself carrying it out, maybe it’s best to not go for it.

4. IS THERE ENOUGH DATA/RESEARCH OUT THERE?

The most frustrating thing of all is having a fab idea, but later discovering that there isn’t much research in the area for you to write up your literature review/make an argument. I remember I had to change my research question twice because I couldn’t find anything. This is probably why it’s best to keep  a few good ideas and make sure there’s enough research in the area before proceeding with it.

5. BE WARY: YOU EITHER LOVE OR HATE YOUR SUPERVISOR

I’m glad my supervisor ended up being my favourite lecturer however, during this whole process, you might find yourself becoming really annoyed at your lecturer. I know a few of my friends have expressed this and who could blame them? The grade of one whole module is dependant on how well you write up your dissert/project so naturally, there might be a few conflicts. A few of my friends made a comment on how their supervisor left them feeling confused or had contradicted themselves on comments they made previously. This can become incredibly annoying and is the last thing you need.

6. SCHEDULE MEETINGS ONLY WHEN NEEDED AND SPARINGLY

Going on from my last point, if you do intend to meet with your supervisor, only go when you need to and don’t go too often. I think ultimately, this will affect your overall project and your written work because then, it doesn’t become your own work if you go all the time. Also, you may find that they make comments which might conflict what your own work and leaves you in an endless pit of confusion. This is why I decided to see my lecturer as less as possible. I think in total, I only saw her 2 times, and that was just to help with finalising my project idea and my methodology and I just got on with the latter.

7. CHECK OUT THE MARKING SPECs.

This is very important but as with any assignment or written work, check what percentage of marks is going towards what and what are you really need to up your game on if its an area you’re not that confident in.

8. LITERATURE REVIEW IS IMPORTANT

As with all parts of you project, make sure this is written well. In particular, your literature review has more marks weighted on it, so may sure you outline all relevant theories and studies in a clear an concise manner.

9. BE CRITICAL IN YOUR WORK

The thing that gets you really good marks is being critical. Not just of theorists and studies that you mentioned in your lit review but also, being critical of your own work, your limitations and what you might do differently.

10. CONSENT IS SEXY

Make sure you’ve consent, prefably written, from your participants. You do not want to lie.

11. GET A PROOFREADER (a.k.a. a friend)

Instead of getting your supervisor to proofread your work, try to get your friends (of they’re able to of course, DON’T FORCE THEM) to proof read aspects of your work. If they’re unable to, try to get your siblings to and always ask whether they’ve understood what you’ve written. If they’ve understood something that they had no idea about, you doing good.

12. BACK IT UP BACK IT UP!

I MADE A BIG MISTAKE. Not necessarily related to my project but another mini project whereby I lost half of my work on deadline day. It still hurts till this day but you DO NOT want to be in the position that I was in, trying to scramble for my lost words, two hours before the deadline. Make sure you have copies of your work e.g. on a memory stick. You will hit yourself if the inevitable ever happens.

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13. REFERENCE AS YOU GO ALONG

I can’t stress this enough. Each time you find a reference and you cite them, reference them in a separate document. Forget about putting your references in order, just have a separate document where you note down your references as you go along rather than leaving it till the end. You will kick yourself if you leave it till the end. I really recommend the app RefMe as it really speeds up the referencing process and allows you to keep different folders of references.

Those are all the tips I could think of from me top of my head- I made some of these mistakes, so you don’t have to! Haaha!

Before I sign off, I asked my friend Noor for one piece of advice she had to give to you guys who are currently going through this hell and she said:

My main advice would be to take time out. You need some time and space away from the thing that you’re doing. Work hard, but put your mental and physical health before it. I started my blog during my final year which was one of the most stressful times of my life! It helped me get away and get some head space to work on something other than uni!

If you have any comments, please leave them down below and I will be sure to get back to you!

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