5 steps to conquering your dissertation

Tips on surviving your dissertation from planning, motivation and reaching the daunting word limit! 

By Sandip

It is the result of your degree – a dissertation. You have to propose, plan, research, write and edit, what could be between 15,000 and 10,000 words. When you read it, most likely it sounded like a daunting prospect, akin to climbing Mount Everest. Having written two first-class dissertations I can put these fears and anxieties to rest. Writing a dissertation is not a task to be feared, but a task that will not only define your university degree, but also allow you to pursue in-depth research, or experiments, into a specific field that interests you. Here are seven steps on how best to conquer the dissertation.

The Proposal

I am not referring to getting down on one knee; there is little romance in a dissertation proposal, but it is a key cornerstone of your project. Depending on your degree, the process may differ slightly. I studied History, therefore had to submit a 2,000 word research proposal that included, my topic, my sources and my methodology and approach. The key to getting your proposal accepted is to make sure you are proposing something that you want to spend one academic year researching and writing on.

The Supervisor

Picking out a supervisor for your dissertation can be a tricky and difficult task. Depending on what you want to write, your dissertation on this could limit your potential pool of supervisors. One key to getting the best supervisor is to pick someone who knows you and your interests well. For instance, my supervisor taught me on modules for two years prior to my final year; the modules revolved on British Empire history, and my dissertation topic, the Irish experience during the Indian Uprising 1857, fitted into his research interests. However, of course, you do not need to know your supervisor, but it will benefit your project if you pick an academic you know and are comfortable with.

The plan

The plan is as crucial as your proposal; essentially the two should come together. Your plan will not be rigid, and it will change depending on the research you carry out. Nevertheless, it is important at the beginning of your project to plan the outline of your dissertation. For instance, my outline was as follows:


Chapter 1 – Irish Representations during 1857.

Chapter 2 – Irish Experiences.

Chapter 3 – The reaction in Ireland.



Your plan does not need to be written in detail, and should act as a guide during your research -think of your plan as the skeleton of your dissertation.

The research

Depending on the type of dissertation (History, Science, Law to name a few) you are writing the sources you use will vary. The key to keeping your research organised is simply to have an ordered folder layout on your computer. I designated a folder to each research trip, whether it be to the British Library, the National Archives, Senate House, or Queen Mary’s Mile End library. This allowed me to keep my research organised; in a separate Word document I listed what I read and found on that particular day. Of course, there are lots of way to keep your research organised, but you do not want a dis-organised folder layout on your computer to complicate matters.

The writing and editing

Once you have completed your research (although I have found it to be ongoing throughout even the writing stage), its’ time to move onto the writing stage of your dissertation. For me writing was always less stressful than the research stage. I broke up my writing into the different components of my dissertation; for instance, I would write fully the introduction, and then each chapter and then the conclusion. I would not start one chapter, and then start writing another. This allowed me to keep focused on making that chapter the best. This was also beneficial when it came to editing, as I was able to edit as I was writing, therefore not leaving the editing to the last. It also provided a pleasant break from writing.

These were five ways in which I successfully proposed, researched, wrote and edited my dissertations; if you have any helpful, tips please get in touch via our social media accounts; 



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