Jamie is a 4th year student at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, studying for a MA (Hons) in Business Management. He is an active member of the Business Management Department in the School of Management & Languages. His dissertation research has investigated volunteer tourism in Latin America, in particular the management of volunteers by host communities.

  1. Deconstruct the task

A 13,000 word dissertation can appear daunting to begin with, however, no individual section needs to be longer than 3,000 words. This is no longer than an individual essay and can be written in the same manner. If your university does not set deadlines then set your own deadlines for each individual section. Make sure it’s completed to the same standards that you would meet for an essay for any other subject to be graded; see dissertation and works for one example.

  1. The essentials

Before you begin there are three important concepts that you must consider:

  1. Theory: What is the theoretical concept that you are researching?
  2. Context: What is the context for your study?
  3. Data: Can you collect the data you need and are you able to analyse it?

If you can answer these three questions then you have yourself a dissertation topic.

  1. What to look for in a supervisor

When looking to apply to your dissertation supervisor there are some important considerations: Have a look at some of their publications (if they have any) or look at their subjects of interest and try to apply to supervisors that have an area of interest that relates to your dissertation. Additionally, if you are fortunate enough to have met with the potential supervisors then try to pick a supervisor whose personality you think will make you work hard and get your dissertation finished. Some supervisors will be on your back and others will leave it up to you. Apply to the one that will suit your work attitude best.

  1. Make it something interesting

The best dissertations are from students who have done a bit of reading prior to just diving in and have found an area of theory or context that is particularly interesting and in need of further research. If you are set on a particular theory or context, read papers on this topic. In the conclusion there are usually “ideas for further research.” Review these and this should provide some ideas for a research topic. It will also provide justification for why you have chosen your particular topic and this sort of justification is considered competent academic writing.

  1. Play to your strengths

Try to make the dissertation as easy as possible for yourself. Identify your strengths. If you like numbers and tables then choose to do a quantitative study; for example a systematic literature review with quantitative survey data collection. If you prefer words and ‘telling the story’ then choose a qualitative study, with appropriate data collection examples being focus groups and interviews

  1. Plan
READ  Top 10 hints for a great methodology chapter

It’s important to plan each section of your dissertation before diving in. Each section must support and appropriately precede the following sections. Identify which form of data collection you are going to conduct and then identify which form of data analysis would be an appropriate tool for analysing this data. Ultimately the literature review should frame all of these subsequent sections. For example, template analysis is an appropriate form of analysis for interview data and a prior template must be presented in the literature review. If you are struggling to identify how these should sections should pair together talk to your supervisor.

  1. Organise data collection early

Don’t wait until you require results to go out and collect some data. You should send out emails as soon as you know what data it is you want to collect. This prevents a lull period while you are waiting for email replies or the data collection date (a wait that can often be frustrating).

  1. Read!

This may seem obvious, but for many students this is the most challenging aspect of the dissertation. By reading only the abstracts of papers you will achieve merely a succinct view of your chosen subject; by reading through complete papers you will achieve a much better grasp of your chosen topic, discover more meaningful in-depth analysis, and you will become more proficient at writing as you become accustomed to academic writing style.

  1. Know where to find references

By reading papers on your chosen topic you will begin to discover that there are prominent ones that are repeatedly referenced by other academics. These papers are important to read and to understand as your dissertation marker will understand the theoretical concept, so by missing out glaringly significant pieces of literature your literature review will deemed incomplete.  However, while the key papers are important, after the prominent paper analysis look with a narrower lens and discover interesting papers and case studies specific to your topic. This demonstrates further reading.

  1. Ignore your peers (in a nice way)

While often it is tempting to compare yourself to your fellow students, remember that this is your dissertation. If you are meeting the deadlines you have set yourself or those set by your supervisor/university then you are doing well!  All dissertations are different in regards to the data, the research philosophy, and they will also depend upon your supervisor. No particular method for completing a dissertation is the correct one, so concentrate on your own writing, stick to your own plan and you will be fine.

Good Luck


Picture by gfes under CC license.