School of Education alumna Ahanah Bhatnagar offers some top tips for writing your undergraduate dissertation – from a student who’s completed theirs
I submitted my final assignment for my undergraduate degree two months ago. It is safe to say that my focus this year was the dissertation unit. My dissertation focused on racial inequalities in education, specifically exploring the experiences of ethnic minority educators in Bristol. During the nine-month writing process, I came across several obstacles and challenges. However, I also learnt a lot of tips which I’m hoping to share with students both in the early stages of their degree, and those entering their final year, so their dissertation journey can be a smoother process.
Start of your journey:
Research a topic you’re genuinely interested in
You will be working on this assignment for around nine months and will spend a lot of time thinking, writing and talking about your dissertation. So, make sure you are researching something you genuinely find interesting! If you’re struggling to think of a topic, think of units you’ve enjoyed during your first and second years. What assessments did you enjoy writing? Which classes were you excited to attend?
Find out who the key researchers are in your field
When starting to do initial research, pay attention to the names of the researchers which are repeatedly cited in the relevant literature. You will naturally pick up on this because you will eventually recognise the names. When you have a handful of key researchers, branch out and investigate their research. These individuals are probably experts in this field and are reliable sources to cite in your dissertation.
Use your existing networks to your advantage
When recruiting participants, it can be hard to get a response from people, especially if you aim to sample an underrepresented group. If this is the case for you, initially contact people within your existing network to distribute your advertisements to their networks. Networking is so important because the people who already know you are more inclined to help you out throughout this process. Whether it’s professors, family, friends, university societies, or external communities make sure to use this to your advantage!
Throughout your journey:
Keep a log of your references
References are not the most exciting part of your dissertation; however, it is one of the most important things you need to remember. Make sure you keep them stored somewhere safe and that you have a reference for everything you cite. I found it useful to arrange my references by chapter and type them throughout the writing process as opposed to doing them all at the end because it can get very repetitive.
Keep in touch with your supervisor: Communication is key
Your supervisors’ role is to support you whilst writing your dissertation, so make the most of them. Keep in touch with them throughout the year so they are aware of how you are doing. They may be very busy so ensure you arrange meetings with them around once a month, email them questions you have and keep them up-to-date on the stage you’re at …. especially if you’re struggling with anything.
Set yourself personal deadlines or deadlines with your supervisor
You may find yourself getting overwhelmed while writing your dissertation. Having a clear vision of what you are going to achieve makes it much easier to break down. I found it particularly useful to set ‘mini’ deadlines throughout the year with my supervisor. I had assigned tasks to complete before our next meeting. By doing so, your meetings with your supervisor will end up being more focused and you’ll have a set plan to follow.
End of your journey:
Give yourself time for editing
I underestimated how long it would take to do the ‘final editing’ for each of my chapters. Seemingly small things like ensuring your table of contents page are in line with the pages of your dissertation can end up taking much longer than you would think. Setting up a personal deadline a week prior to the submission date to complete the first full draft of your dissertation is something I did and would strongly recommend.
Print out your complete dissertation before submission
It might be overlooked to print a physical copy of your dissertation. Preferably do this in the week before submission where you’re making final edits (linking back to the point about giving yourself time for editing). Having a hard copy of my dissertation allowed me to spot little details like formatting, spelling and grammar errors that would have gone unnoticed! Minor details are much clearer, and this could be worth a mark or two, which could end up being the difference between a whole grade level – so make it count!
Overall, writing your dissertation is a challenging but exciting process. It is empowering to be the sole researcher on a project which reflects your interests. Having a piece of work where you’ve constructed every part of the research process is something you will feel so proud of at the end, so make sure you enjoy the journey and good luck!
The School of Education wishes to congratulate Ahanah for gaining a First-Class Honours in BSc Education Studies. Well done on your fantastic achievement!
To find out more about the School of Education’s undergraduate programmes, please visit our website: https://www.bristol.ac.uk/education/study/undergraduate/ or register your interest in our virtual open events in September 2021