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How to write a disseratation

How to write a dissertation (and why it’s different from an essay)

By | Dissertations, Student advice, Writing tips | No Comments

How can you write a dissertation? If you’ve written plenty of essays, and done well, it’s tempting to approach your dissertation in much the same way. This is a common mistake among students, both undergrad and postgrad.

An essay is much shorter than a dissertation (around 2,000-5,000 words rather than 20,000). But dissertations are much more than simply long essays. Dissertations require a deeper level of understanding and original thought backed up by thorough evidence.

Planning

Planning is vital to learning how to write a successful dissertation. Some people find this comes naturally, others are more of the ‘sit down and write and see what comes of it’ school of thought. If you’re of the latter type, you’ll need to adjust your approach. Winging it might work for an essay of 2,000 words, but for a dissertation, you’ll quickly struggle if you don’t have a plan.

With an essay, you might be able to have a very simple plan – introduction, discussion, conclusion. With a dissertation, you’ll need to set out chapters and sub-sections too. You might choose to adjust these as you write but having them set out before you start to write gives your work vital purpose.

It’s important that the structure of your dissertation shows that you’ve carried out thorough research, you’ve thought through all aspects of the subject fully, and you’ve come up with an insightful conclusion that makes a contribution to the body of research in your subject. You should also be able to show that you recognise the limitations of your own work.

This means that you should consider a structure something like this:

Introduction – this should be a clear definition of your project; a demonstration that you have knowledge of other research in the area.

The research – you’ll need to set out the research you’ve done and describe any problems you had as well as the solutions you found.

The argument – this is where you begin to draw conclusions from the research. Break it down into subsections that each have their own focus. This is the part of the dissertation that it’s tempting to pack out with filler, but don’t. Every paragraph, and every sentence, should have a purpose.

The conclusion – you’ll need to summarise your findings and discuss what needs to be done next. If you plan to go on to a PhD, this can be an opportunity to set out an idea for your thesis.

Your writing style

Writing style is important. Writing habits that might just grate a little in a 2,000 word essay can become decidedly irritating to your tutor over the course of 10-20,000 words. It’s important to remember that good writing is not necessarily complex writing. Good writing achieves its purpose. A dissertation’s purpose is to put across a clear, focussed, persuasive argument, backed up by evidence.

Some general style principles to think about:

  • Short sentences are very often better sentences. While it’s good to vary the length to some degree, you should generally be looking to keep your sentences at 25 words or fewer. Stick to ‘one thought per sentence’ and you’ll find that this tends to happen automatically.
  • Each new point needs a new paragraph. If you’re changing subject, you need a new sub-section with its own headline.
  • Use plain English, while demonstrating your knowledge of relevant terms. Don’t use obscure words simply because you believe they’ll sound impressive. Simpler is nearly always better. At the same time, it’s important that you can show you understand the language of your subject and use whatever technical terms others writing in your field do.

Your argument

You need to take a strong, unambiguous position, backed up by your own research. It may help to imagine that you are not writing a dissertation, but an academic book. You’d only write a book that you believed in. Make sure you believe in your own argument when you write your dissertation.

Also anticipate counter-arguments. What do you think others would say? How can you counter their objections? Anticipating counter arguments demonstrates that you’ve looked at your subject from multiple standpoints and developed a really thorough understanding of it.

Need some more help with writing your dissertation? If you’ve got the basics right, our editors can help with the finishing touches.

 

 

 

 

 

5 Ways to Improve Your Writing in a Week…and Smash That Deadline

By | Deadlines, Student advice, Writing tips | No Comments

You’ve got a deadline next week. Maybe you’ve written nothing, or maybe you’ve written plenty, but you know it’s not good enough. How can you improve your writing before that deadline hits?

Tempting as it is to pretend it’s not happening, the deadline’s not going anywhere. If you’ve got all the ideas and the arguments in your head, but know you need some help to put them into engaging, grammatically sound words, read on. Here are 5 ways to improve your writing quickly and make sure you ace that essay even when you’re short on time.

Keep a journal to improve your writing every day

Writing a journal is a fantastic way to improve your writing. Because you’re writing about your own life, writer’s block tends not to hit. Every evening, sit down for 15 minutes (or longer!) and write freely about the events of your day. Even if all you did was watch Netflix, write about it.

The idea is to get some words on the page, without pressure. This helps you improve your writing by getting you in a writing habit, giving you an easy way to analyse your work. Don’t worry about grammar or style while you’re writing, but when you’re done, look over your work and see how it could be improved. If there are particular things you know you struggle with, keep an eye out for them. You could also check your writing against your university’s style guide to see how it measures up.

It’s worth staying in the journal-writing habit even after your deadline’s passed, as it’s a great way to improve your writing, year after year.

Improve your writing by being leaner…learn the art of cutting down

When you’re struggling to make a word count, it’s tempting to add in lots of filler words just to make your essay longer. Don’t do this. Good writing is about saying what you need to without using unnecessary words. Take a look at your last essay and see where you have could cut words without losing meaning.

Cutting words out that you don’t need actually helps convey more meaning, as the extra words tend to get in the way of your argument. It’s one of the easiest ways there is to improve your writing. Phrases like ‘on the other hand’ and ‘in addition’ are usually unnecessary, so take them out. In academic writing (and writing in general), adjectives and adverbs aren’t often needed. To improve your writing, take them all out, and then work through, one by one, to see which (if any) you want to put back.

Critique with a friend to improve your writing, and theirs

Good writers know how to take and give constructive criticism. Improve your writing by finding a friend you trust and spend some time together critiquing each other’s work. You don’t need to get bogged down in technical grammar points – look instead at whether your friend understands the arguments you’re making and whether they think the work flows well.

They don’t have to be studying the same subject as you – in some ways, it might be better if they aren’t. If someone with no knowledge of your subject can understand your writing, it’s probably pretty good.

Set yourself a creative challenge to improve your essay writing

Improve your writing by making writing fun. Indulge in a bit of creative writing of some kind – whether a short story, or poetry, or creative non-fiction. If you’re stuck for ideas, you could be inspired by a novel you love, or scan the news websites for an interesting story that could be rewritten as fiction. Whatever you do, make sure you enjoy it. Don’t spend time analysing it – just enjoy playing around with words and building your confidence to improve your writing.

Improve your writing by learning to proofread

Writing is only half the battle. Learning how to proofread effectively is the other half of the work you’ll need to do to improve your writing. Many students forget to build in time for proofreading and hand in essays full of errors as a result. This makes you look careless and could lose you marks.

Don’t allow this to happen. If you’re not a confident proofreader, either see if you can find a friend to help or think about using our proofreading service. But, however you do it, make sure it happens if you really want to improve your writing.

 

 

 

7 Ways to Improve Your Essay Writing

By | Student advice, Writing tips | No Comments

Every student needs good essay writing skills. Essays are your opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge, passion, and skill to your tutors.

Turning out several thousand well-crafted words on a regular basis isn’t easy, especially if you feel you’re not a natural writer. But here’s the thing: people who appear to be ‘natural’ writers rarely are. The difference between them and you is simply that they’ve spent time learning about language and essay-writing.

Doesn’t sound appealing? Remember: whatever career you end up in, you’ll use the essay writing skills you develop now, even if you never write another university essay. Essay writing isn’t just about ticking boxes to get a grade. It’s about being able to research well, draw conclusions, and communicate them to your audience. Those are skills you’ll need in pretty much any professional career.

Don’t Skimp on Essay Writing Research

Students often have a tendency to think of the essay writing as the main event, and the research as just a little bit of prep. Don’t do this. Your research should take up much more time than writing, so put plenty of time for it in your diary.

You’ll find that writing is far easier if you read widely and gain a thorough understanding of your subject before you start. It’s also obvious to your tutors who knows their stuff and who’s trying to wing it.

Have a Clear Goal

When you write an essay, you’re answering a question. Before you write anything else, write your answer to the question being posed in a sentence or two. Use as few words as possible.

This might be difficult – but it’s important. If you can’t do it, you need to spend more time clarifying your thoughts (and answering the question) before you go any further.

Make a Plan

Don’t just start writing. Make a detailed outline plan of your essay, including the introduction, main body, and the conclusion. The main body is where you present your arguments, using the evidence you’ve found during your research. It should lead naturally to the conclusion. The conclusion should never be a surprise. If it is, you need to go back and re-plan.

Read for Pleasure

Good writers read. And they don’t just read the things they have to read. As well as academic books and articles related to your essay, read newspapers, novels, poetry, and texts from other subjects. Reading anything and everything you can will mean you absorb knowledge about style, improve your vocabulary, and understand more about language and the way it works.

Build Your Language Skills

This is particularly important if you’re not a native English speaker. Even if you are, there is always room to improve. Better vocabulary means you have more words in your arsenal to get your point across. Better grammar knowledge means being able to get your point across more clearly.

If you’re following point 4 and reading lots, you’ll find that your knowledge improves naturally, but there’s a lot you can do to help it along even further. As you read, look up any words you’re not sure of. Notice how other writers use grammar and again, look up anything you’re unsure of.

Invest in a good quality paper dictionary and thesaurus, or an online subscription rather than relying on free online resources. Free resources can be useful, but they simply won’t give you the depth of knowledge you need to really improve.

Think About Tone of Voice

The way you write is just as vital to communication as the words you use. Think about how you’d speak to your tutor if you were trying to explain something and try and use similar language as you write.

Academic writing usually needs to be relatively formal but should not be overly complicated or fussy. Use clear, plain English and avoid using more words than you need to (even if you’re trying to get your essay up to a certain word count!).

Use the active rather than the passive voice. So, use ‘the government passed the law’ not ‘the law was passed by the government’.

Write with Confidence

The point of an essay is to answer a question. So, answer it. Be very clear about what you’re saying. If you’re not, your writing will inevitably become fuzzy and hard to understand and it’ll be obvious you don’t really believe your own answer.

Most tutors want to see an essay that provides a clear answer, even if they disagree it. They’d rather that than an essay that is closer to their own opinion that fails to answer the question being asked.

 

 

How to Beat Writer’s Block

By | Writing tips | No Comments

You’re sitting at your desk, staring at a flashing cursor and a blank, white page. You’ve no idea how you’ll fill it and the longer you sit there, the more difficult writing becomes. Sound familiar? The struggle to beat writer’s block is something almost everyone who writes experiences. Even Hemingway suffered, saying:

“Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would…stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now.’” (Source: inc.com)

Now, we don’t all have Paris roofs to look out over. But we can all beat writer’s block. Here’s how.

Write anything

When you’re sick of staring at a blank page, fill that page. But forget about filling it with perfectly crafted words. Fill it with anything you can. Allow yourself to write freely without worrying about the finished product. Once you have the words on the page, you can edit them without the pressure of all that white space. No-one’s ever heard of editor’s block, after all.

Make a plan

When writing anything doesn’t work, try the opposite: make a strict plan and stick to it. This is especially true of longer projects, where the end can seem so far away as to be impossible to reach. By planning out your work, detailing what you’ll write in each section and giving yourself a clear beginning, middle, and end, you’ll have done half the job before you’ve written a word.

Don’t worry about being restricted by having a plan. The plan can change as often as you like, but if you don’t have one at all, you’ll struggle to focus on where you’re going.

Do something different

When writing’s not happening, do something else. You might want to head out to a café to indulge in coffee and cake for half an hour, take a few hours to meet friends, or just get on with some housework.

With the pressure of a deadline looming, it’s difficult to allow yourself time to do anything other than write. But if not allowing yourself that time means you end up blocked, take a break.

Write something different

Taking a break from your writing works to beat writer’s block for some, but others find that stopping writing simply leads to more distraction and procrastination. If that’s you, keep writing, but write something other than the work you’re struggling with. If you’re working on an essay, indulge yourself with some creative writing. If you’re struggling writing a report for work, write a post for your personal blog. Remind yourself that writing can be fun, engaging, and easy.

Learn to live with self-doubt

Writer’s block happens when self-doubt takes over. If you believe that you’re a capable writer who’ll produce a quality piece of work, you’re much less likely to face writer’s block than if you doubt your ability to do so.

But even the most self-assured writers have some self-doubt. What can you do about it? Embrace it. Understand that it’s natural and normal. While too much self-doubt is negative, controlled self-doubt is healthy and positive. It keeps you asking questions, seeking clarity and looking for opportunities to improve.

Don’t allow self-doubt to take over, but don’t fight it so hard you can’t focus on anything else.

 

Liked this? Look out for another writing blog from us next month.