For those soon to embark upon laying the foundations of their undergraduate theses/dissertations; I both salute you and pray for you. Only kidding. In all seriousness, this is the penultimate chapter of your University story as an undergraduate student and by virtue of the fact that posts on this topic are few and far between within the blogosphere, I thought that this could be really helpful for some of you.
Although I’ve spent a significant amount of time on trying to write this post as comprehensively and methodically as I can, I decided that I didn’t want to publish it unless I received a first-class honours for my own dissertation. So, accordingly, you’re now reading this post as I was awarded a high first-class honours for my 12,000 dissertation, entitled ‘Cruel and unusual? An exploration of the issue of unconstitutionality, arbitrariness and contemporary controversies encompassing capital punishment within the US’ as part of my BSc Psychology with Criminology degree. In its entirety, my thesis took me around 5 months to write and even if for only 15-20 minutes, I spent almost every day working on it and furthering my research.
Choosing your dissertation/thesis topic – This, for me, was plain sailing as I’ve always had a preoccupation with capital punishment and is a topic of discussion that I’ve become exceedingly interested in over the years. I would strongly, strongly recommend choosing a topic that you are well-grounded in the scholarly literature of, and is one of genuine interest to you as such a comprehensive piece of research requires a huge amount of research, dedication, willingness and your time.
Do not worry about formulating a title until later on in the process – My title was formulated within 72 hours of my hand-in deadline, which my dissertation supervisor was perfectly happy with….need I say any more?
Immerse yourself in existing literature, relevant documentaries, and non-academic books – Rather fittingly, throughout my writing process, the BBC released their ‘Life and Death Row’ series and I found this to be a real source of motivation and inspiration for me as it rekindled my passion for my topic as although compelling, the plethora of journal articles, law documents, case studies and academic books I was making my way through proved themselves to be quite challenging at times.
Read, read and then read some more – Do not stop reading! This will allow for a well-written, well-informed piece of comprehensive and mature writing. Personally, I read over 85 books and journal articles on my topic, and I felt like this was enough for me to feel well-grounded in the scholarly literature of my topic.
The importance of coherence – A strong academic piece of writing/research is one that is written in a coherent and concise manner. I found that having clear themes and chapters, I could write in such a way which subsequently made for an analytic and well-structured piece of writing.
Write daily, but keep it short & sweet – Dissertations are mentally draining, and so in lieu of having a writing day each week and writing continuously for the entirety of the day and evening; chipping away at it every day (usually for 2-3 hours) really worked for me.
Don’t be hard on yourself – If you just can’t concentrate on your dissertation and just want to snuggle up, watch AHS and make your way through an entire packet of biscuits…don’t worry about it. Come back to it tomorrow – we can’t give our all, all of the time!
If you have any tips or advice, please let me know in the comments! Jess x