Top 10 master’s dissertation writing tips
(Last updated: 22 July 2019)
1. Research objectives
It is essential to consider all aspects from which the strength of the piece will be assessed, when dissertation writing at master's level. Original, relevant, manageable research objectives must be formulated – and stated with precision – in order to signal the serious and considered nature of the work you are to undertake.
2. Critical review
It must be shown that your precisely stated research objectives were not snatched out of thin air but emerged as important questions from a thorough critical review of existing research and background literature. Your consummate ability to analyse critically a large volume of material must be coupled with an alert mindfulness of the relevance for your own avenues of research.
Develop the confidence to turn your analytical gaze to existing research in order to identify shortcomings in your chosen field. Identification of deficiencies in existing knowledge is necessary to justify the particular direction of your research objectives, which aim to address such deficiencies and make a valuable novel contribution to the field.
It is not enough that the content of your novel findings be excellently communicated; you must also articulate the scope and position of your work in its broader academic context. Demonstrate your mastery of the subject area by clearly signposting how your dissertation fits in, as well as the limits of its scope.
Originality is, needless to say, a core component of extended pieces of work at master's level. Having created suitable objectives, gained a thorough understanding of deficiencies in existing knowledge and remained mindful of the scope of your work, you have laid the foundations for making a genuinely original contribution to the knowledge base of your subject area.
An absolutely key aspect of any dissertation is a thorough discussion of, and justification for, the methodology you have selected. Compare and contrast competing alternatives and thoroughly analyse each to make a convincing rationale for your final choice. Data collection methods should be described in detail such that your research can be reproduced by others. Qualitative research tools such as questionnaires should be put in the appendix.
Irrespective of the type of research you have undertaken, an extremely important aspect of your final dissertation will be the quality of your analysis. For investigations with a heavy quantitative component, sophisticated statistical analysis will need to be in evidence. Bear in mind also that even more qualitative methods can generally be found to have some statistically analysable numerical component.
The final stages of your master's dissertation must include a detailed discussion of your findings and the conclusions that you have drawn from these. All conclusive statements should be diligently and precisely crafted to leave no room for ambiguity. Each should also be entirely defensible either empirically or by sound reasoning. A summary of results and conclusions should also appear early in your abstract.
9. Significance of your work
For a master's dissertation, a proper concluding chapter is not complete without the serious consideration of the academic significance of your findings for the subject area. This area of discussion should directly recall material from the critical review of current literature and aim to place the present findings in a wider context.
10. Academic conventions
A short reminder where, at this stage, one should not really be necessary: be impeccably faultless in your fluent use of standard academic conventions, including appropriate use of appendices, bibliographies, abstracts, title pages, in-text referencing and footnotes.