Writing a dissertation is one of the most significant academic challenges you'll face, and it's crucial to approach it with a clear strategy and well-organised plan. To help you navigate this complex process, here are ten top tips to keep you on track and ensure you produce a high-quality dissertation.

1. Specifications

Understand your departmental specifications for writing a dissertation to ensure that you fully understand what is expected of you. Such specifications should be seen as an aid rather than a hindrance. This is likely the most challenging piece of work you have attempted, so make it manageable by considering each aspect of the specification in turn.

2. Read other available dissertations.

Most university departments will keep back copies of previous dissertations for you to read on request. Make use of this opportunity to develop a sense of how your finished piece might feel. You can also find plenty of tips for structure, style and tone.

3. Plan your time

Any dissertation takes many hours of research, reading, thinking and drafting. Set yourself realistic goals for completing certain tasks or sections of your work. Not only will this make the entire project more manageable, but will help instil the discipline necessary to achieve the best possible marks.

4. Draw up a chapter list

Structuring your dissertation is extremely important, so set about doing this as early as possible. This will not mean that you are committed entirely to a predetermined plan but will help retain focus in your writing and thoroughness in detail. Consult other dissertations and departmental advice for a general approach to chapter headings and the appropriate organisation of material.

5. Not just chapters

Be familiar with the proper usage of ancillary elements such as abstracts, bibliographies, appendices, diagrams, and so forth. Your chosen referencing system should also be consistently adhered to and written with the proper notation. Once again, reading examples of other people’s work is often the best way to familiarise yourself with these sometimes confusing extra elements.

6. Progression and development

A dissertation is an extended piece of writing which should ideally sustain interest throughout. A clear progression and development of ideas and arguments helps this cause enormously. A good rule of thumb is to aim for a movement from an early concern with theory to a later focus on evidence.

7. Departmental relationships

Different faculties in different universities will provide varying types of support. Almost always there should be at least one member of staff whose advice can be sought when in doubt. Consulting the expertise of professional academics is rarely a bad move, and can often clarify the best route available in writing your dissertation.

8. Tone and style

Be mindful of hitting the right note in terms of tone and style. Avoid familiarity and remove the first person except where necessary. For those struggling with the academic register, show your work to peers and consider their advice on how the piece comes across.

9. Assessment criteria

As well as providing detailed specifications, most departments will be able to provide on request the criteria by which your dissertation will be ultimately assessed. Familiarise yourself with the number and variety of different criteria, and also considerthe way in which marking is weighted between different sections of the work, as this can provide clues for structuring the text.

10. Back up files!

Back up computer files as you go along, make hard copies of completed chapters, or use online data storage if need be. This is a big piece of work requiring a great deal of effort over a long period. Stave off potential disaster by taking proper precautions against theft or damage to your computer.


By following these ten tips, you can streamline the dissertation writing process and produce a well-structured, thoroughly researched piece of work. Remember, planning, organisation, and a clear understanding of your department's requirements are key to success.

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