Writing your dissertation – how to do it and do it well
(Last updated: 29 August 2018)
It may seem like both the simplest and the hardest part of the dissertation writing process; actually writing your dissertation is the pinnacle of all your hard work, the final culmination of your ideas, research and theories in one place ready for evaluation and marking.
So how can you ensure that your dissertation or thesis writing does justice to the arduous work and important research you have painstakingly carried out over the preceding weeks? How do you present and phrase your academic ideas in a way that ensures the highest possible grade, and earns you the top Masters dissertation grade you deserve? Follow our top tips to Masters dissertation success for all dissertation topics...
"Remember, the first few sentences are always the hardest. Start by forcing yourself to put something – anything – down."
By now you should have all your research at your fingertips, as well as a clear structural plan for how the different pieces of your Masters dissertation are going to fit together. If you haven’t, the first step is to physically work out exactly where each piece of research and each idea should go, so that you know exactly what will be included where.
While you know the ins and outs of your research like the back of your own hand, your marker won’t – so it’s important that your structure is clear, logical, and carries the reader along. Think of it like drawing the outline of a picture so that all that remains is to colour in the right areas with the right coloured pencil – much like a pink oak has no place in a realist painting, you have to ensure that each part of your thesis follows a logical progression. In other words, each of your dissertation chapters and sub-chapters should fit into its own section.
If you suffer from writers’ block, remember that the first few sentences are always the hardest. Force yourself to put something, anything, down – you can always go back and change it later on (in fact, you probably will – that’s part of the process). In academic writing once the first paragraph is written the rest will flow much more freely. Many of these tips are useful for basic essay writing too.
Writing your dissertation argument
Remember that your argument(s) must be clear, succinct and well-articulated. Although you have been thinking about this topic for months, it is important to remember that your reader is new to it, and as such you should explain everything fully when writing your dissertation.
A good way to approach this is to imagine that each paragraph must be compressed into a single sentence conveying the entire argument it holds. This should help to focus your argument and ensure you are splitting up the different ideas correctly into individual paragraphs. In essence, once you have written a paragraph you should read it through and try to view it from a marker’s perspective. Ask yourself questions such as “why is this here? What is this telling me? How does this relate to what I just said, and what I am saying next? How is this linked to my research question?” Can you comfortably answer those question by reading your paragraph? If yes, great! If not, you may want to rethink it.
Start each paragraph or section of your Masters dissertation (or any academic writing) with a strong signpost sentence clearly stating its main subject and purpose. This will make your conclusion much easier to write too, as it should basically be a summary of all your first sentences.
Writing up your dissertation
It can be tempting to write very long sentences, and this is a very common issue with theses – but as with all essay writing, remember to keep them clear and well-punctuated, with a variety of longer and shorter phrases. No one wants to read a sentence that runs on for half a paragraph without any punctuation because this makes it far more difficult to keep on top of what the sentence actually says and makes it harder for the marker to follow your argument. See what I did there? That’s what you want to avoid. Keeping to a varied sentence structure helps to retain the reader’s interest, and prevents them from becoming lost in an idea which is too long to follow easily – so always make sure to keep the reader in mind.
It is also important to remember your word limit and try not to waffle or repeat yourself. To check the clarity of your structure and argument, leave a day (or ideally a week) at the end of your write-up period in which to ask peers (or students who have written on other dissertation topics) and other academics to read through your Masters dissertation and check that they are able to follow your argument clearly.
Taking a short break from your writing will also give you a bit more perspective and you might be surprised, when you go back to it, to find quite a few obvious improvements. This can be an invaluable method for discovering areas of confused structure or lack of clarity that you're unable to identify while you’re neck deep in the writing process.
A final Masters dissertation top tip
Lastly remember that, as with basic essay writing, many supervisors are happy to help during the process of writing a dissertation. Asking them to check over early drafts and sections can be hugely helpful in getting essential feedback and direction at early stages of writing, to help you mould your work as necessary to produce a first class dissertation!