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10 Things You Need to Know Before Starting a Dissertation

1. Your dissertation topic

Choose a topic that is relevant to your dissertation field, but manageable whilst adding some scientific novelty. To make sure the topic is good, discuss it with your tutor and other people whose opinion you trust.

2. Research methods

You need to understand the most common research methods (e. g. survey, interview, case study and archival research) and be able to explain which of these are the most appropriate for your dissertation and why. Your supervisor may ask about this at the very first meeting.

3. Key articles on your topic

You have probably read through some relevant academic journals while choosing the topic. Save 3 to 5 articles that has a research focus close to yours. Use their methodologies and procedures as good examples and you may even be able to borrow the survey/interview questions from these articles, properly referencing the source and modifying the wordings as needed.

4. Dissertation guidelines of your university

This might seem self-evident, but make sure you examine the dissertation guidelines thoroughly. Some mistakes you make through missing a single small detail (e. g. in the referencing format) might be extremely laborious to improve at later stages. Take time to read the Research Ethics policy of your university and evaluate your methods for compliance and potential issues.

5. Personal contacts you can use

Ask your friends and family members whether they can assist you with collecting data from their organisation. After receiving a positive answer, think of choosing this company as your target organisation as an insider’s support can be a great advantage.

6. Your time budget

Estimate realistically how many hours a day/week you can devote to writing the dissertation. Plan at least 30% of time in reserve for any unexpected issues or delays.

7. Your writing ability

If you anticipate issues with organising your thoughts in writing, grammar or spelling, think of using an outsider’s help (especially for proofreading the draft). Find a person who can take a look at your writing style, who can fix minor errors and provide constructive feedback.

8. Your writing speed

This is necessary for the realistic planning of your daily work. Record the time it takes you to complete a smaller writing assignment, taking three suitable examples based on various tasks for a reliable writing speed by calculating your average number of words per hour. As dissertation writing is more complicated, divide this number by two to get a realistic estimate.

9. Your data analysis skills

Determine the kinds of analysis you will need to perform on your data. Evaluate your past experience with each technique and if this fails to be sufficient, allocate some time to practicing it. If the above advice isn’t suitable, then read relevant textbooks or study guides. It can be helpful to watch step-by-step video lessons on specific tools, for example “linear regression in Excel”.

10. Your communication skills

This is vital for conducting effective interviews. If you are not sure you can establish good contact with strangers then self-administered surveys can present an easier option for you. If you desperately need interviews for your research, consider taking communication training.

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