University Of Edinburgh Dissertation
Advice and resources to support you throughout your dissertation.
This is a generic resource for dissertations that should be taken as such. You should consult with your course / programme handbook, course webpage, programme director or project supervisor for subject-specific guidance surrounding your dissertation.
Dissertations at Postgraduate level
Dissertations come in many shapes and forms, but there are some factors that are common to all; your dissertation will require a large investment of time and involvement. This in-depth engagement and knowledge with the topic should allow a higher level of analysis and insight to be attained.
Download our sheet suggesting ways to improve your analytical process relating to dissertations:
Whether you are choosing your dissertation from a selection of dissertation topics or you are proposing your own dissertation title, there are many factors to consider.
- How feasible is your project?
- Is there a starting point for your work, i.e. previous or related research?
- Do you have enough time to complete it?
- Do you have enough available resources to work with?
- Do you have something to say about this topic?
- Are you interested in the topic?
These are only suggestions of some of the questions that you may want to think about before deciding on your dissertation topic/title. Perhaps one of the most important reasons for choosing your topic is your interest in it. You may be working on your dissertation for many months, therefore having a genuine interest in the topic may help you maintain momentum and make progress with your work.
Remember a good source of advice concerning dissertation choice would be your Supervisor or Programme Director.
To help you get started thinking about your options, download our Choosing your Dissertation topic worksheet:
Planning for your dissertation
A dissertation is a large piece of work completed at a high level of critical analysis – to achieve this you will have to allow time. Try looking at previous dissertations; some Schools hold previous dissertations for viewing. This will give you an idea of the level your work should be at and the amount of work you will have to do as well as the amount of time you will have to devote to achieve this.
You will need time to undertake background research into your topic area as well as reading around your subject throughout your dissertation experience. If you have experiments, fieldwork, interviews or project placements to undertake, remember to allocate enough time to complete these. Further time will be needed to analyse your data and produce appropriate representations of your results. You will also need time to think critically about your dissertation and deciding on your conclusions. Finally you will bring these all together when you begin writing your dissertation.
This is a generic resource for dissertations that should be taken as such. You should consult with your course handbook, course webpage, programme director or supervisor for subject specific guidance surrounding your dissertation.
This can be used to help you consider what stage you are at and get you thinking about possible directions / considerations. It may be used as a word document on your computer, printed off and inserted into your dissertation file or popped up on your wall.
We have left blank spaces within the planner which can be used to produce subject/course/dissertation specific entries.
Writing your dissertation
You should not underestimate the time that should be allocated to writing your dissertation. Writing will involve planning, background research, and drafting.
Drafts are essential check points where you can review your progress and determine if your dissertation is on track.
First draft: For example, your first draft may sketch out your first thoughts, arguments and potential structure, and you may want to review and check these: are you focussed on the right topics? Is your structure and line of thought sensible? This is also a good time to set up your format requirements (e.g. page layouts, references).
Middle drafts: In middle drafts you may be expanding and refining your ideas. You may also find that as you are writing the direction that your dissertation is moving in changes; for example this could be due to your literature research producing new avenues of thought or your experiments turning up unexpected results. You may need to therefore review the focus of your initial question, and review whether your arguments or conclusions are still sensible.
Final draft(s): In your final draft(s) you may be focussed more on ensuring your presentation, spelling and grammar are appropriate and polished, all your references are included and follow the appropriate format guidance, etc.
It is a good idea to take draft stops at all these stages; at a draft stop, you will leave writing for a day and become the examiner of your own work. You will look at your work with an analytical eye, looking for ways to improve. Would a reader find your dissertation manageable to follow: are your ideas linking, have you signposted on from one section to the next, etc? Imagine you are reading your work as someone who is not so familiar with the topic: would they understand your arguments? Is there anything you need to explain more fully? Remember also to look back at your question/title, does your dissertation address it? Does it follow a logical structure?