Writing an undergraduate dissertation is the most important task of any student’s life, and it is only natural to feel stressed by the thought of it. Be it a psychology dissertation or an economics dissertation, there is only one way to deal with it; so, be assured that its completion will take up a lot of your energy. You will have to invest your time and effort in planning, researching, writing, and proofreading.
Undergraduate Dissertation Guide
An undergraduate dissertation commonly consists of five chapters, namely the introduction, literature review, methodology, analysis, and conclusion. Each chapter has unique goals and purposes, which makes the process of dissertation writing complicated and challenging. That is why if you plan to write a dissertation, you need to organise things. You need to create a detailed plan of research, set realistic deadlines, and strictly follow this plan. Remember that writing a dissertation is not limited to completing the aforementioned chapters. You will also need to proofread and edit your final draft, which can take up to several months of your time. So, planning your activities and tasks is key to success when it comes to writing successful undergraduate dissertations.
In this article, we will not focus on the content of each dissertation chapter. Instead, we take a more practical approach and show you what it takes to write a high-quality undergraduate dissertation, what challenges you might face during this process, and what critical elements you should take into account during the last-minute checks.
Selecting a Winning Dissertation Topic
Choosing a research topic is perhaps the most important decision any student takes when getting started on the dissertation. Here, students usually struggle for ideas since there are so many areas in existing research that could be further explored.
To make sure you don’t fall out of love with the topic you have picked, it should be unique and interesting. It may sound quite simple but it is very common for students to get halfway through and begin to feel fed up with, or even bored of their topic. That is why you should take your time and choose a dissertation topic that really interests you in a subject you are passionate about.
However, selecting a unique and interesting dissertation topic may seem very daunting. After all, there are usually tons of existing research in your field of study covering nearly all important theoretical and practical developments over the last decade. If you are looking for a winning topic for your undergraduate dissertation, here are some principles that could help you with this task.
Determine the limitations of empirical studies
It’s easy to get intimidated by the sheer number of empirical studies covering the interesting topics when you start outlining your own area of research. However, no one is perfect and there is no study without flaws. Carefully read at least 10 of the most recent articles on the ideas that appeal to you. Did the authors ignore any important framework? Was the scope of the article limited to a single country? Were there any implications that remained untested? By discovering the shortcomings of other projects, you can get a reasonable idea of what should be further researched in your academic field.
Analyse the key trends in existing knowledge
Use the electronic library of your university to search for the titles of the most up-to-date works in your area. Try to keep an eye out for the frequent keywords and you will get a decent idea of the main trends. You can also mix your anticipated topic with these recent developments to get an interesting angle on your research topic. Being up-to-date can earn you a lot of points in how the topic will be perceived by your supervisor.
Add more detail and improve feasibility
It’s easy to choose a broad topic and arrive at conclusions that will be of little value to you or the academic world. When coming up with a topic, make sure that it’s specific enough and well-elaborated. Choosing a specific practice or geographic focus is the best strategy of narrowing your researcher’s focus. Just make sure that you will find enough data and evidence if your research direction is very exotic.
After the topic is selected, take your time deciding whether it is important enough to tackle and what will be the focus of your research. Although it may seem irrelevant at this stage, you should also think of appropriate methods. This can save you a whole lot of time and effort as realising that the topic you have selected is not feasible for analysis is very discouraging.
Remember that it is you who is responsible for the selection of a dissertation topic. If you are willing to focus on some unexplored issues and produce a highly original piece of academic writing, make sure you can find the sources with which to reference your dissertation. Otherwise, searching for relevant literature can be exhausting and stressful.
Should You Write the Introduction Chapter First?
Official university guidelines usually define introduction as a section outlining your dissertation rationale, background, aim and objectives, and structure. This creates a deceptive feeling that it has to be written before the start of your draft. In reality, this may only be applicable to your aim, objectives, and structure. When you think about it, writing your introduction last makes perfect sense, as you can base your research background and rationale on well-studied secondary literature to better identify its gaps and your contribution to the field. Moreover, you have a good understanding of all the strong points and interesting findings of your dissertation and can integrate better ‘hooks’ to grab readers’ attention.
Writing the introduction chapter for your undergraduate dissertation last provides you with a better awareness of the literature on the topic. By approaching your introduction last, you can compare and contrast different perspectives and demonstrate your deep knowledge of the selected sphere. Writing your introduction last also prevents you from making some unrealistic promises or setting a wrong dissertation scope that will be substantially revised afterwards.
Common pitfalls to avoid when writing the introduction chapter
If you wonder how you can make your introduction chapter stronger, we have got your back covered. Here are some ideas that you can apply straight away:
- Leave enough time for writing your introduction. If you have to write the whole section several hours before your submission deadline, you should not expect any valuable benefits from this approach.
- Jot down the key findings of your dissertation and its main differences from past research as you complete your literature review, analysis, and discussion chapters. This will allow you to write up the introduction section substantially faster.
- Roadmap the reader’s journey. Write your introduction from the position of a person who has just completed their dissertation and seeks to explain its novelty to another scholar. Integrate some links to further sections that convince your readers to read them in order to find out how you develop your initial arguments.
Make sure that this section creates a clear journey map for your readers. Show them where you start your exploration of the topic, provide a coherent structure of the following chapters, and explain why they should join you in this exploration of the core subject.
Remember that the introduction chapter shows the relevance of the topic, the background, formulates the aim and objectives and shows the structure of the study. You may want to revise it after completing the dissertation to make it more specific and enticing to the readers.
What Can Go Wrong with Your Literature Review?
The literature review is one of the most important parts of your undergraduate dissertation because it not only provides an overview of the key scholarly sources related to your topic. It also enables you to identify trends and gaps in the research and design a theoretical framework that informs the whole study.
However, writing a good literature review is challenging for many students because it requires highly developed critical thinking, analysis, and synthesis skills. The lack of these competencies can threaten the validity and reliability of your literature review. Here are the five most common mistakes undergraduate students make when writing a literature review.
A literature review must go beyond a mere summary of what was reported by other researchers. Look for any drawbacks or limitations in their methodology. Comment on why you may be reluctant to trust their conclusions – perhaps because of a small sample size or vague measurements. That’s the criticism that all tutors want.⠀
Critically state what was missed by the previous researchers and comment on their drawbacks. Afterwards, suggest realistic solutions for future researchers and practitioners on how to overcome these gaps. Regardless of the method used, your dissertation should contribute to knowledge development in your area.
Lack of quality sources
You should prioritise articles from the top journals in your discipline. Limiting yourself to the top sources will help to identify the best studies that have been conducted. This will give you access to field research and primary evidence obtained by other researchers. Systematise and compare the findings to make your dissertation analytical but not descriptive.
You are expected to use at least 10 scholarly references per 1,000 words. Most of these should be peer-reviewed articles published within the last three years, with occasional theoretical books and research reports. Textbooks, magazines, newspapers and blogs are not appropriate sources for a literature review.
A by-article structure
It’s always a temptation to discuss one article in one paragraph and then proceed to another – this is the easiest way to write a literature review! But do resist it. Along with descriptiveness, the by-article structure is what most tutors disapprove of strongly. Compare and contrast the findings from three or more articles in each paragraph.
No link to research question
Using a good range of scholarly sources and evaluating them critically is not enough. Explain how these findings help you answer your research question and what they teach you about your topic.⠀
When critiquing the work of others, it’s easy to become judgmental. Back any statements you make with a reference to other sources so your readers can see you’re not just expressing a personal opinion.
Your literature review must clearly outline the key theories you rely on and present the conceptual framework of your study. You may want to revise its contents to better align them with the overall course of your dissertation.
Including a table of key theories and authors at the end of your literature review may be a good idea for improving readability. It also makes referring to them easier when you are writing your discussion chapter.
Undergraduate Dissertation Checklist
Dissertation writing is a combination of art and craft. On the one hand, university committees usually base their appraisals on the novelty of your topic, the interesting choice of study participants, and the practical contribution of your research. These are the things that make or break dissertation projects and should be your key focus with writing your work. On the other hand, the devil is in the detail and we have seen many students lose valuable points or going through multiple re-writes due to missing some important elements related to submission requirements or format requirements.
When you have invested months of hard work in a single endeavour, you may feel tired, absent-minded, and willing to get over it as soon as possible. The key to overcoming this ‘last mile’ barrier is to use a clearly structured plan to be 100% sure that no critical elements have been missed. The following dissertation checklist covers all key aspects you need to inspect to leave no room for failure.
- Make sure that all essential sections of the work are included. These are abstract, acknowledgements, table of contents, lists of tables and figures, introduction, literature review, methodology, analysis and findings, conclusion, list of references, and appendix.
- The abstract is usually the first part of the dissertation which is placed before the table of contents but is written last. The abstract is a short overview of the whole dissertation which provides the very gist of the research and its main outcomes.
- The acknowledgements are also written after finishing the main text of the thesis so that you could have a chance to acknowledge those who helped you in your research or supervision. When writing acknowledgements, common courtesy is to express gratitude to your tutor, the members of the committee, your faculty, and any other people who helped you with writing your work.
- Your analysis process must be clearly defined. Ideally, any other researcher in your field must be able to follow it and obtain similar results.
- The text of your undergraduate dissertation should be formatted according to the requirements of the university; make sure that each page, as well as each table and figure, is numbered.
- All tables and figures should have headings and be referred to in the main text. Also, if they were taken from other sources, these sources should be mentioned below the tables and figures, as well as in the reference list.
- Check if the reference list includes all sources mentioned in the text and is consistent in style through the work.
- Make sure that your appendices contain all relevant elements such as questionnaire forms, informed consent forms, additional figures, and interview transcripts.
- Read your dissertation from the beginning to the end in one sitting. Your text should lay out a clear line of argument following a consistent flow at the level of sentences, paragraphs, and sections.
- Check the word count for all sections if it is specified by your university requirements.
- Make sure that you have all signed informed consent forms necessary to confirm your compliance with the ethical standards of your institution.
- Proofread all text and format spacing and font consistently. Use both electronic and printed copies to avoid the ‘bleary eyes’ effect. Remember that the proper use of grammar and language usually forms 5 or more percent of the final mark. Therefore, extensive proofreading before the final draft submission may really improve your final grade.
- Check your title page and its formatting.
Top Tips for Your Undergraduate Dissertation
While the previous section suggested a way to quickly improve the standard of your already completed work, the best way to correct any mistake is to not make it in the first place. Writing a dissertation is the pinnacle of your academic life as a student; so, you definitely want to do it right and produce a high-quality paper.
However, many students pick the wrong course even before they write the first sentence of their future work. Correcting such problems during the ending phase of your project will not radically affect its outcomes. Here are some useful tips on making the optimal strategic decisions for your undergraduate dissertation and managing your expectations.
Check what is expected of you
Make sure to study your university’s module handbooks and ethics protocols to avoid some silly mistakes, which would lower your marks. You should have a good idea of how academic writing in your discipline looks like and what word count should be allocated to each dissertation chapter. Also, take a look at format requirements such as font types and sizes, page margins and referencing style. Remember that the devil is in the detail and what may seem trivial at first sight can have a strong impact on the overall quality of your dissertation in the end.
Get the right supervisor
Having the right supervisor can give you a great advantage in writing your dissertation. If there is a choice, consider someone who has a reputation for getting students through. You should select the most academically and socially engaged supervisor who really pays attention to the requirements for the degree, clearly understands the process and can provide you with the right advice.
If you struggle to understand your tutor and still have questions about the dissertation writing process, don’t be shy to apply for our tutoring service. Some supervisors simply don’t have enough time to give a quality consultation to each student.
Use the past tense whenever possible
Most tutors expect to see the past tense in the sections where you report your findings or discuss your methodological choices. The past tense may be used to present the outdated and discarded facts and contrast them with the ones that are currently accepted as true and are referred to in the present tense. Similarly, it is possible to introduce the findings in the past tense while using the present tense to discuss their implications.
Use plenty of references
Universally accepted rules include 1 reference per 100 words of your thesis. While this figure provides a good starting point, the actual ‘reference count’ may depend on the standard you seek to attain as well as your research topic. For example, a Distinction work of 15,000 words relying on the appraisal of multiple theories may contain more than 150 references.
Don’t forget about the appendix
Appendices are used to provide the relevant background information related to your dissertation topic. Often, this information is too extensive or cumbersome to be included in the main body without disrupting the main discussion. Traditionally, this section is placed after the bibliography and the reference list and is referred to throughout the dissertation.
Make sure that you include appropriate sub-sections, figure and table names, and other identification elements that guide your readers to the specific information presented in the appendices.
Details are key
Allocate sufficient time to writing and revising the ‘less significant’ elements of your undergraduate dissertation such as the abstract and table of contents. While most students do not consider them extremely important, these parts may actually be the first ones studied by the markers and the dissertation committee. Make sure that they form the positive first impression of your work.
Create and maintain a friendly study environment
As dissertation writing is a long and complex process, you have to spend a lot of time reading and writing. But sitting at the same desk and doing the same work for a long period of time can be stressful and make you feel gloomy.
To avoid these negatives, you could re-design your study environment by putting motivational messages and making sure your drawer is full of your favourite snacks and beverages. You can also find inspiration in simple things, such as listening to your favourite music and taking breaks after every hour of reading/writing.
Submitting Your Dissertation
Every student has to undergo a plagiarism check prior to proceeding with the defence. You will also need to prepare three or more copies of your thesis in hard-bound or spiral-bound format. The second option may be more convenient since you may need to change certain pages or introduce some last-minute amendments. Make sure that you strictly follow the rules set forth by your university. You should have at least three days reserved for this and other formal procedures.
Usually, dissertations are double-marked by independent markers and ratified by the Board of Examiners. This is necessary to minimise potential bias coming from individual markers. It also ensures that the Board can alter their marks if they consider the judgement of the markers inaccurate. In some universities, project supervisors may be excluded from the marking process, to maintain a higher level of objectivity.
The dissertation defence is usually supervised by the dissertation committee, headed by a chairperson. Firstly, you will present the synopsis of your findings, methods, and theoretical and practical contributions. Then, its members may ask additional questions related to your topic or the broader area of study. Additionally, your defence may be visited by other academic attendees and even your family members or fellow students. Make sure that you review the key theories and concepts related to your topic to answer any unexpected questions.
Should You Get Undergraduate Dissertation Writing Help?
If we could provide a single recommendation on how to write your dissertation, we would suggest that you should thoroughly plan it from the onset. A well-designed research project is a self-fulfilling prophecy that virtually writes itself into existence. You start with a well-designed and unique topic that is supported by realistic and measurable objectives that can be addressed with convenient and reliable methodological instruments. It still takes time and effort but the amount of back-and-forth is rather small and you can easily plan your dissertation work and seamlessly integrate it into your personal life without major conflicts.
Many students reverse this order and start with writing some sections of their projects while revising their research objectives or adjusting their topic along the way. This strategy is clearly sub-optimal and will never result in a coherent study with a clearly outlined main argument.
15 Writers team are happy to offer help with dissertation writing and share our know-how in achieving top marks. Don’t hesitate to check our sample dissertations to make sure we provide the best academic service.